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A crying and frightened child, awakened in the middle of the night by a nightmare, can be an emotional and dramatic event for a household. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), nightmares are quite common in children of all ages, and generally begin around the age of two.
Scary dreams occur as part of a child’s developing imagination, but can also occur as a response to a frightening, emotional or anxious situation. A little bit of comforting can go a long way in calming your son or daughter after they have experienced a nightmare.
The Center for Effective Parenting suggests several strategies to comfort your child after a scary dream. When you hear your child awaken, head immediately to his or her room to offer reassurance and comfort.
A child needs to feel safe after a nightmare, so you may need to check under the bed with a flashlight for “monsters.” Talk about the nightmare and impress upon your child that it was just a scary dream. Stay calm and talk in a soft, soothing voice to help your child go back to sleep.
Both the NSF and Center for Effective Parenting stress that it is not necessary to let your son or daughter sleep with you or in your room after experiencing a nightmare. This can send the message that your child is not safe in his or her own bed. By staying in his or her own room, the child will learn that it is safe and will overcome any fears.
If your son or daughter is anxious about you going back to your own bedroom, NSF advises leaving the room but checking back in every five or 10 minutes. This predictable schedule will reassure your child, while also allowing him or her to learn to go back to sleep independently.
National Sleep Foundation. Children and Bedtime Fears and Nightmares. Web. 9 Nov. 2011.
Center for Effective Parenting. Nightmares. Web. 9 Nov. 2011.
Reviewed November 10, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith