– By Ginger
It is a scene that every parent is familiar with, at 3:00 AM, you are suddenly awakened by a bleary-eyed child pleading to sleep in your bed. You have been down this road before and you know that no amount of rational argument will solve the problem, so you reluctantly raise the covers and try to go back to sleep. Childhood nightmares are one of the most common reasons for parents’ loss of sleep at night. However, once you understand them, you can take action to rid your child’s bedroom of the sometimes elusive creature called the Boogeyman.
The first step in ridding your home of this common household pest is to understand what attracts him in the first place. Then you can devise a strategy to help your child cope with these nighttime slumber-robbers. The nightmares usually begin around age two and last until ages four to six. According to Insomnia Connection, on any given night, nearly 25% of all children will experience a nightmare. This is hardly comfort if you happen to be one of the 25% of all parents who are losing sleep.
Adults have bad dreams too, but we normally recognize them as such and go back to sleep. Where did we learn those coping mechanisms? We probably learned it from our own experiences with nightmares as a child, amidst the pleadings of our own desperate mothers.
First, let’s explore some of the most common reasons for the nightmares. According to Insomnia Connection, stress is a leading cause of sleep problems in children as well as adults. These can be normal daily stresses, illness, a traumatic family change such as divorce, or watching scary TV shows. The trauma does not have to be real, it can be a product of a child’s imagination. Fear, such as fear of the dark, storms, or shadows outside the window can be a source of nightmares. So what can a parent do with so many nightmare causing things out there to sabotage a good night’s sleep?
If the source of the nighmare is outside of your child’s mind, change it. For instance, if your child is afraid of the dark, put in a nightlight. Room darkening curtains can help to block out any shadows that may be lurking about. Try to avoid any television shows that may provoke bad dreams in your child. These solutions are practical and may solve any problems that your child is having. However, if you have already tried these things and you are still missing sleep, it might be time to try these helpful suggestions.
The next suggestion goes against every impulse that we as parent have at 4:00 AM. Instead of waiting for your child to come to you, go to your child and spend time with them as soon as they call out. Be positive and give them reassurance. Your anger and frustration will only make them more afraid as their fears are very real to them. Try to distract them by singing a favorite song, tell a story with a happy ending, or read a book. Distraction may not work for every child. This is when you have to pull out all the stops.
Fear is a result of a feeling of a loss of control. We are not afraid of what we can control. Giving your child a sense of control is the best cure for any nightmare, regardless of its source. You child need a “weapon” to use against the bad dreams. Any action that they can take for themselves will give them a sense of control and have them (and you) soon slumbering soundly in no time. One that my grandma used to use was a flashlight with colored cellophane held on with a rubber band. When I saw a monster, I could shine my flashlight on it and it would disintegrate into the air. Magic sprinkles are another idea. The ones made from confetti and glitter is especially effective, and decorative too.
You might also try a favorite stuffed animal, dream catchers, or letting their favorite pet sleep with them. My daughter had nightmares until we finally broke down and brought home Herbert Nininger, the nightmare fighting guinea pig…I kid you not. Herbert Nininger would chase away any nightmare that came along with his ferocious ½ teeth that were like razors to creatures of the night. Whatever works, go with it, I say.
Regardless of what works to get your child back to sleep is OK. The worst thing that you can do is to ignore the issue and tell your child to go back to bed. Listening to them lets them know that you are there and will give them confidence that will make the next nightmare less formidable. Let your kids know that they are not alone and that everyone gets nightmares. That may not help them get back to sleep, but they will not feel as if they are alone. How you handle nightmares will be an important step on the way to helping your child develop coping skills that they will carry through the rest of their lives.
Insomnia Connection. 2010. Natural Help for Childhood Nightmares. Accessed June 21, 2010 from http://www.insomnia-connection.com/childhood-nightmares.html