How To Help Your Child Deal With Nightmares – Part 2by Dr Emma Gray - 20th November, 2014
In part one we looked at two key strategies when helping your child to tackle nightmares.
In this second part we will look at two more techniques, listening to your child and problem solving with them. Like the initial strategies presented, these are also pivotal in ensuring the successful management of childhood nightmares but also in building your child’s self esteem and confidence, key elements in reducing their risk of developing mental health problems later in life.
Here, the theory is easier than the practice, especially at 3am. However, when dealing with childhood nightmares you have to play the longer game, keeping in mind that using these strategies will future protect not only your child’s psychological well being but also restful nights for both you, as one of the main symptoms of mental health disturbance in both adults and children is disrupted sleeping patterns.
Encourage your child to tell you about their nightmare and validate their experience, remembering that to them it felt real and very scary, so try to resist the temptation to say, ‘it was only a dream’, this gives the impression that you do not either understand, believe or value their experience which will increase their anxiety and have a detrimental effect on how they cope with this experience and future experiences. Instead actively listen to your child, show an understanding of their fear, ask questions and demonstrate a real interest in what has happened in their nightmare.
2. Problem Solve
First share your own experience to show your child that theirs is normal e.g. ‘I sometimes have scary dreams that make me feel very afraid and it helps me to sit up in bed, turn on the light and talk to mummy/daddy about what has happened’.
Then think with your child about ways to make them feel safer and happier both in the dream itself (e.g. think of a ‘magic’ rhyme that they can use in the dream to wake themselves up or make the bad things go away) and when they wake up.
This will build their confidence and reduce feelings of anxiety about future nightmares. And finally remind them that if there is a problem they should call you because it is your job to make sure that they are ok.
If your child’s nightmares appear to be getting worse (either more intense or more frequent) this may be a sign of a more complex problem. In this instance it is advisable to speak to a Clinical Psychologist or Counselling Psychologists.
To recap the previous part of this article, click below to navigate.