If you're having nightmares, try some relaxation techniques before bedtime. Take a warm bath, meditate or practice deep breathing. If your child is struggling with nightmares, be patient, calm and reassuring. Sometimes a little creativity helps, too.
- Talk about the dream. Ask your child to describe the nightmare. What happened? Who was in the dream? What made it scary? Then remind your child that nightmares aren't real and can't hurt you.
- Put stress in its place. If your child seems anxious or stressed, talk about what's bothering him or her. Practice some simple stress-relief activities, such as deep breathing.
- Rewrite the ending. As in imagery rehearsal therapy, help your child imagine a happy ending for the nightmare. Encourage your child to draw a picture of the nightmare, "talk" to the characters in the nightmare or write about the nightmare in a journal.
- Provide company. Your child might feel more secure if he or she sleeps with a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or other comfort object.
- Enlist a guard. If your child is very young, you might assign a doll or stuffed animal the job of "staying awake" all night to guard against nightmares.
- Brighten up. Use a night light in your child's room. If your child wakes up during the night, the light might be reassuring.
- Open the doors. Leave your child's door open at night so that he or she won't feel alone. Leave your door open, too, in case your child needs comfort during the night.
Safety counts, too. If your child has frequent nightmares, make sure his or her bedroom is safe. Skip the bunk beds, and consider blocking doorways or stairways with a gate in case your child tries to run after he or she wakes up.
Aug. 12, 2011
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- National sleep disorders research plan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/sleep/res_plan/section5/section5a.html. Accessed June 7, 2011.
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- Crenshaw T. Nightmares and PTSD: Research review. National Center for PTSD. www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/nightmares_and_ptsd_research_review.asp. Accessed June 17, 2011.
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