How to Reduce Childrens’ Nightmares:
- Turn off the news when kids are around. And limit their exposure to frightening movies and video games.
- Choose tranquil activities (no roughhousing or cartoons) at bedtime. Save the most relaxing one – a back rub, a story – for last, and make sure it happens in your child’s bedroom, not in the living room or playroom. With older kids, talk about the day and any events they’re looking forward to. This isn’t the moment for a discussion of disasters, though reassuring conversations at other times during the day can help quell bad dreams.
- Know when nightmares signal a serious problem. A dream that occurs over and over can be one sign, says Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., cofounder of the Association for the Study of Dreams. And having bad dreams frequently is another. Regardless, parents should try to figure out if there’s a pattern: Does your child have nightmares only when she spends time with a certain friend or babysitter? Addressing the daytime problem may take care of the nighttime one. If not, a chat with your pediatrician (and possibly a referral to a therapist) may be a good idea.
- Don’t dismiss the worry with “It’s just a dream.” A three- or four-year-old has to be given specific proof, Mindell says. “Show her that the dog is not hurt or that her baby sister is safely asleep in her crib.”
- Help your child describe the dream. And quietly reflect on what happened in it. Praise any detail that shows he took some kind of action – yelling at the monster, for example. “This helps because it shows kids they have power to change the dream,” Garfield says.
- Suggest ways to make a dream less threatening. One patient Garfield worked with learned how to “put a big X on any scene she didn’t like;” another “changed the channel” in her head. Your child may come up with his own ideas.
- Tell children that others share their fears. Reading books that deal with nightmares in a sensitive way can offer gentle reassurance. Experts’ favorites: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer, and Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley.