How to help your child enjoy bedtime after dealing with nightmares

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If you have ever tried to put a child to bed more than once, you know how hard it can be at times. Bedtime can be a tough time to navigate. Your children may not want to go to bed because they have had bad dreams or night terrors. They may fight and cry about having to go to sleep every time bedtime rolls around. It can be an exhausting experience for the whole family, especially when it becomes a regular occurrence.

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If this is the case for your household, check out the following tips and ideas for children who have a tough time going to sleep due to nightmares.

Acknowledge that they are frightened. Too many parents brush off their children’s anxiety like it is nothing when it is very real to them. Make sure your child knows that you understand they are scared and you would like to help as much as you can.

Does your child have a favorite bedtime story or a song? Make sure you spend enough time reading or singing to them before bedtime. This will help to calm them down.

If your child has a favorite toy or stuffed animal, encourage them to sleep with it. Tell them that the toy or animal will help keep the bad dreams away as much as possible.

Talk about what they would rather dream about. This can help them visualize a different scenario than the scary one they have been dreading all day.

Encourage them to talk about their day. Ask them to tell you their favorite memory of the day, what made them laugh, and what they would like to experience again tomorrow. This helps keep their mind off of the bad stuff.

Explain how to “switch the channel”. When they wake up after a nightmare, they should turn the memory off and switch over to a happy channel instead.

Tell them to imagine that their bad dream has been locked safely in a box. Put chains around the box, take it out to a big truck, and then drive the truck to a loading dock. Bring the box onto a huge ship. Let the ship take the box of bad dreams out into the middle of the ocean and throw it overboard. Help them imagine that box sinking to the bottom of the very deep ocean, never to be seen again.

If your child doesn’t shy away from touch, gently stroke their arm from shoulder to hand. You can also slowly stroke their face as they fall asleep, or rub their back slowly to calm them down.

Talk about muscle relaxation. Ask your child to tighten up one set of muscles, hold them, and then let go. Talk about how their muscles relax this way. Have them purposely relax all of their muscles starting from the head and then working down. This will also help them fall asleep faster and easier.

Nightmares are a common occurrence with young children. We hope these tips will help you and your child get the best night of sleep possible.