When Children Experience Nightmares

When you combine the active imaginations of children with dreams, very disturbing nightmares can occur.  Adults often feel helpless when it comes to dealing with a child’s nightmares.  It helps to keep a few ideas in mind:

  1. Never, ever brush off or dismiss a child’s fears.  When you say, “Oh, that’s nothing, you’re being silly,” you are insulting the child as well as diminishing their concerns.  If they are legitimately frightened, it’s far from “nothing” and they aren’t being “silly,” they’re being children.

  2. You don’t want to blow the nightmare or the dream up larger than they should be, of course, but you should listen to the child as she or he tells you what happened in the dream.
  3. Instead of saying, “Monsters don’t exist!” – ask the child if he/she has ever seen a monster.  Tell them that you haven’t either (which will carry a great deal of weight, since the child probably thinks you’re about as old as old gets!).  Allow them to come to the realization that it was just a dream and that monsters (or whatever) really don’t exist.  Stay calm, casual, and never tease or make fun of them.
  4. Help them  understand that dreams are like little movies our brain creates to entertain itself while we’re asleep.  Tell them that, apparently, their mind thought it was time for a scary movie and that it will probably want to create a comedy next.  Let them know that watching several cartoons (lighthearted) before bedtime the next night will probably encourage their brain to keep things funny!
  5. If the child is afraid to go back to sleep, ask yourself this question:  “If you were their age and felt totally afraid of your dreams and the dark, what would you want your mom or dad to do?”   You’d want them to let you stay awake for the time being – with the lights on!  If you try to force them to go back to a frightening place, you aren’t going to be much of a hero, are you?

Nightmares are a part of growing up, so are “monsters under the bed” and “creepers in the closet.”  Just try to be as calm and reassuring as you can and you’ll help them disappear soon.

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