Why Your Kids Have Nightmares And How They Can Sleep Better
What are the causes of nightmares in children? Find out in this informative article. We've also included tips to help your kids sleep better.
Nightmares are no fun for anyone. But when they repeatedly affect a child it can be particularly scary. From the still of the night, a child may suddenly start screaming and crying. Initially, it can be difficult to console the child and get them calm enough to go back to sleep. Why do nightmares happen? What does it mean to have a nightmare? Does it suggest something is wrong with a child or that something bad has happened? Causes of nightmares are fairly easy to identify, and we will be doing just that below. If you can understand and identify your child's causes of nightmares, you all will sleep a little better. Let's take a look.
But first, what are nightmares? Nightmares are scary dreams that generally wake your child up from sleep and seem very real to him or her. Depending on your child's age, it is often difficult for children to separate a nightmare from reality, even after your child awakes from the nightmare. Nightmares can often make your child upset and afraid to go back to sleep and are a reason for bedtime struggles.
What Are The Causes Of Nightmares In Children?
No one knows exactly what causes nightmares. Dreams — and nightmares — seem to be one way kids process thoughts and feelings about situations they face, and to work through worries and concerns.
Some may happen when a child has stress or is dealing with a change. Events or situations that might feel unsettling — such as moving, attending a new school, the birth of a sibling, or family tensions — might also be reflected in unsettling dreams.
Sometimes nightmares are part of a child's reaction to trauma — such as a natural disaster, accident, or injury. For some kids, especially those with a good imagination, reading scary books or watching scary movies or TV shows just before bedtime can inspire nightmares.
Sometimes a nightmare has recognizable bits and pieces of the day's events and experiences, but with a scary twist. A child might not remember every detail but can usually recall some of the images, characters, or situations, and the scary parts.
Sleep apnea is probably the most important potential cause to identify. Children with sleep apnea often experience snoring, bedwetting and teeth grinding. They may have restless, sweaty sleep with mouth breathing. During the day, children with sleep apnea may have attention, behavior, and growth problems. Treatments can help to reverse these symptoms, including the resolution of nightmares.
Ultimately, if you are concerned that your child’s nightmares are disrupting his or her sleep, then you should speak with your pediatrician about the need for possible additional evaluation and treatment. This may be especially important if the nightmares are frequent and begin to lead to anxiety during the daytime, especially fear of going to sleep.
How To Help Your Child Deal With Nightmares And Sleep Better
Add a Nightlight to the Bedroom
The light takes away scary shadows and often calms a child. Use a low light so the child won’t read or get up and play or stay awake because the light is too bright.
Keep the Bedroom Door Open
This helps your child know you are close and increases feelings of safety. Closing the door on a fearful child makes matters worse.
Check for “Monsters”
Briefly check under the bed and in the closet for “monsters.” Do a quick clean sweep rather than spending a lot of time on checking. At this point, you are simply reassuring your child that the fear is not based on any real thing.
Offer lots of physical reassurance when a child wakes up scared. Do not yell or shake the child as a way of getting him/her out of the nightmare. Hold, cuddle and comfort your child.
Offer Special Security
Give your child a special blanket or toy to keep him or her company. The object functions as a security item. Something familiar helps ease the fears of the darkness.
More Tips For Building Good Sleeping Habits
Have your Child Follow a Regular Sleep Routine
Make sure the child is following a regular sleep routine. A regular routine will prevent your child from becoming overly tired, a trigger for some nightmares. To prevent overtiredness with young children, make sure they nap. Keep the routine upbeat and soothing. End the night with positive and fun stories.
Pray with your child before he or she goes to bed and ask God to give him or her sweet dreams. Remind your child that angels watch over him or her. God is always present and with your child even though he/she can’t see God. When afraid, talk to God and ask Him to help.
Talk to Your Child
Explain that a dream is just a story in your child’s head and that he/she can change the ending if he or she wants to do so. Sometimes just talking about a new ending to the scary dream helps calm your child. You may even want to read a story about a child who overcame nightmares.
Reassure, Don’t Coddle
Don’t allow the child to come to your bed for the night. This is a difficult habit to break if you start it. Simply reassure the child, rub his or her back, pray and stay until he or she calms down.
Identify What’s Behind the Nightmares
Identify reasons for him or her to feel anxious or out of control. Make sure the culprit isn’t watching scary media. Sometimes a scary book, a movie promo, the nightly news or a video are enough to put bad scary thoughts in a child’s head. So make sure you are monitoring all media.