Sleepy Time: How to Help Your Child Cope with Nightmares

We’ve all experienced the occasional nightmare at some point in our lives, leaving us with that all too familiar feeling of being shaky, startled, and even sweating. While many adults can calm down rather quickly and go back to sleep, young children are often too frightened to fall back asleep. Sometimes it’s so extreme that they might not want to go to bed the next night, fearing that the nightmare will return.

If your child is having nightmares, there are many ways you can help them cope. Here are just a few:

Offer Reassurance

When your child comes to you in the middle of the night after a nightmare, the first thing you should do is comfort them. Hold your child and assure them that everything is alright. Explain to them that it was just a bad dream, and it’s over now.

Facing the Fear

Listen to your child as they tell you about their nightmare. Oftentimes, stressful or frightening events during the day are reflected in the details of the nightmare during the night.

For example, if your child was scared by a scene in a movie watched earlier in the day, they might have a nightmare related to this scene. Once your child realizes that their nightmare was because of a frightening scene, remind them that the scary scene in the movie they saw had a happy ending. Then help them to re-write a different, happier ending. For example, if their nightmare involves someone chasing them, help them rewrite it to envision the person chasing them is their best friend. Now they are just playing a game of tag!

If the nightmare involves a monster hiding under their bed or in their closet, turn on the lights. Show your child that there are no monsters anywhere in their room. Let your child search with you until they feel safe and confident that there is nothing hiding in their room.

Help Your Child Feel Safe the Following Night

The idea of going to bed the night after having a nightmare can be terrifying for a child. Here are a few simple tips you can follow to help your child feel more comfortable the following night:

  • Eliminate anything frightening in your child’s room: If there is something that is scaring your child, try to move the object or take it out of the room completely. For example, if a trophy or doll on the dresser is causing a large shadow to appear on the wall, remove it from the room.
  • Keep a light or nightlight on: A small nightlight can make a huge difference! If your child is scared of the dark, consider purchasing a small nightlight for their room. Many stores carry cute, child-friendly nightlights that are shaped like flowers or animals.
  • Give your child a security object: Stuffed animals or a special blanket can be great comfort tools for your child. Having a stuffed animal that your child can keep in bed with him will help him to feel more relaxed throughout the night.

At Prep Academy Schools, we know the importance of creating a safe and secure environment for children in the classroom as well. We are dedicated to the emotional growth and well-being of each one of our young students. If we notice that one of our students is having nightmares during naptime, we will notify parents quickly and work together to help them cope properly. Working together both at home and in the classroom, we can help children conquer their fears and sleep more restfully.

More in the Sleepy Time Series: Getting a Full Night’s Sleep and The Importance of Napping