Updated: Nov 15, 2022
Nightmares are vivid and frightening dreams that can happen to any child. In fact, almost all children will have nightmares at some point. Nightmares tend to happen during REM sleep, in the small hours of the morning.
Most children will fully wake up during a nightmare and they will remember what it was about. Offering comfort and reassurance are usually the best tools to manage these and to know that most children will outgrow them with time.
If your child has nightmares about monsters rather than creating monster spray which reinforces that they exist, it is better to acknowledge and validate their fear, "that sounds really scary" and often sharing a similar experience can help so that they feel less alone, "I used to have scary dreams when I was a child" followed by the reassurance "monsters aren't things you need to worry about because they don't exist".
Consider any possible triggers, for example, books, TV programs or things in the bedroom which may cause shadows that your child may find frightening. We recently went through all the things in Ivy and George's bedroom that were given as presents or were made by family and friends and we talked about how the room is full of love from all the people who love and care about them and who wouldn't let anything happen to either of them . It is something Ivy has clung on to and loves to talks about before bedtime.
Sometimes a nightlight can also help to ease their fears.
Letting them know they're always welcome in your room can be a helpful tool, as just knowing that you are always there for them is reassuring. The reason I am writing this blog now is because Ivy had a nightmare last night and came into our bed. For me, I love that she knows, that if she is ever scared night or day she can come to me and that it is something I encourage because I always want her to share her worries and fears with me no matter how old she is or what time it is.
If you are unable to bed share, it may be that you set up a floor bed in your room or that you settle/lie with them in their room and that they know they can call for you.
Talking about recurrent nightmares during the day can also help. Some find it helpful to draw the nightmare and then talk about or draw an alternative, happier ending.
Night terrors happen during NREM (dreamless) sleep, typically in the first half of your child's sleep. During a night terror, a child might cry, scream, thrash around or talk nonsense in their sleep. They may have their eyes open during these episodes but they are often unaware of what is going on and they are rarely remembered by the child.
Avoiding waking your child during a night terror as this can be more distressing for them and make them irritable when they do wake. Instead, be there for them by ensuring that they don't hurt themselves.
Night terrors are also more common when a child is lacking in sleep or at times of stress, change (such as potty training) or illness. ⠀⠀⠀
If the night terror always happens at the same time at night, you could try to lightly rouse your child right before the night terror usually occurs, offer a drink of water or a cuddle, then let them fall back asleep. This may mean they skip the night terror and go into the next sleep cycle.