Child experiencing unpleasant dreams

Contributed by : Dr Ajab Primuswala, Asha Lalwani   
Child experiencing unpleasant dreams

Nightmares/unpleasant (bad) dreams are common among preschoolers as this is the age when they start understanding about normal fears and their imagination is highly active.

Nightmares/unpleasant (bad) dreams are common among preschoolers as this is the age when they start understanding about normal fears and their imagination is highly active. These unpleasant dreams disrupt child’s sleep and causes distress. Nightmares usually occur in the middle of the night or early morning.

According to science, dreams are just a representation of what has been put in our brains. If the child is watching too many violent games or action thrillers or if (s)he has had a fight with friends/family members, (s)he can have bad dreams. Sometimes a verbal fight during the day with anybody can convert into violent dream. As a child, the unpleasant dream is mostly related to ghosts, witches or may be losing both or either of the parents. When they express this, be very sure and precise about how you are going to go ahead with this information and you should assess what kind of surrounding they are being a part of.

When your child gets startled and wakes up from sleep:

  • The first thing to do when they wake up startled because of a bad dream, is to give them a warm hug and tell them that you are always around them and so there is no need to worry. Ask them to openly express whatever they have gone through or felt in the dream. This is the basic thing which you can do to calm your child during and after their unpleasant dream.
  • Switch on some lights, dark rooms are scary for children. It can help them go back to sleep.

There are three ways of knowing whether your child is having unpleasant dreams or not:

  1. The first is if the child wakes up in the middle of the night and starts screaming and is disturbed.
  2. The second if the child suddenly starts clenching his teeth in sleep. The child is irritated, restless and may keep twisting and turning through the night.
  3. The third thing can be that the child wakes up in the morning and expresses that (s)he has had a bad dream and gives you the details.

In all the three cases just work the following things out: 

  1. What's the child’s schedule and how the child is doing what the child is doing. Is there something which the child is viewing which is not so comfortable for the child?
  2. Keep a continuous record of the things happening because children as young as 1 or 1.5 years start observing some cartoons on the television which have negative characters coming in, which might disturb them. Later on, they start seeing these cartoons as a part of their dreams and get scared. So you should keep a check on the kind of media they consume.
  3. Another possibility could be, there might be something in the surrounding which is being talked about and they are not okay with it. May be as parents, you might be discussing something negative in front of them which they are reciprocating in their dreams.
  4. One more concern could be, whether you are fighting in front of your children. Are you taking out your anger or rage in front of them? The child may start channelising your anger in their dreams. They may dream about ghosts or death and if they are expressing any such thing, you can analyse those expressions.

Here are a few ways to avoid nightmares:

  • Have a regular bed time schedule.
  • Try to give a sound and pleasant atmosphere to your child at home.
  • Snuggle your child while putting them to sleep, read good stories and talk about pleasant events.
  • Avoid scary movies, TV shows or threatening stories before bed time.
  • Also ensure that you not talking about any unpleasant event to other family members in presence of the child.

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