By Armin Brott
most adults, occasional nightmares are a normal part of life. But
that doesn't stop parents from feeling helpless when their children
wake up screaming in the middle of the night. And the more frequently
those nightmares happen, the more parents worry.
we go on, let me clarify two terms people sometimes use interchangeably:
nightmares and night terrors. In reality, they're very different.
Nightmares happen during the dream phase of sleep known as REM (Rapid
Eye Movement). The child may wake up with a clear memory of a "long
movie" that frightened him.
terrors, on the other hand, happen during the deeper, non-REM sleep.
They usually start an hour or two after the child has gone to bed
and can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. Technically,
the child is asleep the entire time, even though his eyes will be
wide open. When it's over, though, he won't remember anything.
are fairly common. According to one recent study, between 20 and
39 percent of kids between 5 and 12 have them. Only one to four
percent, however, have night terrors. If your child has either one,
there's no guaranteed way to completely eliminate them. But there
are a lot of things you can do to reduce their frequency.
television viewing. No scary or violent shows or videos just before
sure you can always hear your child if he cries out in the night.
Get a monitor if you need to. If a baby sitter stays with your child,
make sure she knows how to comfort him. Get to your child as quickly
as you can.
it easy. Really. Your child will be able to tell if you're faking
and sensing your tension will upset him even more. Reassure her
in a calm, soothing voice, that it's safe to go back to sleep. Stay
with her until she's settled down. Reading a story is a great way
to ease her back to sleep.
the nightmare, but only if your child is open to it. If he remembers
his dreams in the morning, encourage him to talk about the frightening
parts and to make up a happy ending to it. But if he doesn't want
to discuss it, respect his wish.
Not to Do
Don't wake her if she's still asleep and crying out when you go
to her room. Stay with her until she wakes up all by herself or
goes back to sleep peacefully.
let him sleep with you, especially after a nightmare. You may end
up giving him the impression that he should be afraid of his own
bed. This could also develop into a difficult-to-break habit.
tell her that nightmares aren't real. They seem plenty real to her
and blowing them off as trivial will only upset her more. Instead,
assure her that even though nightmares are scary, all of us have
the myths, in most cases nightmares and night terrors are not a
reflection of emotional distress. Reassurance and support from you
are usually enough to help your child until he outgrows the problem.
However, if the nightmares or night terrors affect your child's
ability to function during waking hours, or if you suspect that
they're causing any health problems, consult his doctor right away.
A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author
of Father for Life, The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice
for Dads-to-Be; The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year,
A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads, and The Single
Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a Partner. He has written
on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The
Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also
hosts "Positive Parenting", a nationally distributed,
weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California.
Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com.