Monday, 18 March 2013

Nightmares: How to deal with them when they start in young children

So, yesterday we talked about the potential causes of nightmares in children.   In my case this was a combination of poor judgement around approved film watching, and Little Miss George (4)  getting too used to having her big sister, Princess Peppa (6), sleeping over in her room whilst the roof was being fixed.

But once they start, is there anything you can do?

Little Miss George quickly developed a fear of the dark and wouldn't even go into our hall to go to the toilet on her own.  She'd wake up three or four times a night and cry out for us, only settling to sleep if we sat next to her bed holding her hand, got into bed with her, or, when it was close to morning, allowed her to get in our bed with us, something we have rarely done.

I was worried that we'd lost all that brilliant work we did to encourage her to settle to sleep without us having to sit with her and creep, mouse like (or in my case; clumsy drunken mouse-like - I wouldn't make a spy) out of the room.  

But we vowed to be patient and not get upset with her.  We were calm, but didn't make a huge deal out of it.  We mentioned every so often, roughly three times a week, that we needed our sleep too, and it was a bit tricky at the moment because we kept getting woken up. But we weren't accusatory, just plain speaking. Stating the facts, nothing more.

The final thing we did do, was to ensure we supported her. We didn't get into arguments about it being bedtime, nor arguments about the existence, or not, of funny noises. We just stayed with her when she needed us, sleeping next to her if required, but never turning bedtime, or indeed any part of the night, into playtime, chat time or debate time.

After roughly three months of this, and the return of all the cuddly toys that we had previously thinned out on her bed, and the introduction of a new sleeping position that involves cocooning herself under the cover, so it's over her head, but her face still pops out of the side - interestingly almost exactly how I sleep - she started sleeping through again.

She is still, another couple of months later, nervous about going to the toilet on her own, but will go. She still wants us to go upstairs with her to fetch toys, but not all the time, and she'll often play in her room alone. This is something she did do before, but wouldn't during the nightmare stage. It's almost as if she's OK, until she remembers, and then there's a mini relapse and she needs the support again.

For me the lesson has been this: be careful what you let your children watch. Once they've seen it, once it's passed through their eyes into their brain, they can't un-see it. It's too late. And they never forget.

My advice if your little one is having bad dreams, or expressing fear of the dark? Accept their fears, don't try and reason with them. Just say, it's alright. Tell them that mummy and daddy are there, that you will keep them safe, that you will hold their hand. But then tell them that it's sleep time. Even if you need to sleep in their room for short stretches, always go back to your own bed. If they wake up again, and need you, they can call, and you will be there. You need to teach them that, even if mummy or daddy aren't in their room for a short time, they aren't very far away and will always come when needed. Once the trust is back, and the safety of the house and the environment has been re-established in their mind, the sleepless nights will once again become a memory.

Of course, it doesn't do any harm to throw in the odd protection spell at that age. Mummies all have a small smidgen of magic about them! You won't be able to convince them that monsters don't exist, but you can convince them that you have cast a protection spell scaring them away and protecting the house.


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