7 Ways To Keep Bad Dreams From Becoming A Living Nightmare
If you’ve ever experienced bad dreams before, you know they can become a real nightmare.
As a kid, they felt very real! Real enough that they sent me running to my parents’ room for safety. Now as a parent myself, I’m the safe one that my kids come running to when they have a bad dream. And as important as it is for my kids to know that I will always be their place of safety, it can sure get exhausting when it happens night after night!
Naturally, our concern and sympathy for our kiddos outweighs our need for an 8 hour stretch. But the good news is, you get to have both! Handling nightmares with our kids can be something that helps them feel loved and safe, while also being effective in keeping your kids out of your bed night after night.
Just how do we balance boundaries with empathy when it comes to our kids’ fears in the night? It’s actually pretty simple! And much like sleep training, you can do it in a way that still helps them feel supported as they learn to handle things on their own.
1. Acceptance that your kids will go through this in some capacity. It's gonna happen, and it’s normal. Nightmares are a result of their young brains becoming more active - especially as their imagination increases.
2. Preventative action is worth its weight in gold. Stopping things during the day that can trigger nightmares in the night will save everyone a whole lotta tears. This looks like keeping tabs on their screen time, and being careful about the conversations you have in their presence. They might seem unbothered by it at the time, but their fears can show up after the lights go out. As much as possible, ensure that all the things they’re exposed to are age appropriate.
3. Identify the stressor if being preventative hasn’t done the trick. Is your home going through a major change? It can’t be too surprising that nightmares surface when they’re navigating something big. If you can’t control the thing causing them stress, keep their routine as consistent as possible, and create as much normalcy in their life as you’re able.
4. Even if they aren’t going through something in particular, kids always benefit from a calm, consistent routine. This looks like going to bed at a decent time without being rushed, doing everything in the order they always do them, and also remembering to cut out screen time at least an hour before they hit the sheets. Instead of something with blue light and stimulation, play a board game, read a book, go outside, or do a calming activity together.
5. Getting them to bed at the right time can really help them out! Overtired kids can experience more nightmares, because they primarily occur in the REM cycle when they’re sleeping. Plus, if they’re up at night, that also doesn’t help their sleepiness. Keep an eye on the clock in the evening, so they go to bed on time.
6. Offer comfort, but don’t dive in. When someone is scared, the last thing they want to do is live their fear all over again. The same is true for your kids experiencing nightmares. Don’t rehash the dream and create more fear for them. Instead, remind them that it wasn’t real, you’re there, they’re safe, you love them, but also that it’s time to go back to sleep.
An Okay to Wake Clock is an excellent tool here. It serves as a visual reminder that it’s still time for bed, and gives them something familiar to focus on.
7. Don’t draw attention to it when they’re upset. If we make things a bigger deal than they are, it only fuels the fire. You also don’t want them to connect that bad dream = getting to go to bed with their parents, as you’ll probably find it’ll be happening more often. One night is a fun sleepover to comfort them. But when your child feels like they’re ready to move into your room, it’s time to set some boundaries.
Nightmares are hard! There’s no denying that. You totally feel for your kids because what they’re experiencing is very real to them. But if it’s happening night after night, that can be really disruptive to everyone in your home. And you definitely don’t want them to suffer longer than they need to. Try putting these tips into action to prevent and alleviate a lot of the circumstances surrounding nightmares in kids.
Think your sleep really is like living a nightmare? That’s where I come in! Sometimes overcoming sleep hurdles is a simple fix, and sometimes it isn’t! If your family needs guidance, support, and a safe place to answer your endless sleep questions (It’s okay!), then let’s connect! I help exhausted parents get the sleep they’ve been dreaming of, support their little ones as they learn sleep skills, and enjoy parenthood again.