Just when you have gotten your little ones into some sort of sleep routine and life begins to get ‘normal’ it starts… Our of nowhere, your perfectly happy little one starts waking in the night. She cries, she is scared and is hard to settle. She has had her first nightmare. Life is rough for kids sometimes, first they just get a handle on how to eat, sleep, walk and crawl and then the mind starts playing tricks on them – seriously, who thought that was a good idea?! Anytime from the age of about 2 when your little ones imagination really starts to develop; nightmares can start.
Sometimes there are reasons that seem to spurr them on (household change, anxiety, fear of the dark are just a few reasons) Sometimes there seem to be no reasons at all to explain why your poor little ones are getting so upset. What it does mean is that at the very least, you are missing out on precious sleep and your little charge is getting unnecessarily upset which is rubbish too. How do you cope when your little ones have bad dreams?
My kids have rarely had nightmares or night terrors so far in their little lives but my niece has suffered terribly with them. Having been a fantastic sleeper all her little 4 years, out of the blue right after she started school she started waking in the night petrified and it worsened to become a real fear of the dark which made for some dreadful bedtimes for my sister. So we tried to become overnight internet experts in the hope that normality could come back to their previously happy and well selpt household. Eventually they worked it all out after a LOT of trial and error and time…. Here are our top tips for coping with and helping your kids when they have nightmares.
First off has to be to TALK and THINK. Don’t get cross, try to keep your voice calm and comforting. It can be hard to be nice at 3am when everyone would rather be asleep but try having a proper talk the next day when everyone is in a better frame of mind. What was their dream about? What don’t they like about it? THINK about your childs life. Has something changed in their lives that their brain might be trying to compute? Is there something that has happened at school to make them worry? Did they see something on the TV they didn’t like? Sometimes something small can be the trigger.
I also think its important that a child likes their room. Obviously, I don’t think you should be re-decorating to your childs every request but do they like where their bed is? Would it help if you moved the chest of drawers into the ‘dark scary’ corner of the room? Is there a big teddy that looks strange when the lights are off? Having a bit of a reorganise and move around of stuffed toys can sometimes help.
If your little one develops a fear of going to bed, is worried about monsters under their bed or the dark in general, try some ‘monster spray’. I suggested this to a friend whose little boy was really worried about monsters in his bedroom and he just loved ‘zapping’ the corners of his room where he thought monsters would lurk. For my niece, we simply filled a clear spray bottle with some lightly coloured glittered water with a few drops of lavender oil (which aids sleep too) and she loved spraying it around her room to get it ready for a nice sleep. I LOVE this free printable from paging supermom that I found on this fab blog Honest to Nod, It really looks the part and I can really imagine kids having fun getting rid of the bedtime monsters with this.
On a serious note, watch your kids do this and see where they spray. Is there a certain corner of their room they don’t like or that casts strange shadows? Is there a toy that is scaring them in the dark of the room? This simple act might highlight the simplest thing that you can fix and might be a one stop sleep solution.
Light and dark
I am a real fan of kids sleeping in the DARK. Both my girls are in total blackout and personally I think this has helped them learn how to sleep though and sleep well but thats another blog! If you are suffering with a child waking frequently in the night, anything is worth trying right?!
SO talk about it – is it the dark that they don’t like or is it shadows that they see? Make some time to enjoy the dark – turn the lights out in their room and have some fun. Take some glow sticks in to run around with, have them dance in their shoes if they have lights in the soles, play with a small torch – help them realise that the dark can feel fun and adventurous, not scary.
For kids that are scared of shadows in their room this is also a great time to play making shadow puppets with your and their hands. Check out this amazing site for some whacky ideas! My sister especially found this helpful and my niece is an expert hand puppet bunny maker now!
If its still needed, try leaving a small light outside their bedroom with the door ajar like these ones which are great. We have them to light up our hallway so that Bea can get to the bathroom in the night too. Or (even though I am sure that they make more shadows than help get rid of them) try a small nightlight like one of these ones which can be set to fade after 15 minutes in the child’s bedroom. Keep the light low though otherwise your little one will find it hard to sleep at all!
Time – It may sound obvious but its also worth looking at your bedtime routine. Especially with slightly older children, its easy to become a bit more relaxed about winding down and a bit more hurried to get out of their room and ready for some ‘me’ time at the end of the day!
Its still so important to let your children enjoy some quiet time before they climb into bed. Enjoy the change of pace too – yes, its great to have kids racing around full of giggles after dinner but its also hard to ‘switch off’ when you have been wound up so let them enjoy a similar routine to the one they enjoyed when they were babies. After dinner, have a play then at a reasonable time have a nice bath, a read of a book and a snuggle with you or daddy and a song before bed. A much nicer way to drift off to sleep don’t you think. Obviously older kids might not want to bathe every night but try to keep the last half hour of their day relaxed and happy, I’m sure it helps. My sister plays relaxing music now so that her daughter doesn’t feel that the last kiss leaves her all alone. I like the sound of this Sleep Fairy CD
Compassion – Agree with your kids – don’t brush their fears aside as ‘silly’. Reassure them that you understand that they are scared but that you can help them to feel better when you understand whats wrong or what is scaring them.
Turn your pillow over – this was always my parents remedy for me when I was young and I still do it if I have had a funny dream! Help your kids to turn their pillow over, thus sending the bad dream away and putting a nice cool side near their cheek which feels nice and relaxing anyway. Eventually they might be like me and do it themselves!
Make a dream catcher – my mother in law gave me a really cute ‘dream catcher kit’ that she had bought at her local craft market which I made for Freya. Basically a wooden hoop with some feathers and beads threaded on with little felt hats to look like fairies. Freya hasn’t reached the bad dream phase as yet but I love the idea of the kids making their own dream catchers. I found this lovely dreamcatcher craft from 4 Crazy Kings to share with you which looks great. You can also simply buy a kit on amazon
Be firm – If you have tried everything but are still suffering from night after night of waking, remember to keep your bed your own…I am a believer that my space is my space! I would hate for my child to be scared and alone but I also dont want them to think they should be able to slink into my bed every night. So I will always stay with them, its better to settle them in their own bed and for them to feel that their room is safe and not somewhere that should be left. I have known some people to make up a bed in their kids rooms and stay with them for the rest of the night to keep them company and in the name of getting some sleep! I think this is fine as long as the kids dont think it will happen every night. If this helps them settle at first then great – you can then make the length of time you stay less each time and eventually they should go back to settling with just a snuggle and a song.
The sleep fairy – originally an idea from Supernanny a friend of mine who was really struggling with her daughter waking up with every excuse in the book including bad dreams, introduced her to their very own in house Sleep Fairy. A fairy who comes and checks on you every night to make sure you are ok and leaves a little present for you if you are very good and stay in bed asleep all night. Who wouldn’t love that idea? Head down to your nearest charity shop or dollar store and get a bunch of goodies to wrap up as gifts from the fairy – get a few, you might need them but as with many other things, when kids are involved, they understand that a little present feels nice and it just might work like it did for my friend and her little girl. Their fairy was phased out after a couple of weeks I think…
Hang in there and Sweet Dreams
Mum on the Rock x