I have had an influx of my younger kids (6-13) report having “scary dreams” , “bad dreams”, and “nightmares” during the Covid-19 outbreak. This can be alarming and concerning for parents especially when this is out of the child’s normal behavior. In the article, I have laid out 8 ways we can help empower our kids through this uncertain time.
The three typical types of dreams kids can experience are night terrors, bad dreams, and nightmares.
Children experience night terrors early in the night when they are asleep. Although a child experiencing a night terror does not fully wake up, he can seem to be agitated or distressed, scream loudly, while they are sleeping and have a rapid heart rate. Children usually do not recall the episodes of night terror.
Nightmares & Bad Dreams
Nightmares have a tendency to occur in the second half of the night, during the time which is called the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Children dream in their REM sleep. After a nightmare, children wake up in fear and need be calmed down. They have complete awareness and can recall their nightmare clearly after they wake up.
Bad dreams tend to be the dream your child recalls upon waking up and may think about throughout the day.
These types of dreams can be terrifying to a child.
Bad dreams generally occur in children as a reaction to some real-life fear or trauma. We are in the midst of this right now. Kids overhear all sorts of comments, ideas, theories, data, and opinions about the coronavirus. They take this information and process this information in their amazing brains. This same information can trigger a response to imaginary (or real) fears they already have buried in their brains.
The subject of nightmares are also a reflection of what the child is experiencing in real life. Examples like, isolation, change of routine, aggression, boredom, fear of loss, or fear of the unknown. aggression, fear of separation, etc. Nightmares can be about various things like animals, imaginary creatures, monsters, bad guys, familiar places, people, and memorable events.
The key to reducing or ceasing bad dreams is to empower your child.
Take the power away from the scary person, place, or thing, and empower your child with the following ideas:
- Change the Language: Work with your child to brainstorm phrases to say (out-loud, if needed) when they wake up from a nightmare, such as, “I’m safe in my bed,” “Monsters are not real” or “That was just a dream, it is over now.” If your child comes to you in the night, use these phrases to reinforce their positive thoughts. Kids need to be taught self-calming techniques. This enables the child to handle the dreams without waking up the entire family as well as raises their self-esteem.
- Create a Dream Catcher: Encourage your child’s imagination and artistic side by designing something that will help them cope with their nightmares. Some kids make monsters that can “eat” dreams or fairies that keep dreams away, while others benefit from hanging a dream catcher above their bed to “catch” their dreams. I use a stuffed animal I have purchased several times from amazon, Feisty Pet https://www.amazon.com/Feisty-Extinct-Eddie-Dinosaur-Squeeze/dp/B01MRZRJD4/ref=sr_1_9?crid=2GU1RSMEYT5E6&dchild=1&keywords=feisty+pets&qid=1587063249&sprefix=fiesty%2Caps%2C173&sr=8-9 . Turn your sweet and innocent looking stuffed animal into a feisty pet by giving it a little squeeze behind the ears for his mouth to open and his feisty teeth show to ward off the bad buys, monster, or whoever the child is fearful of.
- Write a New Ending: Instead of letting the bad guys “win,” help your child come up with an alternate ending to the dream. For example, if a giant hairy monster was heading right towards them in the nightmare, change the ending: then the monster tripped and fell into a deep hole, saving the whole town, your child was a hero! Kids love silly stories where the bad guy falls into a pool of poop or whatever you can think of that makes the ending funny. This takes the power from the enemy.
- Build Up Calming Skills: Practice ways that your child can calm his body and mind after a bad dream. Children can learn deep breathing, counting backwards from 10 (or 20), or visualizing a safe place. Some kids like to keep a soft blanket or stuffed animal nearby. Teach these skills during the day while your child is calm.
- Teach and Practice Meditation or Mindfulness: refer to my recent article on Mindfulness here: https://beckylennox.com/2020/04/15/how-to-instill-peace-in-your-children/.
- Establish a Bedtime Routine and Stick to it: At least 30 minutes before bed, devices turned off, snack and water given, bathe, read a book, mindfulness or meditation app, etc. Sleep deprived kids tend to have less meaningful sleep. Keep this routine!
- Listen: If something in your child’s dream is concerning to you, ask your child to tell you more. Is there a house in the neighborhood that spooks her? Are kids at school chasing her on the playground? Work together to find solutions, talk about safety precautions, standing up to bullies, or anything else that may help her feel more in control.
- Subway Tile: Although this may sound crazy, it works! I always have a box of inexpensive subway tiles and markers on hand. I ask the child to draw the “scary man” or whoever they feel threatened by in the dream. We take the tile, wrap a paper towel around it, put it in a zip lock, wrap a towel around the Ziplock, put on safety classes, grab a hammer and the child demolishes it. We then open it and see the “thing” scaring them is smashed to tiny pieces. Some kids have taken this home or bury in the back yard, throw in a garbage dumpster, or wherever their parents decide they can put it. It works!
Most common nightmares in children:
- Threatening Animals
- Scary bugs
- Being Eaten
- Getting Lost
- Being abandoned
- Toys that come to life
- Being chased
- Not being able to move
If you are concerned about your child’s nightmares or if their bad dreams seem to be increasing, give me a call. You are not in this alone! Email or call anytime to schedule a virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | firstname.lastname@example.org
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.