Dealing With Nightmares

Nightmares create a havoc in the minds of children. Children get frightened and disturbed by nightmares. They are unable to fall asleep. an occasional nightmare is normal but if nightmares are recurrent then it means that the child has some problem. Read here for some tips on dealing with nightmares.

Dealing With Nightmares

The terrors of the night 

Arpita Ghosh was awoken one night by the sound of whimpering. She rushed into her children's bedroom to find her five-year-old daughter Alpa eyes tightly shut, tossing her head from side to side and whimpering. She was obviously having a bad dream. 

Even adults have nightmares, sometimes even when we're awake! But on a more serious note, it will be quite easy to recall nights when you've woken up with your heart thumping with the uneasy feeling that something has disturbed your peaceful slumber. It takes a few minutes to come out of the nightmare and realize it was just that - a bad dream. Even then, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth and it is difficult to go back to sleep. If nightmares are so disturbing for adults, one can only imagine how bewildered and frightened they leave children. 

Let us pause here to make a small distinction between nightmares and night terrors. Night terrors can be alarming for parents and children alike. During a night terror, a child may scream or cry, but will not respond to calls to wake up. 

Parents will just have to wait for the child to fall back into a deep slumber. In all likelihood, the child will have no recollection of the previous eventful night when he wakes up the next morning. 

While the occasional nightmare is not an extraordinary occurrence, recurrent nightmares may indicate that your child is experiencing an abnormal degree of stress or anxiety about something. While you can provide the immediate comfort and support, it may be wise to consult your pediatrician or a counselor. 

What to do when your child has a nightmare
  • If you wake up to the sound of your child screaming in the throes of a night terror, don't panic. Hold him in your arms and make soothing noises till he calms down.
  • If he has a nightmare, wake him up gently and tell him that he was just having a bad dream and that everything is all right. 
  • Do not make him feel that you have 'saved him' or protected him from anything or that he is safe only when you are present. He should feel that he is capable of handling the situation. 
  • Do not cosset him and be overly sympathetic or he will think that having nightmares has its own rewards. Give him a hug and a kiss and put him back to bed.
  • Ask him if he would like to go to the bathroom. Sometimes the urge to go to the bathroom disturbs one' s slumber.
  • If your child is deeply disturbed by the dream, discuss the dream with him briefly and tell him to imagine a happy ending. Sometimes leaving a night light on helps. You can also offer to stay with him for a few minutes till he falls asleep. 
  • Only allow him to come and sleep with you as a last resort. 
  • You could discuss the dream with him in the light of day to gauge whether it is a reflection of a deeper problem.
  • Maintain a regular bedtime schedule and encourage him to do soothing activities like reading a happy story or playing a quiet game before going to bed instead of watching television.