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4 Ways to Help Your Kids After a Nightmare

May 26, 2022

by kevin gardner, guest contributor

Watching your child deal with nightmares can be difficult. Unfortunately, this is simply a part of life. Because of this, it's important to help your child calm down and to introduce recovery techniques. Therefore, if your child is experiencing recurring bad dreams, here are four ways to help your kids after a nightmare.

1. Be There

After a nightmare, the first and the best thing you can do is simply be there. Your very presence may be calming to a frightened child. Therefore, no matter how tired you are, it's important to wake up and listen when your child cries out. Be sure to respond to nonverbal cries, particularly loud ones. These cries often occur when children want affection but are worried about waking you up. 

Once you arrive in the room, you can start the soothing process. This is a great time for some major cuddling. Remember to check your child's breathing, especially if asthma or anxiety attacks are a prominent concern. Next, check the bed. It's normal for children to wet the bed after a stressful experience. Simply change the sheets and, if necessary, research how to get pee out of a mattress. After your kid is breathing normally and calming down, you can begin to talk.

2. Reinforce Reality

One of the most important things to do after a nightmare is to focus on reality. While imagination is certainly essential for any child, you don't want to encourage irrational fears and further night terrors. A great way to start this process is by letting your child talk. Children want to be heard, especially after a scary experience. Once your kid gets the entire story out, you can begin reassuring the child that such fears aren't real. 

Keep in mind that understanding is important. The last thing you want is to make your child feel foolish or looked down on. Because of this, you'll want to start off your explanation by validating your kid's fears. You'd also be scared if a dinosaur tried to eat you!

3. Face the Fears

While it can be tempting to hide your child from scary things, ignoring the problem is never a good solution. You'll probably just see the nightmares continue. Instead, you'll want to encourage facing fears head-on. An excellent example of this is the classic monster-in-the-closet scenario. As a parent, you may be tempted to let your child sleep elsewhere for the night, particularly in your bed. However, this will only encourage fear of monsters. No matter how much your child protests, it's important to open the closet and lessen that fear.

Keep in mind that the dark is a huge contributor to scary bedrooms. After all, opening a closet door in the dark is a basic horror movie trope. Therefore, it's essential to turn on a light before doing any of this. 

4. Do a Calming Activity

The final step in this process is returning to sleep. Unfortunately, this can be scary for kids that just had a nightmare. Therefore, you'll want to do a calming activity before tucking the little one in.

One of the best options to try is reading a story. Not only does this gets your child's mind off of the scary nightmare, but it also provides soothing sounds that induce sleep. If the nightmare was super frightening and your child needs a pep talk, you might consider making up your own tale. Weave your child's bravery and strength into the story (along with some silly shenanigans).

Another option to try is singing. This is always a good way to induce sleep, especially if singing to your child before bed is a tradition.

If nothing else works, try getting out of bed and reading somewhere else. This change of location may be just what your kid needs. Get something warm to drink and wait for sleep to come.

Dealing with nightmares isn't fun at any age. However, learning to handle bad dreams early on can greatly help your child throughout life.

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