Regardless of how long it’s been since you were a child, surely, you remember being spooked around bedtime. Whether it’s shaking off a scary illustration you saw in a picture book or watching a horror movie before bed, there are images that have haunted us — perhaps to the point where they seep into our dreams. Children of all ages experience nightmares, but there are ways to help your kid sleep soundly again. Protect your little one’s slumber with these three simple tips.
1. Create a soothing sleep environment.
What is the opposite of “terrified”? If you ask us, we think it’s something close to “relaxed.” To curb instances of nightmares, it might be helpful to re-assess your child’s bedroom design. Some upgrades to their space may help prime their minds with peaceful images and not-so-scary thoughts. As we all know, adequate sleep is instrumental for academic performance, as well as physical and mental health. To that end, it’s important to cultivate a sleep environment that puts your child at ease and enables them to wind down at a consistent time every night. Research suggests that optimal sleep is attained when we sleep in a cool-temperature room that is dark and silent — and this seems to be the case across all ages.
That said, every child is different, and as such, further steps may need to be taken to accommodate their unique circadian rhythms and sensitivities. This could mean setting up a humidifier, investing in a white noise machine, plugging in a nightlight, or tucking your child in with a weighted blanket. In any case, you should make sure your child’s bedroom is a sanctuary for sound sleep.
2. Unwind before bedtime.
It’s hard to anticipate nightmares, but that’s why making a conscious effort to help your child’s brain switch to bedtime mode is important. Engaging your kids in a bedtime routine not only helps them to naturally unwind but it also serves as a distraction from any anxieties that might have been plaguing their thoughts. Turning their attention toward their toothbrushing motions, a bedtime story, or choice of PJs are just a few ways to positively interact with your child before it’s lights out. The point is to actively direct their attention toward getting a good night’s sleep. But beyond that, consistency is the name of the game when it comes to forming healthy habits, and establishing a nighttime routine can propel your child toward deeper, faster slumber.
3. Lend a listening ear.
This is the most important tip of all. When a nightmare does strike, don’t avoid what’s scary. You can start by soothing your child and validating how they feel. You can also help them learn to distinguish between fantasy and reality by approaching the issue more logically, whether it’s asking them how many times a monster was actually found under the bed or discussing your family’s fire escape plan. You may even “turn a negative into a positive” by helping them come up with a happy ending to their nightmare that is silly or empowering to them.
That said, we caution you against shielding your child. That doesn’t mean you should stop checking under their bed — but, rather, after you do so, reassure them that for as long as they are under your care, they are safe. Ultimately, it’s about helping your child gradually learn to tolerate whatever they are afraid of; the more they talk about the thing that scares them, the less scary it will become.
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