Halloween can mean costumes, candy, parties and scary movies, but it also can be a tricky time to be a parent. Nightmares sparked by scary movies and costumes can leave your child with dreams that are less than sweet.
When your child has a nightmare, what’s the best way to help?
First, evaluate any events that your child recently experienced that could trigger a nightmare. Maybe your child was not quite ready for a scary movie, or was startled by a recent argument, or witnessed an accident. Once you know which specific events or kinds of movies can cause your child to have nightmares, you can explain to your child what actually happened and the next time that your child wants to see a scary movie or other “nightmare trigger,” you can remind your child of this.
Second, remember that nearly every child experiences nightmares. Children have active imaginations, that should be fostered, but that sometimes make it difficult for a child to distinguish between what is real and what is not. It’s important to acknowledge your child’s bad dreams and realize that your child’s anxiety is real and normal. Encourage your child to be proud of having a great imagination, and help your child to focus on the positive aspect of imagination, so that your child doesn’t feel it’s wrong to have a nightmare or feel scared.
Third, listen to your child and give assurance that all is okay. You can tell your child that boogey men aren’t real or that there is no monster under the bed, but it’s even more important that you be there for your child to give him or her a big hug and say that all is okay. Also, you can help redirect your child’s attention to a funny moment earlier in the day that was less scary, so that your child begins to think about good things before he or she drifts back to sleep.
Sometimes something as simple as a glass of water or a warm glass of milk can help your child to shake off a bad dream.
Tips for helping your child to avoid nightmares:
- Help your child to overcome a fear of the dark. For many kids, nightmares emerge from nothing more than a fear of the dark. For Nyctophobia, the official term for fear of the night or of darkness, the National Sleep Foundation recommends making darkness fun through games. Toy stores also overflow with glow-in-the-dark toys at this time of year –perfect for building nighttime scavenger hunts, which is one of the Sleep Foundation’s best recommendations for overcoming fear of the dark.
- Make scary movies less scary. Showing behind-the-scenes footage of how movie monsters are made helps to remind children that they’re only movies and that the monsters are not real. Many popular films that feature ghouls and ghosts include a “how it was made” segment readily available online. The orcs from Lord of the Rings, dementors from Harry Potter, and even Skeleton Jack from the Nightmare Before Christmas, are examples of frightening figures that you can dispel for your child with a behind-the-scenes look at how they were made.
- Teach your child to self-soothe. Some children can be comforted simply by learning what to do if a nightmare should occur. Reaching for a favorite stuffed animal, keeping a flashlight nearby, or repeating a calming phrase when your child is scared, can give him or her the confidence to overcome nightmares should the need arise.
Although monsters aren’t real, nightmares can be, so be sure to pass along these tips to parents of children who are having nightmares or struggling with bad dreams.