Every adult knows what it is like to have a nightmare. You wake up in a cold sweat, your heart racing, and your brain slightly confused and groggy. Waking from a bad dream is intense and alarming. As an adult, you likely have the coping mechanisms necessary to calm yourself and go back to sleep in only a few minutes. A child, especially one unfamiliar with the concept of nightmares, will not return to sleep so quickly, so how do you, as a parent, comfort your child or explain the premise of bad dreams?
What Causes Bad Dreams in a Child?
Before you can explain a bad dream or where it comes from, you must understand the science or psychology of it. Bad dreams are often the result of a restless or anxious mind. If your child hears a scary story or watches an upsetting television program or movie before bed, they may fall asleep thinking about the things that scared or upset them, which can cause images of those things to conjure up in their dreams. Because dreams usually reflect life experiences, children do not typically experience nightmares until they are older.
At What Age Do Kids Start Having Nightmares?
Children may experience nightmares as young as six months, but the occurrence likely doesn't become prevalent until they are older, with most medical professionals speculating between three and 12. During these years, it is common for children to wake up crying or feeling fearful, and they will likely have difficulty falling back to sleep.
Many parents are unsure how to respond when their child wakes from a nightmare. They want to comfort their little one, but they don't want to inhibit their child's ability to self-soothe.
Reassuring Your Child
If your child wakes from a nightmare and feels scared or uneasy, it is ok to comfort them. Your little one needs to understand they are safe and that the dream wasn't real. Taking the time to hold your little one and quiet them is necessary to show them any perceived danger has passed.
Also, when you are with them and soothing them, you can help teach them self-soothing techniques, like deep breathing. Every child will experience a nightmare and needs to develop the tools to manage their responses. You can also help by having an open conversation about their dreams; sometimes, talking about scary things can help reduce or eliminate the fear.
Talking With Your Child About Their Bad Dream
Experts offer two words of advice for parents trying to figure out how to talk to their children about bad dreams: normalize and acknowledge. Nightmares are a part of life. While many adults do not suffer from frequent bad dreams, they can occur after a stressful day or a jolting experience.
You want your little one to understand that there is nothing strange or extraordinary about what they experienced. Parents need to assure their children that nightmares are normal and they are not dangerous.
Also, you want to help your child identify the experience as a dream, as something not real, as something that cannot hurt them. It is crucial to acknowledge the reality of dreams and their effect on the waking world.
Protecting Your Child From Bad Dreams
It is natural to want to protect your child from everything, even bad dreams. Unfortunately, you cannot protect them from everything. The best way to help your child and minimize exposure to bad dreams is to raise them in a healthy environment.
If your little one is prone to anxiety and nightmares, you can help them by teaching them mindfulness exercises or helping calm their home environment before bed. You can also spray your child's bedding and room with Wellements Organic Sleepy Time Spray for a soothing and peaceful bedtime experience.
Nightmares are normal. You can help your child by soothing them when bad dreams occur and normalizing the experience.