How to Handle Recurring Nightmares
For those children who have bad dreams often, getting them to go to into bed at night can be difficult, but there are some steps you can take to soothe their fears and help them get a restful night’s sleep.
Set a Routine Children this age are most comforted by routine. Each night before bedtime, follow the same schedule. Include steps that are most likely to get your child into sleep mode such as a warm bath, reading a bedtime story or playing a quiet board game. Let your child pick some of the elements so they feel like they are part of the process.
Tell Your Own Tales Let your preschooler know that you understand what he is going through. Although children this age do have trouble separating fantasy from reality, explain that nightmares are only bad dreams and aren't real. Try reading a related book -- titles like The Mouse Who Braved Bedtime by Louis Baum and Sue Hellard and What a Bad Dream by Mercer Mayer gives good perspectives of nightmares and how they happen to everyone.
Encourage Good Thoughts Before your child goes to sleep, as you are tucking him into bed, ask him what he would like to dream about. Obviously you can't affect what happens once your child falls asleep, but going into bedtime with a positive frame of mind will help your child relax. Go over fun events of the day or upcoming things your child is looking forward to. If your child loves Thomas the Tank Engine, talk about the video he watched that day. Anything to get your child's mind off potential bad dreams.
Let There Be Light Let’s face it, for a young child, staying alone in their room in the dark (possibly with the door closed) isn’t necessarily the most inviting of scenarios. Try keeping the door open (even just a crack) and turning on some kind of light -- whether it is a small nightlight in your child's room or in a room nearby -- a bathroom or a hallway. You can even give your child a small flashlight to stick under their pillow for comfort. Let them know it isn't a toy, just there to help them feel better.
Add a Positive Element Many parents swear by “monster spray” (or some variation thereof) -- generally vanilla-scented water in a spray bottle that is spritzed around the room at bedtime that rids the area of any potential frightening creatures. The problem with sprays like this is that they put negative thoughts in your child’s head. Try changing the name to “magic fairy spray” or “knight spray” -- something with a positive connotation that will help your child focus on the good things that happen in her room. Spray under the bed, by the windows, doors, closets or any place that your preschooler may perceive as frightening.
Encourage Good Dreams Native Americans believe dreamcatchers, handmade from a willow hoop threaded with sinew and hung above a bed, can protect sleeping children from nightmares. Have your child make her own with pipe cleaners and string or construction paper and hang it over his bed.
Turn on Some Tunes Keep a CD or MP3 player loaded with your preschoolers’ favorite songs in his room. When it’s time for him to go to or return to sleep, turn it on at a low volume. The music will give him something to focus on rather than his own thoughts. A caveat -- make sure you have a special “nighttime mix” filled with lullaby's and soothing music cued up. Save the peppy stuff for the daytime or your preschooler may be temped to get up and dance.
Introduce a Sleeping Partner Chances are your child cuddles with a favorite doll or stuffed animal every night. Bring home a new friend -- one whose job it is to keep your child safe while he sleeps. Whether it is a brave lion or a sweet teddy bear, choose whatever you think will appeal to your child.
Next: Night Terrors