What should you do when the figments of your child’s (usually beautiful) imagination turns into nightmare fodder after dark? We share six best tips to help comfort your child and transform the boogieman fears into sweet Zzzs for the entire family.
Provide comfort and reassurance. Disoriented and terrified from their nightmare, your child needs to know that they are safe. In a soothing tone, give reassurance that it was a bad dream but you’re now by his side. Physical contact such as doling out a warm bear hug or gently rubbing your child’s back can also be effective at reducing anxiety.
Be understanding. It’s natural to fall back on the “It’s just a dream, go back to sleep”, “Don’t be afraid, it’s not real” spiel, but your child won’t feel that way, no matter what you tell him. Instead, aim to soothe your child while validating his feelings: “I can imagine that would be scary, but don’t worry, there isn’t any monster here!” Bring it further by “checking” the room for bad guys – in the closet, under the bed and all.
Be matter of fact. You may be tempted to get rid of your child’s fears by pretending to vanquish monsters with a magical sword (or something along those lines), but that will only prove to the impressionable child that his fears are real. Instead, calm and ground your child by being factual.
For example, if your child is afraid of the shadows that appear at night, teach your child (during the day!) about what creates that effect and experiment with it.
Impart coping strategies. Helping your child focus on logic and solutions will go a long way in alleviating the aftermath of a nightmare. Figure out what the dream was about, and if possible, what’s causing the nightmare. From there, either provide a rational train of thought – “Sharks won’t be able to travel all the way from the sea into your bedroom!” Or a solution – “Here’s what you should do in case a fire breaks out at home”. The latter provides your child with a solution that they can focus on the next time they have that bad dream.
Alternatively, inject a little silliness into a serious nightmare by teaching him to make up his own ending. From stuffing the huge monster into a cookie jar to having a magical torchlight that vanquishes the boogieman with its powerful beams, your child will be empowered to deal with his fears thanks to his newfound sense of control. And ultimately, it may also reduce the likelihood of having that recurring nightmare.
Light it up. Put a small night light beside your child’s bed so that he can easily reach for it throughout the night. This gives him the ability to actively conquer his fears. Alternatively, you could also give him a comforting blanket or toy to hold on till they are calm enough to fall asleep.
Pay attention to what goes on before bedtime. Setting the stage for conducive sleep is important. Beyond avoiding scary pictures and shows, make sure your child gets in enough sleep each night. And avoid electronics at least half an hour before bedtime!