Child nightmares don't have to be a parent's bad dream. Using creative problem solving combined with understanding, parents can banish monsters from the bedroom.
A child's sleeping problems quickly become nightmares for parents. Remember rocking that infant in your arms until sleep took over? It's not that simple anymore. As your child's world expands beyond your loving embrace, so does his excitement and his fears.
Between the ages of one and three, toddlers begin dreaming, and just as your subconscious uses dreams to allow personal growth and process anxieties, so does your child's. Think a toddler has it easy? Think again. Consider the massive changes in a child's life during these formative years: weaning from bottle or breast, giving up the pacifier, coming face to face with potty training, welcoming a new baby to the family, separation anxiety and childcare changes all contribute to the stress a toddler feels.
This stress translates into fitful sleep, nightmares and bedtime battles. Since many of the life changes are unavoidable, indeed many are instrumental to the personal growth of your child, here are some ways to ease the bedtime blues right out the door.
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Nightmares intensify if your child is overtired. Some children need naps up to age five.
- Avoid scary daytime activities. If your child is afraid of animals no matter how small, don't force an encounter. Acknowledge your child's concern and move on.
- Offer comfort when fear-inducing situations arise. Loud noises can startle, but baby feels protected and safe within mom's arms.
- Reassure your child that he is too big to get flushed down the potty, or purchase a special potty chair that she feels safe sitting on.
- Establish regular bedtimes. If dinner is at 6, story time at 7 and bedtime at 7:30, your toddler should know what to expect.
- Bedtime routines should be calming, not alarming. Save wrestlemania play time for Saturday morning. A warm bath, bedtime snack and snuggling story time are lovely ways to wind down and give your child security.
Middle of the night monster appearances will still occur. During the episode, let go of the notion you can offer a rational explanation about the non-existence of monsters. Use creative problem solving to ease your child back to bed.
- Shine the flashlight under the bed and into the closet. Keep the closet door closed and the bedroom door open. Allow a nightlight for periodic comfort.
- Use air freshener or a squirt bottle filled with water to clear the area with your magical Monster-Away spray.
- Remind your child how Max danced and sang with the monsters in Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are".
- Give your child his own monster for protection: Cookie Monster is a perennial favorite.
- Lay down with your child and sing her to sleep. Occasional bouts of bad dreams can be quelled by welcoming your child into your bed for some sleep. This gives her support and safety during rough nights.
- Bring the bad dream up in the light of day. If your child is still fearful, let it drop. But if your child is excited to share the details, this is an excellent way to exorcise the bad memories of the night before.
With love and understanding, peaceful dreams can be your child's night time ritual.