I’ve noticed that a lot of moms have questions about “bad dreams”. Most kids begin to experience nightmares as early as the age of 2. I know it makes us feel helpless in resolving the issue, but there are certain things that you can do to help your child feel safe and lose the fear of being alone.
Turning the light on or letting your child sleep in your room both confirm the notion that being alone in the dark is scary. “You need to walk a fine line between being reassuring and reinforcing the fear,” says Dr. Mindell.
Ages 2 to 4
I’m happy that Julianna has only had a couple of bad dreams lately. I’ve tried to make her feel safe by telling her that she can tell her bad dreams: “Shoo! Go away!” and make her feel like she’s in control. (Hey! I gotta do what I gotta do, right?)
Take advantage of your child’s magical way of thinking at this age. A good idea is having a dream catcher because this could actually help your child believe that the dream catcher will protect them from nightmares. Dream catchers are a symbol of Native American culture. The dream catchers were hung above the beds of sleeping children to protect them from bad dreams and evil spirits. I actually found this super cute dream catcher kit that will keep your child get involved in creating their very own dream catcher.
If you’re not into dream catchers, you could also give your child a stuffed animal and convince them that it will keep them safe. My daughter has about 3 or 4 that she just LOVES sleeping with. She also finds comfort in her blankie.
Ages 4 to 6
Since kids at this age understand a little bit more what’s going on, you can actually help them create a “reset” button that they could rely on whenever they experience a bad dream. For example, you could ask them to flip over their pillow if they’ve been woken up by an ugly nightmare.
Another idea to reduce their anxiety is to have them draw during the day what they remember from their bad dream and have them crumple it up and throw it away. The notion of doing this helps them understand or create the idea that they’re getting rid of it. This tactic actually used to help me a lot when I was younger. However, I used it whenever I would have negative or pessimistic thoughts about something. I would write my thoughts down on paper and then crumple and throw them away. This helped me think that I was getting “rid” of these thoughts.
Ages 6 and Up
Encouraging your child to think about something happy or fun that’s happened to help her mind let go of the bad dream. Also, help them think of a new ending for the nightmare that’s silly or empowering such as: (the monster started crying when she took away his blankie).
Now that You’re Awake – Here’s What to Do
You’ve finally gotten your child to go back to dreamland, but you can’t seem to join him/her. Here are a couple of tips to keep your sleep intact:
a) Buy a darkroom light:
You know that using your phone or your laptop in the middle of the night suppresses the production of your sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. When you wake up to check on your kids, even a hallway light can throw your system into wake-mode. I highly recommend getting a red light (also known as a safe light) like the one used in old photography darkrooms. This won’t affect your melatonin levels at all. *Funny enough: the name given to the product at Target is “Party Light” lol
b) Turn off your inner light:
Don’t even take a look at the clock. I’ve been guilty myself of looking at the clock and saying “I have 3 hours left to sleep before I have to wake up”. It’s a terrible feeling and the anxiety doesn’t help at all. It makes matters worse because you can’t easily fall back to sleep. Instead, cover the clock and take a few deep breaths. Focus on keeping your mind absolutely blank. Whenever you notice that your mind begins to wander, bring it back to being at peace and having a blank mind.
c) Repeat a soothing mantra:
This might sound silly but it has actually worked on me many times. I repeat to myself “I’m falling into a deep sleep” many times until I actually drift away into dreamland.
You could also try some lavender spray on your pillow or even chamomile oil in a diffuser; both are popular remedies for insomnia.
I hope your child is able to overcome their fears and you’re able to gain your sleepy nights back in no time.
If you have other tactics and ideas, please leave them in the comment section below!
Pictures by: www.mcp-photography.com