Conquering Nightmares in Children

Jessica Conoway, MS, LMHC

It’s common for children and some adolescents to have nightmares. They are a natural part of children’s development encompassing a mixture of imagination and the realization that there are things in the world that are intended to cause harm to them. Nightmares or night terrors can make the bedtime routine chaotic to say the least. Sometime nightmares seem to develop out of the blue and other times they can stem from anxiety/ realistic fears in your child’s life. Family conflict and parental anxiety can also play a role.  As parents we want to make our children feel safe and comfortable within our home and the fear brought on by nightmares can make that task seem impossible at times, however there are steps that you can take to reassure your child:

  • Listen to understand. Try to understand your child’s fears. Don’t dismiss or make fun of them.
  • Reassurance. It is important to reassure your child if he is afraid. Communicate the idea of safety over and over again.
  • Teach coping skills. Teach your child coping skills and discuss alternative ways to respond, such as “being brave” and thinking positive thoughts. You could talk about how you deal with something that you are afraid of. Also, provide examples of coping role models by reading stories about children who are afraid and conquer their fears.
  • Have fun in the dark. Make being in the dark fun. Play flashlight tag. Have a treasure hunt and search for things that glow in the dark.
  • Use your imagination and be creative. Use your imagination to fight imaginary fears, like monsters. Many families have found “monster spray” to be a wonderful way to help a child cope with bedtime fears. Some children are comforted by having a pet nearby for nighttime company (even a bedside fish tank may help). Whenever possible, have your child be actively involved in coming up with solutions to help him gain a sense of mastery and control.
  • Security object. Help your child become attached to a security object that he can keep in bed with him. This can help your child feel more relaxed at bedtime and throughout the night.
  • Nightlight. No matter what your child seems to be afraid of, a night-light can help. Nightlights are fine as long as it does not prevent your child from falling asleep. Another thing to try is leaving the bedroom door open so that your child doesn’t feel isolated from the rest of the family.

If none of these strategies work after a few weeks or your child’s nightmares are making them scared during the day and interfering with their normal life they could benefit from therapy. We have wonderful therapist in our office who specialize in seeing children: Jessica Conaway, Amy Smith, and Juliana Ochoa. Please call today for your free consultation 407-355-7378. Lets make the night peaceful again!