As every mom who has been abruptly awakened by a screaming child knows, to comfort your child after a nightmare can be a difficult experience. First of all, it's important to know that if you remain calm, it will help your child remain calm, too. Secondly, it's important to distinguish between a nightmare and a night terror.
What are Night Terrors?
Night terrors occur shortly after your child falls asleep. They are most common between the ages of 18 months and 6 years, and are particularly nerve-wracking for parents as your child may not wake up or be responsive during a terror. Night terrors occur during a sleep cycle when there is no dreaming, so your child will have no memory of having one. If your child is experiencing a night terror, the best thing to do is quietly observe the situation. You don't need to talk to her or touch her, just make sure she is not in danger of harming herself (by falling of the bed, bumping her head, and so on).
What are Nightmares?
Nightmares occur several hours after your child has been asleep. Children between the ages of 4-6 most commonly have nightmares, but they can occur in children as young as 2 years old. Nightmares awaken your child and trigger feelings of anxiety and fear. Your child may be scared to fall back asleep, or she may cry and cling to you for comfort. Children can and do remember dreams.
How to Comfort Your Child after a Nightmare
After your child experiences a nightmare, she is scared and upset. The best thing you can do is remain calm and offer as much comfort as you can. Here are a few ways you can soothe your child:
- Turn on a night light.
- Listen to what your child is saying--why is she scared? Then try to find a way to reassure her.
- Check under the bed, in the covers, and in the closet for "monsters." Show her that everything is OK and that she is safe.
- Sing a lullaby.
- Give lots of hugs and kisses.
- Stay with your child and rub or pat her back until she
falls asleep. Parenting experts do not recommend bringing your child
back to your bed, as this can start a habit that can be very difficult
How You Can Prevent Nightmares
It's important to know that nightmares are extremely common, and most psychologists agree that they are a normal part of your child's development. Nightmares are a way in which your child learns to deal with normal stresses and problems. Nightmares can also be triggered by certain medications, or if your child is running a fever. If the dreams are especially recurrent or disturbing, you may want to consult with a pediatrician. But overall, they are a natural, if unpleasant, part of development.
You can help set the stage for pleasant sleep by making sure the night time routine is soothing and calming. Giving your child time to wind down before bed is a great way to improve sleep quality. Dim the lights, play quiet music, and read a few gentle stories.
Rest assured that nightmares and night terrors are a common part of childhood. By remaining calm and following the above tips to soothe your child, you will both be back to sleep in no time at all.