Research demonstrates that many children experience nighttime fears including nightmares. Nightmares are described as frightening dreams that may awaken a child. Nightmares in children usually occur during the second half of the night when dreaming is at its peak. Upon waking, kids may be afraid to return to sleep and may seek comfort. Risk factors that may increase the likelihood that children will experience a nightmare include increased stress or anxiety and general lack of sleep.
Nightmares are a part of normal cognitive development. However, they can be distressing for both parent and child. What can you do as a parent to address nightmares?
- Implement a consistent sleep schedule in order to ensure adequate sleep
- Avoid scary movies or television shows, especially prior to bedtime
- When a nightmare occurs, go to your child to provide reassurance and remind the child “it was only a dream”
- Allow the child to use a dim night light
- Introduce a comfort object (e.g. teddy bear, blanket, etc.)
- Encourage your child to try relaxation strategies such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation (please see childanxiety.net for additional information)
- Provide an explanation regarding what nightmares are during the daytime, as discussing this topic at night may increase anxiety
- Read children’s books about nighttime fears in order to increase your child’s understanding of fears
If nightmares continue to persist, contact your pediatrician or local behavioral health specialist for additional assistance!