My child has nightmares: how can I reassure him and prevent him from doing so?

Your nights have so far been very peaceful. The bedtime ritual, a book, a kiss, and your little angel fell asleep peacefully until the next day. But for some time, nightmares wake him up. If these phenomena are frequent and mostly harmless, there are very simple ways to comfort your little one and to avoid these bad dreams that distress him.

Why does my child have nightmares?

"There are different episodes in child development during which the recurring nightmares are normal ", explains Elisabeth Brami. "It doesn't matter most of the time. But you still have to identify the cause, it's crucial!"

And very often, the reason is not very difficult to find… An impressive story told before going to bed, the voice of the Big Bad Wolf imitated in a little too realistic way by reading The Three Little Pigs… Details which seem insignificant to us as adults, but which can scare a little one.

"It can be something the child has absorbed just before going to bed or earlier in the day. It can be a picture, something he or she saw, but not only ", explains to us clinical psychologist Elisabeth Brami. "It can also be noises that the child perceived through the partition of his room, like the evening film watched by the parents. "

Certain family circumstances also affect the child: separation, loss of a loved one or even a pet ... These situations can cause nightmares, in the following nights or later.

How can I prevent my child from having nightmares?

"Parents need to listen", advises the clinical psychologist and youth author. "Ask your child, if he remembers, what his nightmares are about. This may give you clues to what caused them and possibly protect him in the future."

Also be aware that a child with nightmares may not wake you up in the middle of the night because he was afraid. Pay attention to the other signs that can be proof that he has a lot of bad dreams:

  • he no longer wants to go to bed;
  • he holds his cuddly toy tight against him as protection;
  • he starts to pee in bed again;
  • he loses his appetite;
  • he has a stomach ache when he goes to school in the morning;
  • he starts to hate bath time when he loved it;
  • etc.

"Everything that is a break, a change, with its usual way of being deserves to be discussed ", advises the expert. These changes can be confirmed to you by other people (at the nursery or school for example).

Providing the child with the opportunity to express themselves, helping them to rationalize their fears, is essential. "But you always have to do it with the right words. Whatever the age of the child, you have to speak to him with the right words, without trying to hide the truth", insists Elisabeth Brami. Why ? "Explaining that his grandfather" went out "is the best way to induce fear in him that will manifest itself every time you" turn off "the light at night." So to avoid misleading and scary interpretations, "call a spade a spade".

Tips for appeasing a child with nightmares

"There are magic ways to appease a child and make nightmares disappear", reassures Elisabeth Brami. Two essential anti-nightmare weapons: the comforter and the night light. "His security blanket is what comforts him the most. If one day he goes to sleep with his grandparents without, it's nightmares guaranteed at night ", warns the psychologist. What about the night light? "Some children don’t have fear of the dark, others if! Forcing a child who is afraid of the dark to sleep without light is a disaster. " The advice of the clinical psychologist: as soon as the child is old enough to press a button (around 2 years old), let him be the master of his pilot. "He can turn it on in the evening or during the night if he wakes up, then turn it off if he feels it ... This autonomy will soothe him."

The expert also advises other "magic methods":

  • Place a pencil and a sheet of paper on his bedside table and invite him to "draw his nightmare"as soon as he wakes up. Then, with you or by yourself (depending on his age), tell him to tear it into small pieces and then make them disappear in the toilet. End of nightmares assured, according to the psychologist.
  • The other method is the "cutter nightmares": it can be an object (a jewel, a gri-gri, etc.) that belongs to dad, mom or any other person with whom the child feels confident. Let your imagination run wild. Place this object under his pillow, emphasizing its "protective powers". "It’s pretty impressive to see how this technique can work to end nightmares", notes Elisabeth Brami.

These methods will prove to be "magic" provided they are accompanied by a lot of discussion and presence: "Comfort the child with words, songs, a hug, a little orange blossom ... Put his music box up, use his blanket thoroughly ... Then talk about it all the next day, quietly, and listen to what the child says. "

However, be careful not to make certain mistakes that can prove counterproductive to calm a child:

  • Don't make the night ritual last too long. It is certainly necessary to soothe the bedtime, but it must not drag on either.
  • Do not let the child who has had a nightmare come and sleep in the parents' bed.
  • Do not end your night in or near his bed if he called you after having a nightmare.
  • If he has a television in his room, make sure it stays off all night. Better yet, put it in another room!

If the nightmares persist or if you find that your child is very anxious without being able to determine the cause, do not hesitate to seek the help of an expert. A psychologist or child psychiatrist can help him end these bad dreams and return to a peaceful sleep.

*Thanks to Elisabeth Brami, clinical psychologist and youth author

For further : Discover his collection So what at PKJ, illustrated by Christophe Besse
Dolto, the art of parenting written in collaboration with Dr Patrick Delaroche (ed. Albin Michel); The big people (ed. High Talents)

Read also :

⋙ Fireworks: what to do if my child is afraid?

⋙ Why do children like to be scared?

⋙ Fears, dreams: what worries children?

Nightmare vs. Night Terror (August 2020)

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