Nothing like waking up abruptly to the screams of your toddler because he thinks an earthquake is going to make the glass window over his bed shatter all over him.
I ran into his room as soon as I heard him screaming with fear. He was still asleep and he was moving around helplessly yelling for help. It broke my heart to watch him like this mostly because his fear was real, it wasn’t about a pretend monster though we’ve also gone through that phase. We recently experienced a devastating earthquake that literally caused the roads to open up and swallow cars and houses up whole. Thankfully we were five hours away from this devastation but we felt our whole house sway when this massive earthquake hit the coast of Ecuador.
Most of your children probably have not experienced an earthquake to this extent but nonetheless, monster nightmares and night terrors are unfortunately a phase many of our kids go through. I hope some of the ideas below will help you, we have used these ideas and we are very familiar with the exhaustion accompanied with never ending nightmares.
I do want to mention that you may want to think through what is influencing your child during the day. Possibly, a cartoon, movie, did something happen during their day, change??? Kids can process the simplest of things in a very different way and what may not seem “scary or stressful” to you may be processed differently in their little head. I had one child who after watching the movie “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid” woke up with nightmares. He was older so I asked him what it was about and he said, “The foot, it was the scene with the foot.” In no shape or form did I think it was a scary movie, especially for him at this age but apparently he thought it was.
These tips I share below are also great alternatives to having them jump in bed with you when they are having nightmares. I assure you having your child sleep with you normally never looks this organized and comfortable as pictured below.
It’s more like you crammed into an uncomfortable position where you can’t move for the fear of waking him up and at some point in the night you feel some thing damp on your head only to find out in the morning that it was pee. I personally can’t sleep with one of our kids in bed with me so I have tried to find other options so that we can have a win-win situation for all involved. So after many nights with our youngest not able to shake off the fear I decided I needed to come up with a plan to help calm his anxiety, his fear and his little heart. Here are some tried and true ideas that have worked with all three of my kids for the past 10 years.
How to Help Your Kids With Nightmares
1. Hold them. If they let you, just hold your little one until he’s calmed down.
2. Journaling or Drawing – Make a Dream Book (the video below I explain what we did) This idea came about when another episode of nightmares woke us up. I was exhausted and desperate. I couldn’t calm him down and he was sobbing uncontrollably. I asked him to talk to me about his dream as sometimes talking about it helps it move from your right brain to your thinking brain which then helps you process it differently. But he was too worked up and couldn’t talk to me. So, I came up with our dream book idea. I stapled some sheets together and called it our dream book. He sat on my lap and I had him draw his dream. He didn’t have to talk to me about it but he could if he wanted to. He drew it and then on the back page he drew what he wanted to dream about. He drew an ice cream truck and him holding a large ice cream. It made me chuckle! He asked if he could take his dream book with him and I tucked him into bed and he slept through the night. If they are older and prefer to journal have them do that instead.
3. Validate their feelings – Though their feelings maybe rooted in something completely ridiculous make sure they know that you are validating their feelings. Even if you tell them their are no monsters under your bed, which is the truth, you can still say, “I can see how that would be scary. I assure you that I have checked and there are no giant one-eyed monsters under your bed.”
4. Sweet Dreams Spray or aka Monster Spray – Again in this situation it was one of those ideas–come up with something quick. The first time I just put water in a spray bottle and called it our attack the Monster Spray. Then we changed it up some and added essential oils to it because he was having issues with spider bites. Real spiders. So we added some lemon and eucalyptus, rubbing alcohol with water and used that as our sweet dreams spray. We changed it from “Monster Spray” to Sweet Dreams spray because he wasn’t always having monster dreams so “Sweet Dreams” covered more nightmares ground. As I mentioned above, sometimes it was about earthquakes and other times about spiders. You can just use water and essential oils in your spray. We used rubbing alcohol because it served as a linen spray to keep the real spiders away.
5. Reciting or Singing – One thing to remember is our brains have a hard time forgetting traumatic/shocking things that enter it so when we tell our kids to just forget about that, in reality their brain can’t, so it’s better to tell them to replace the thoughts instead. We have done this with my oldest since he was a toddler when he had nightmares is I would pray with him and then I would have him repeat the verse in Joshua 1:9 with me. We shortened it to say: God is with me, I will not be afraid. I have nothing to be afraid of because God is with me. Reciting or singing something positive is helpful because we can’t forget our thoughts but we can replace them. I remember as a little kid reciting Psalms 23 or singing Jesus loves me when I found myself overwhelmed with fear. To this day I still find myself reciting or singing to help me replace negative thoughts and my son still recites Joshua 1:9 to help him.
6. Lights on! For awhile I thought it would keep my child up if I let him keep the lights on so I avoided this request. I was afraid that he would get up and play or what not. When I finally let him one night, we turned on the bathroom light and he fell asleep right away. So now I let him whenever he asks. I do however have one child who can’t have lights on because it truly does keep him from sleeping. Don’t be afraid to try it for a night or two and then see if it helps them. There are also some night lights that are brighter than other ones but not as bright as turning on the lights.
How do you Help Your Kids With Nightmares?
Here’s a video where I’m talking about this topic with my youngest son.