How to deal with nightmares

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Most of us have, at some point or another, experienced a nightmare. For many of us they are a thing of the past, something that terrified us when we were young, and it’s not something you’ve thought about much since. However, when you become a parent there’s a good chance nightmares may start to feature in your life once more as you find yourself cradling your crying child in the middle of the night.

Arguably, it’s much worse watching someone you love go through it than experiencing it yourself. How then can you help them calm down and get over their fears?

Listen

Help your child talk through what they had a nightmare about (if they are old enough to be able to discuss it with you). The important thing here is to give them an opportunity to get it off their chest, and share it with you.

Admittedly, once the lights are on it might be hard for you, as a worldly-wise adult to understand what’s so terrifying about a fluffy rabbit or the incoherent babblings of your toddler, but never dismiss their fears. For them, they’re real, and they need to know you understand.

Reassure

The most important thing when you feel scared is to be reminded that you’re safe now. Instinctively we rush to comfort our children, and during this time keep reassuring them that nothing can get them, and you are there for them.

Teach coping skills

Nightmares and night frights present a great opportunity to teach your child coping skills for a wide variety of situations in life. Talk to them about things you are afraid of, and what you do to try to overcome that fear. Show them how to breathe steadily to calm themselves, talk through what it is that actually scares them. Read books with them about characters that have had to face their fears, and who have overcome them in the end.

Have fun in the dark

For many children the dark itself is the terrifying “thing” waking them in the night. Encourage your child to feel safe and confident in the dark by playing games together. You could get hold of stickers or other objects that glow in the dark and hide them around your child’s bedroom, then you can both go on a spooky night time treasure hunt.

Nightlights and other comforts

Having a nightlight in the bedroom can be a great way to help calm children, of all ages, at bed time. A nightlight provides comfort so that should a child wake in the night, they are not confronted by darkness on top of the fear that woke them. Any nightlight will do, as long as it is not so bright that the child cannot sleep. One good idea is to string fairy lights around the room as this can create a fantastic atmosphere.

Other items can be a great help too, perhaps a cuddly toy or a blanket. Some children feel reassured knowing that the family dog is sleeping outside of their bedroom door. You might even consider having a fish tank in the room, complete with lights, to help. Whatever you go for, ensure your child is involved in the discussions and can provide input in to what they would find helpful

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