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Nightmares: What to Do When Children Are Afraid at Night?

Updated: Jan 30

a cutegirl having a nightmare, pastel dark blue and purple as main colour

"There's a monster under my bed!" – Many parents are all too familiar with this statement. Sometimes, the monster beneath the bed even chases your child into a nightmare. No wonder bedtime can become a challenge. We provide tips on how to help your child cope with bedtime fears and nightmares.

Fear of Going to Bed

Fears and worries are a natural part of development and are completely normal. Depending on your child's age, you might recognize some of these common fears: fear of the dark, monsters, ghosts, nightmares, burglars, or being alone. Many children experience these fears at some point in their childhood.

Many of these fears are directly associated with bedtime. Anxious thoughts can make your child tense, preventing them from relaxing and perhaps even prompting them to leap out of bed to seek your comfort. Falling asleep can become nearly impossible under these conditions.

3 Tips for Evening Anxiety in Children

Create a Safe Environment

Ensuring a sense of safety and comfort is crucial for your child's sleep. Transform your child's bedroom into a sanctuary where they feel secure. You can hang up self-made drawings, place cuddly toys in the bed, or use soft night lights or fairy lights to dispel the darkness. Anything that doesn't distract from sleep is permissible. If using lights, ensure they aren't too bright, as bright light can reduce the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

Evening Relaxation

Fear results in considerable tension and restlessness. With a mind full of worries, falling asleep can be a struggle. Relaxation exercises, such as sleep meditations and guided journeys, can be beneficial. The relaxation techniques help in muscle relaxation and diverting overactive thoughts. Focusing on these exercises and stories helps shift the focus from fears, allowing for a smoother transition into sleep.

Use Imagination and Stories Against Fear

As a parent, you know there are no monsters under the bed or ghosts lurking in the room's dark corners. However, to your child, these fears can feel very real, even after you've calmly assured them. In such cases, let their imagination play a role in neutralizing these fears.

You could, for instance, create magical "No Ghosts Allowed" door signs with your child. Small "protectors" like a stuffed animal or a dreamcatcher can also provide added security. Or consider reframing the narrative: what if the monster under the bed is actually scared of the dark itself?

Nightmares in Children

Recurring nightmares can severely affect your child's sleep quality. According to a study, about 40% of children experience nightmares, with 5% having them at least once a week or even more frequently. Unlike "night terrors", where children wake up without recalling the dream, after a nightmare, they vividly remember their dream and often remain fearful.

Reasons for nightmares vary. A spooky story before bedtime can lead to bad dreams. Research indicates that stress, such as familial disputes or the loss of a close individual, can also trigger nightmares.

How to Assist Your Child with Nightmares?

Compared to adults, children experience nightmares more frequently. If the same nightmares recur, they can lead to sleep-related fears.

When your child awakens from a nightmare, be there for them. Hold them and comfort them as best as you can. Depending on the situation, they may fall back to sleep or discuss the dream with you.

Reassure them that everything is okay and they are safe. Some children find solace in having a "guardian" stuffed animal or a worn T-shirt that smells like a parent to comfort them during the night.

For recurring nightmares, these 3 steps might help:

  • 💬 Have your child detail the dream the following day.

  • 🚀 Together, create a positive ending to the dream. Ensure your child finds a solution they're content with, offering your guidance.

  • ✏️ Encourage your child to draw the new dream and the devised solution.

Research with elementary school children indicates these steps help reduce the distress caused by recurring nightmares.

Note: Persistent dreams might indicate psychological issues. If there are signs, don't hesitate to seek professional assistance.

With ZuZu, Bedtime Becomes Pleasant Again

Children have various fears that can hinder their sleep. Nightmares can also significantly distress your child and make falling back asleep seem impossible. With the mentioned tips and tricks, you can help your child feel secure and lovingly drift into sleep at night. We wish you all a good night ⭐️


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