Sweet dreams

Both DM and Angel recently posted questions about nightmares and night terrors, so I’ll mash ‘em up together in a two-for-the-price-of-one post – what a bargain!

Nightmares are common and scary for children and parents alike. Sigmund Freud thought they were the “royal road to the unconscious,” emblematic of repressed experiences that if properly decoded could free you from neuroses and anxiety. For most of us, they’re just bits of genuine memories mixed in with monsters, old roommates, and standing around in public without pants on.

There are good ways to prevent at least some nightmares in children:

  • Avoid video-based entertainment close to bedtime. Even “calm” TV shows really hype up the brain, especially primitive centers that control fear and anxiety responses that seem to be a big part of strong nightmares.
  • Avoid either a full or completely empty belly at bedtime. A small snack that includes some protein is a good idea.
  • Empty the bladder before going to bed.
  • Keep the room comfortable, not warm or cold.
  • Some medicines can trigger nightmares, including common allergy medicines and many over-the-counters. Avoid them, or take them earlier in the day.
  • Don’t let young kids watch the news, especially local news.
  • Try to “program” good dreams right at bedtime, by discussing a happy scene rich in details and color, referring to multiple senses. Maybe talk about the circus, and the noise the clowns make, and the smell of the hay, and the taste of the cotton candy.

A wonderful book for pre-school age kids having nightmares is Tell me something happy before I go to sleep. The book never mentions dreams, but it’s a sweet story with a talented big brother rabbit—he ought to become a psychotherapist, he’s so good with his sister.

Night terrors are different. They scare the heck out of parents—the kids can scream and scream—but the children don’t remember them at all. In fact, they’re not even awake, and won’t recognize their parents or seek comfort. Often night terrors occur at the same time each night. If your child has one of these, tuck them back in quietly and don’t try to wake them up. If they happen several nights in a row, a good technique is to “pre-wake” them about 15 minutes before the time that the night terror usually begins. All of the techniques listed to prevent nightmares can also help prevent night terrors, though they don’t work as well. Night terrors are usually outgrown by school age. Or at least by then, mom and dad are so exhausted they’ll sleep right through!

Explore posts in the same categories: Behavior

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