Nightmares are never fun, but seeing your little one struggling with them is difficult to watch, so getting to the bottom of it is important. Even toddlers might complain about monsters entering their usually pleasant dreams. Completely preventing nightmares is impossible but setting them up for a good night sleep can lower the chances. A little comfort and soothing will go a long way.
Why are these nightmares happening?
If your little one has started getting scared of the dark, it’s likely their imaginations are running wild during the night. These fears are even more likely if their siblings or friend’s siblings are watching scary movies around them. As you might know yourself, those scenes in horror films can stick with you for years!
Their vivid nightmares are usually occurring during their REM stage or rapid eye movement stage of sleep. During the night, these can feel so fresh and real, that when they wake up, they might be convinced the monsters are still present. At this age, they haven’t grasped that these scary images are only dreams and that they will go away.
What causes them?
Dreams are still a confusing subject for society and knowing exactly where these strange moments originate from is not always clear. It’s believed to be the way your brain works through emotions, worries, or thoughts. If your child seems overly stressed, this feeling might become stronger during their sleep. Having a very active imagination might also make them more susceptible to scary movies or books that could come alive during dreams. As they’re learning about the world around them, things can be confusing and scary.
How to help them get over nightmares
If they wake up suddenly in the night, are afraid to go back to bed, and feel like the dream is overly real, they are most likely struggling with nightmares. To help them move past this, there are a few tips.
Make sure they are on a good sleep schedule
Ensuring that they are having the right amount of sleep is the first step. Having a chaotic schedule can keep them from aligning a successful routine.
Avoid TV, movies, or any scary media before bed
Keep the overly imaginative stories that might frighten them away from the bedroom. Help make the bedroom a fun, happy and safe environment.
Supporting them can be as simple as cuddling with them for a little while after their nightmare. Letting them know that you are there for them and understand their fears will soothe their worries for the time being.
Dissect their nightmare during the day
Avoid doing this during the night as neither of you will be in the right headspace. Take a moment the following day to ask them what was scaring them. If you are able to pull apart their worries and explain to them how they are safe, they may start to understand the difference between real and fake in their dreams.
Give them a comfortable environment
Find a favourite stuffed animal or set up a nightlight if that can soothe them.
As the parent, you have special powers (or creative licence if you will)! Bring out your trusty ‘monster spray’ and cover the room with the protecting mist to show them they are now safe. Check under the bed, in the closet, and reassure them that whatever is scaring them is not there.
Getting over nightmares can be difficult for anyone. For most kids, these will come and go, and age will allow them to see they aren’t real. Eventually, they should grow out of them and sleep peacefully – until they are old enough to watch scary movies, that is!