Fighting the Bogeyman: Nightmares and Your Preschooler

Fighting the Bogeyman: Nightmares and Your Preschooler | Toya Games

Your child wakes up terrified, crying or screaming frantically, and is unable to be comforted. His eyes are dilated, he’s perspiring, and he could almost be a candidate for the victim in a horror movie. What’s gone wrong with your easy going, contended child?

It can be one of the most frustrating, painful parts of parenthood. You assiduously protect your little guy from everything that could hurt him, anyone that could scare him, and you do pretty well: he lives in a happy bubble, untouched by any of the meanness and malice in the world. But at night? Then all bets are off. You may feel utterly helpless as your child wakes up, crying in fear, sweat pouring off his little face. The monsters, man eating dinosaurs or sinister witches he saw in his dreams were as real to him as the next door neighbor is to you.

Where They Come From

What causes your child’s nightmares? In part, it’s a normal result of his growth and development—around preschool age children begin to analyze the world more and become more open to fear. Their imagination develops, and they become verbally able to put word to pictures and feelings that before went unlabeled.

It’s completely possible for a relaxed, happy child who is afraid of nothing during daytime hours to have horrible nightmares at night. But nightmares are more likely—and come more often—in stressed, anxious children, and on days when your child’s had something to worry him. A book or cartoon that didn’t seem scary to you may have scared him badly, subconsciously, and those fears typically work their way out in nightmares.

What to Do About Them

If your child is prone to nightmares, you may want to look at your daily routine and see what might be possible stressors. Eliminate scary books and movies till your child is older and more mature. A regular, relaxing bedtime routine can also help: give your child plenty of time to wind down, and activities that will help him get ready for peaceful sleep. A bath, a gentle back massage, storytime in a big armchair, or putting to bed the stuffed animals are all possibilities.

When your child wakes up with a nightmare you’ll want to go to him right away; a preschooler should never be left to cry in fear alone. Give him a hug, hold him on your lap, and let him know you’re there keeping him safe. If he has difficulty ‘shaking’ the nightmare, you may want to turn the lights on, wash his face with water, or let him feel a cool breeze at the window to help him wake up. Let him know that it was only a dream, but don’t expect him to understand fully what that means. If you he wants to talk about it, let him, but don’t pressure him into giving you a story if he just wants to curl up in your arms and be still.

It’s hard when our kids have nightmares, but it’s part of growing up, and it can be a special time for you to show your little one that you’ll always be there, ready with comfort whenever it’s needed.

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