With nightmares, firstly: Go to your child and give them a hug.
Nightmares are scary, so it helps to give them some physical contact. You might want to smooth your child’s forehead or stroke their hair. Touch is really calming and can help your child to wake up more from the nightmare and at the same time feel safe and secure. Your child may want to cuddle and snuggle in for a few minutes just to feel reassured. And that’s fine.
Secondly: empathise with how your child must feel.
Say “it sounds like your dream was really scary and I’m here now… You had a bad dream, and now you’re awake, and you’re safe now. Everyone gets nightmares sometimes, and they’re not real, but they can make you feel frightened. And now you’re safe and sound and the nightmare’s over.”
Finally: Talk through how your child can drop off to sleep. What do they need? A soft blanket
or a soft toy to cuddle? A night light on? Or perhaps a minute or two with you stroking their forehead or hair. If they really want you to stay in the room, tell them you’ll stay for five or ten minutes, and then when they fall asleep or the time is up, softly creep out.
If your child wakes an hour or two after you’ve put them to bed – and even when you’re with them still thrashes around and is panicky, it could be a night terror.
With night terrors, children can have their eyes open and may even talk to you, or ask for mummy or daddy, but they don’t remember the episode in the morning.
Night terrors often happen when your child is worried.
So three tips to deal with night terrors are:
- During the day, talk through what they’re worried about. Let them talk through things that may be bothering them and help them think of what they need, to make things easier.
- If there is a pattern of waking –say they wake an hour and a half after being put to bed, for a short while, wake them up after an hour and a quarter, encourage them to go to the toilet or have a drink, and sometimes that can break the pattern.
- If the night terrors don’t stop it may be useful to take your child to see the GP to get your child checked out physically and see if they can access extra help, such as counselling.
So if your child has a nightmare, three things you can do are to
- Hug them,
- Acknowledge how scared they were
- And help them work out how they’ll get back to sleep.
And if they have a night terror:
- Explore their worries,
- Wake them up 15 minutes before the night terror usually happens,
- And access a GP or counsellor.
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