The other day I had a bad dream and could not sleep for the rest of the night. This reminded me of a simple nursery rhyme that I used to sing for my kids each night, just for the sake of fun. Every night I would say to them, “Good night! Sleep tight! Don’t let the bed bedbugs bite!” Initially they taught me the rhyme and then they expected me to repeat it every night. In the beginning they sang with me. Then gradually as they grew, they started to laugh at it. Few years later it became joke. I did not realize the significance of the rhyme, nor did I know then the impact it had on the children.
Now that I think about it, it was a best advice I could have given them, as children are prone to nightmares and that too of insects swarming around their beds and room at night. My psychologist tells me almost all children experience nightmares sometimes during their childhood. Nightmares are often normal part of coping with changes in their lives. Research has found that nightmares start somewhere around two years of age but are more common in children between three to six. You must be wondering why children have nightmares.
It’s not clearly understood why children have nightmares, but experts have come to relate them with normal anxiety and stress that are a part of children’s growing up process: starting school, moving to a new neighborhood, separation, death in the family, living through a divorce or remarriage or even having a fever. Anything that upsets a child may cause nightmare.
Nightmares are bad dreams that children see and may involve imagined danger, disturbing themes, images, or figures like monsters, ghosts, animals or even humans that frighten them. Sometimes even loss of control and fear of injury could dominate a nightmare. Some studies have indicated that almost 50 percent of children aged 3-6 have nightmares. Children often wake up crying or even yelling, which further scares them. In such situations parents have a hard time calming their children who might not want to go back to sleep again. It’s not that children have nightmares all the time. Some might have it more often then others. I am sure by now most parents are thinking: is there a remedy for nightmares? Yes there are tried and tested methods to help calm children when they have a nightmare.
In the event your child has a nightmare, the first thing to do is to be with your child and provide comfort. Stay calm. Any irritation on your part will only upset the child. At the moment they need your support and comfort. Calm them, stay with them until they settle down. If your child wants you to stay longer, then try reading/telling their favorite story, which helps your child fall asleep. If the child is having a hard time falling asleep, reassure them of their security. Make them feel safe enough to fall back to sleep again.
If the child is able to speak, talk about the nightmare and show that there is nothing to be afraid of. Work together at finding solutions to the problems that might be represented in the dreams. Discuss their dreams and encourage them to devise happy endings to the scary dream. Then again if the child does not want to talk about it, respect your child’s wishes.
Be imaginative and create a “sweet dream lotion”. Applying it to child’s forehead and tummy before going to bed also helps. Making an Origami (Japanese paper craft) ball and hanging over the bed with the open side up as a ‘bad dream catcher’ does wonders too. While these are few things that experts suggest parents can do to help their children, there are certain things that parents should not do as well.
Do not wake the child if he/she is not already awake, even if the child is crying. Unless the child is extremely upset, it is possible that the nightmare will end and they will fall asleep again. Parents should just stay by them till they either wake up or fall back to peaceful, normal sleep. Make sure that you do not sleep with the child or let the child sleep with you. This might become a habit that is hard to break.
Do not take your child’s nightmare lightly or laugh at it saying their nightmares are not real or that it’s just a dream. Instead, try to explain what dreams are and that all people have them. Maybe even share with them one of your nightmares and tell them how you overcame it. To children their nightmares seem very real and are very frightening.
Experts tell me nightmares are a normal part of almost all children’s lives. The best thing a parent can do is to support children and find ways to help them cope. Nightmares are inevitable so it’s always nice to be prepared to deal with them. According to a specialist in the area, there are a few things that parents can do to help reduce their children having nightmares (please be advised that they are not foolproof). First of all parents will have to sacrifice watching scary or violent shows and switch to something they can watch together with their child, that which is funny and calming. Regulating the kind of television children watch before bedtime makes a difference. The other thing is not to scare your child to sleep, as we often tend to do. Also encourage children not to read scary books before bedtime.
Next time you put your children to sleep just make sure that your child´s favorite toy or stuffed animal is tucked in with him/her, make sure the night-light is on, and remind him/her you´re right there and assure that everyone in the house is safe. My sister used to sleep with Hanuman Chalisa under her pillow as assurance of safety. If your child continues to have nightmares even after you have tried all these methods, try to be supportive and understanding and not be angry about it.