Bad Dreams and Nightmares

Bedtime Routines Can Help

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Boy sleeping in dad's arms

Everyone has bad dreams. You're probably used to your preschool or kindergarten aged child coming to you in the middle of the night. Those words, "I had a bad dream…" tug at a parent's heart. In many cases kids have bad dreams that are figurative interpretations of what they experience during their waking hours. Here are a few things you can do to help your child avoid bad dreams and nightmares.

Turn off the Television at Bedtime

Much of what is on the news is not appropriate for young viewers. Kindergartners and preschoolers are more scared than informed by reports of murders, robberies, disasters, wars, and child kidnappings. Turn off the television when your child is getting ready for bedtime, or change the channel to a program that the whole family can watch.

Set the Tone at Bedtime

Before bedtime, make sure that your child winds down for an hour or so. Going from rambunctious play directly to bed is asking for trouble. Make sure that you talk about happy things with your child – a friend's upcoming birthday party, the neighbor's new kitten, or a trip to grandma's house – rather than engaging in a deep discussion that could trouble your child before bedtime.

Recognize the Signs your Child could be in Trouble

Sometimes dreams signal that something is really wrong with your child or wrong with something or someone in his environment. If your child consistently has nightmares after spending time with a particular person, you might want to discuss the situation with your child's pediatrician. Kids, especially preschoolers or kindergartners, react strongly to people and situations in their lives that make them uncomfortable. We just have to learn to recognize the signs. When kids have bad dreams, it's important to avoid brushing them off when they need comforting. To a child, a nightmare is pretty scary stuff. It's never "just a dream." Reassure your child that there are no monsters, that the neighbor's dog won't bite him, or that the world isn't going to get sucked up in a laser beam. Give him a hug and let him talk about the nightmare if he wants to. Read books about nightmares and talk about them with your child. Validating his feelings without lending credibility to his nightmares will help him overcome a bad dream.

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