Why Nightmares Occur
If your child wakes up in the middle of night crying loudly, it is very likely that he had a nightmare. Nightmares make them so much afraid that they cannot go back to sleep again. They need you to make them feel safe and secured. Nightmares occur in the dream, which is usually in the second half of the night. It is also likely that your child will not forget his bad dream and the nightmare will continue to haunt him.
Children not only experience nightmares but also night terror. There is a slight difference between night terrors and nightmares. Night terrors are sleep disturbances that is characterized with a sudden wake from fear, crying loudly, and then going back to sleep soon. The children usually do not remember night terrors on next day, however, when they experience night terror they are hard to console as they are agitated and very fearful.
How to Help Your Child After a Nightmare
Generally speaking, nightmares occur in children of all ages. However, it is most common in the children between the ages of 5 and 8 years. That’s because at this age they are trying to learn the real life dangers like accidents, pain, death, violence etc. They consume such information and store the images in subconscious mind.
The nightmare in your son might be the result of a scary story you told or the horror or violent scene he watched on TV. The nightmare of your daughter might be a result of stress and anxiety. If your daughter has to face a competition next day, she might have a nightmare the day before due to anxiety and stress related to the competition.
A child that witnesses a death, accident, parental divorce, even parents’ layoff from the work can have a nightmare. Even the thoughts about going to school can cause nightmares in children. Nightmares are normal response to stress, anxiety and fear.
Your child has nightmares does not mean you are a bad parent. However, you will have to manage stress, fear and anxiety in your children to overcome nightmare. If your child wakes up at night with crying, go to him immediately and assure him that you are there and it is safe now. Physical assurances are very important to help your child overcome nightmares. Hug your child, pat on his back, sleep with him if needed.
You can also tell your child that you also have nightmares sometimes and it is perfectly ok to have nightmares.
Dealing With the Anxiety and Fear of Darkness
One of the reasons for nightmares is the fear associated with darkness. Fear of darkness is a common fear in children, it is also a common cause of nightmares. Children are afraid of strange things, unfamiliar things, things they cannot control. Darkness is strange and unfamiliar to them, thus, they are afraid of darkness. They begin to imagine things, in their imaginations they create creatures, monsters, and their imaginations being to haunt them. Children also cannot differentiate between facts and fictions, they see and hear monsters in the darkness. They think that monsters are under their bed, boogeyman is in the cupboard and when the light is out and darkness comes, these creatures are ready to spring upon them.
If you do not help your child overcome the fear of darkness, it might linger for a long time, darkness might even continue to haunt them in their adulthood. The first thing you need is sympathy. You need to be sympathetic towards your child who is afraid of darkness and believe that monsters are his bed. Never make fun of your child who is afraid of unfounded things. If you dismiss their fear, they will be distrustful towards you. Take your child’s fear seriously and help them how to differentiate reality with falsity. Make your child feel safe and secured. Show them the places (cupboard, under the bed) where they think monsters are staying.
The fear of darkness is also related to the fear of intruders. Children believe that in the darkness intruder come. Help your child understand that when windows and doors are locked, intruders cannot come in.
Understanding Your Child’s Nightmares
When your child wakes up from nightmares, never dismiss his fear. Never say things like “Don’t be afraid,” “Don’t act like a child” etc. If you dismiss their fear and make fun of their fear, they will no longer share their fear with you.