Combating ‘mares Of the Night

For a long time in my childhood, perhaps as far along as my early high school years, I thought I was living a dream and would eventually, surely, return back to when I was in grade one. Was this some sort of spell put on me when I blew the seven candles out?

Whenever this happened I’d try blinking many times, concentrating hard to break from the land of the nod and back to Littledome, perhaps out of desperation in early high school as teenage angst consumed me.

Nightmares, though – as far as I’m aware – didn’t kick in properly until my early teens when I’d long come to terms with the fact that, yes, this is all real, it’s not a dream… unlike the reoccurring deep-sleep visions of picking my eyeballs out or engaging in long and often disturbing conversations with people I’d only met in passing (or not at all).

Now that I’ve got kids of my own, I wonder what fills their heads at night. When I press them they don’t seem to remember, but the occasional 3 am shriek indicates that something is going on in there.

Studies have shown that while nightmares are more common among girls than boys, children of all ages get them. And about 40 percent of kids – from toddlers to teens – experience them frequently. Nightmare frequency peaks between the ages of 7 and 10, with anxious children experiencing ‘mares more than go-with-the-flow types. It’s probably no surprise that children with post-traumatic stress disorder are especially vulnerable to bad dreams.

Kids’ dreams evolve as they do.

Toddlers’ dreams may focus on imaginary creatures and parental separation; older kids are more likely to wake up in a cold sweat over school, social media or what’s on their screens.

Experts believe the frequency of nightmares isn’t the core issue, but rather the impact of the ones they have. If your kids’ dreams start to impair their functioning, you should get involved. Signs of impaired functioning include anxiety, daytime sleepiness, and poor concentration or memory.

While it’s hard to show tough love when all your kid wants is to have you close to help erase the scary doll head-movie they were just subjected to, you should avoid setting up camp in their bedroom, as children, as many of us well know, quickly build up a reliance to certain situations. Let your child talk through the dream and be sure to assure them that you’re there to comfort them when needed. Discuss coping strategies during the daytime if needed, but don’t dwell on nightmare-talk before bed.

If nightmares are an issue at all hours, experts recommend the cognitive treatment method Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT). It’s simple enough for parents to employ without professional help. Let’s hypothesise: you and your kid create an alternative script for their bad dream, in which an evil talking doll morphs into a glittery princess-doll. Get your child to draw a picture of the revised dream and this is the alternate script that he or she will (hopefully) fall back on at night.

Good luck!


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