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4 Ways To Help Your Child Cope With Bad Dreams

Nightmares are unpredictable and startling, but with a few strategies, parents and kids can make a smoother transition back to sleep.

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Up to 50 percent of three- to six-year-olds and 20 percent of six- to 12-year-olds experience frequent nightmares, according to the American Psychiatric Association (2000). Here’s what you can do:

Snuggle and comfort your child after a nightmare.

Let them share about their bad dream and offer reassurance of their safety as needed. Spend a minute talking about a good memory or a funny story to help kids transition to a calmer state. 

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Keep a flashlight near your bed.

It eliminates the need to turn on bright lights as you walk your child back to bed, or offers a soothing way to read a short book if needed.

Talk about what’s real and what’s make-believe.

Scary scenes or characters in movies can spark bad dreams. As characters or story lines pop up, discuss the differences between what’s there in front of you and what’s imagined. Kids can then use this information to help them recognize that what happened in the nightmare was not real.

Slow down a hectic, overstimulating day.

Do a few yoga poses with kids or play relaxing music while preparing for bed. 

If you feel your child may need more support overcoming nightmares, Robin Goldstein-Lincoln, a licensed psychotherapist from Boulder, recommends looking for these signs: “If your child is having frequent nightmares, is distressed before going to sleep, exhibits more intense emotions or outbursts during the day or around bedtime, and/or begins to regress, such as wetting their bed or resisting school or other daily activities, it is advisable to seek the support of a professional.” Websites like findatherapist.com can help you find the right support system for your family.

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