Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What To Do When Your Child Has a Bad Dream

You hear a scream in the middle of the night. You race out of bed and into your child's room. Your heart is racing and your mind is thinking the worst. Your daughter is sitting straight up in bed, crying and breathing heavily. You feel her forehead while asking, "What hurts?"

"I had a bad dream, Mommy," she says, then lets out another long wail.

You finally exhale, relieved that this is not an emergency appendicitis situation and there is no imminent need for the barf bucket. Yet, you also know that this could be a long night.

For young children, bad dreams can be intensely scary because they feel so very, very real. Kids have a difficult time distinguishing between the frightening events of their dream state and the realities of being awake. As any parent who has ever tried to talk a kid out of believing his dream knows, the efforts are futile. Perceptions become reality.

While even in real life we can not change the past, we can exert control on our present and future. The next time your child awakens in the middle of the night or complains during the day about fears of having another bad dream, try this exercise to help her gain a sense of control over her dreams:

Fold a piece of paper in half. On the left side, encourage your daughter to draw the scary scene from her dream. Stay with her as she does this, offering soothing reassurance, since re-creating the scene can evoke intense feelings.

After she is done, ask her to draw a new, less frightening way to end the dream on the right-side of the paper. In this way, your child gains a sense of mastery and control over the outcome of her dream and can overcome her previous sense of helplessness about the flow of events.

This has activity has served as being very helpful in my household on several occasions. I hope that it might work ease the stress of little ones as well.

By Signe Whitson, LSW. Signe is a mom of two wonderful daughters and offers very helpful training workshops for parents. You can read very helpful advice on Signe also writes for My Baby Clothes dot com, where you can find baby clothes, tutus and baby hats.



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