Nightmares affect 50% of children and occur most often in the 3-6 year age group. Most of the time, up to about 5 years of age, they are not able to tell apart the dream and reality. Even after the child is frightened and awake, she would still think that the dream is real and still happening. It’s usually monsters or hantu (ghosts) which haunt our young children at night since these are the threatening figures that our little ones are exposed to in books and television shows.
The way they express their fears depends a lot on how well they can communicate it to you according to their age and language skills. Perhaps your child is showing her fears when you tuck her in, or when the light is off and the room is completely dark for few seconds before her eyes adjust to the darkness. Sometimes you might get a late night visitor to your bed.
My 5-year-old still occasionally comes to my side of the bed and wakes me up. But she is old enough to understand dream isn’t reality. What I’d do is send her back to her bed calmly, tell her to go back to sleep and stroke her hair at the same time. And then I’d leave her to fall back asleep on her own.
How you can help with these fears:
- Ask her what she is afraid of and if it’s monsters, tell her monsters are scary in books and TV but they are not real and her bedroom is a safe place. Be aware of what she watches on TV as she is not experienced enough to tell between real life and fantasy.
- Don’t ever let anyone threaten your child with “the bogeyman” or hantu coming for them. It’s false and just plain mean.
- At each bedtime, engage your toddler in the same, predictable, wind-down routine to help them manage any anticipatory anxiety they might have.
- If it helps her to feel braver, allow her to have a dim night-light or a torch in their bedroom. Personally, I’d advise against having a torch to shine at things lurking in the dark. It would only further validate that there are scary things and that she should “check”.
- It’s important to acknowledge that even though monsters are not real, your toddler’s fear is very real. And real fear needs to be met with real comfort, even in the middle of the night.
- Be honest and upfront that monsters do not exist and her bedroom is a safe and happy place.
- Depending on her age, explain to her that dreams are just thoughts in our sleep. Tell her to practice thinking of her favourite food while her eyes are closed. Then ask her to open her eyes and say “Oh bummer, no chocolates. Just thinking about it didn’t make it real.” Try it with other thoughts to show to her that dreams are not real.
How did you handle your child’s night time fears? What helpful tips did you use to overcome them?
(Note: This post was originally published in May 2013)
Image Credit: The Alpha Parent