Monsters Under My Bed: Why Kids Get Nightmares
There is nothing more heartbreaking (and frustrating) than a child who is too scared to sleep because of something that happened in a dream. As parents, we have all been there: it’s the middle of the night and you’re awoken by a little tap on your shoulder, you open your eyes only to find your little one standing by your bed shaken and crying from a nightmare.
Imagination + Reality
We all have nightmares from time to time, but they tend to occur more in children, peaking between the ages of 3- and 8-years-old. Nightmares commonly begin in preschoolers as this is when children naturally start developing fears and their imaginations start to become more active.
Initially, your child’s bad dreams may stem from her newly developed fears and these creepy creatures start to crawl their way into her dreams. As she gets a little older and starts to grasp real-life threats, such as car accidents and death, you may see her dreams become more realistic, reflecting some of these newly discovered dangers and therefore, becoming scarier to her.
Tips to Help Your Child After a Nightmare
As adults, we know that there is a difference between dreams and reality. But I’m sure you remember a nightmare from your childhood that really frightened you. We have to remember that to children nightmares can feel all too real and we need to be patient when we are awoken by an emotional child at 4 a.m. Here are a few tips for helping your little boy or girl cope with a bad dream and some tricks for scaring nightmares away.
- Affectionate physical reassurance is important to help calm down a worked up child. Hug her, lay with her or rub her back until she calms down.
- Listen. If your child wants to talk about the bad dream, listen intently and remind her that it was only a dream.
- Do the little things that make your child feel safe. Show her there are no monsters under the bed or hiding in the closet, tuck her in with her favorite stuffed animal, turn on the night-light and remind her that you’re just down the hall to keep her safe.
Tips to Prevent Nightmares
Here are a few ways you can help your child sleep better and longer by mitigating the effects of night-time terrors.
- Make sure your child is getting enough quality sleep. Every kid is different, but on average a child needs anywhere from 9 to 13 hours of shut eye each night. Lack of sleep causes stress which can result in nightmares. Help keep the bad dreams away by making sure your kiddo gets the right amount of shut eye each night.
- Establish a relaxing and predictable bedtime routine. This will keep stress levels low and the routine will help trigger his or her brain that it’s time for bed.
- Some children are comforted by knowing that they have control in a scary situation. Hang a “good dreams only” sign or a dreamcatcher above the bed, make some “good dream cream” (scented lotion) or fill a spray bottle with “nightmare repellent” (water with a couple drops of lavender oil) to spritz around the room before bed.
These things aren’t guaranteed to work every time. Sometimes a dream may seem too real and bring up some legitimate fears that your child doesn’t understand. Remember to be patient and know that eventually sound sleep will come again.