How to Help Your Child with Nightmares
Many children suffer from nightmares, and no parent wants to see their child waking up in the middle of the night scared. Here’s a list of things that have helped me and my children escape nightmares in the past, and I hope they’ll work for you, too.
Have a Comfort Item: Let your child help pick out a comfort item they can sleep with all night long. Some children might want a blanket, while others might like to have a stuffed animal. The point of a comfort item is that it stays with them all night long, and when they’re scared it’s there to comfort them. We’re particularly fond of the Nightmare Nibbler stuffed toy that comes with a poem to read every night before bed (http://www.nightmarenibbler.com/). Whatever you and your child choose; be sure to talk about finding comfort in knowing this item is always there for them, and that you’re in the room next door, of course.
Create a Routine: Routines are comfortable and safe – two things you want to be sure of when putting your child to sleep. In my house we start with a bath, put our pajamas on, read a bedtime story and fall asleep. Whatever you choose to do for your routine, just make sure you’re consistent. Your child will take comfort in the fact that they know, and can expect, what’s happening at bedtime.
Be a Daddy Monster Hunter: You’ll have to get a little creative to concoct a spray bottle or powder that destroys monsters on contact. Then, at night, just before bedtime, you become the Daddy Monster Hunter. Spray in the closet, under the bed and anywhere else your child thinks there are monsters. Then, leave the spray bottle next to your child’s bed, so if they wake up in the night they can spray the monsters, too.
Non-scary Media: Whatever you do, don’t let your child watch a scary movie or read a scary book before bed. I suggest keeping them away from such media for as long as possible, but if it happens, it happens. At bedtime, pick a story that you know is sweet, uplifting and happy to read together. Or watch a movie that doesn’t have any scary characters or scenes. Focusing on positive, happy stories at bedtime can be a great way to encourage a safe and positive sleeping atmosphere.
Consult a Doctor: If your child is consistently waking up in the night scared, I suggest seeing a doctor as your child might be suffering from something more extreme than nightmares. If you’ve tried to manage it on your own, and nothing has worked, reach out for help and navigate some alternative options.
Daddy Nickell, father of 6, founder of Daddyscrubs.com and the Daddyscrubs parenting blog