Unfortunately, you may not always be there when he has a bad dream, such as at a sleepover or at overnight camp. No matter how old your child, though, reassurance is going to go a long way to helping him feel safe and secure.
There are also things that you can do to help your child. Especially with younger children, a security object such as a favorite stuffed animal or a blanket can help a child feel relaxed and safe in bed. Other things that can help are leaving a low nightlight on in your child’s bedroom and teaching him relaxation techniques. Have your child imagine a relaxing scene, such as a being on the beach or watching a sunset, will help him relax after a scary dream. Children can also use their imagination to help them settle down and fall back to sleep. Have your child imagine a different ending to the nightmare, hang a dream catcher over your child’s bed which helps catch the “bad dreams,” or have your child draw pictures of his nightmare that he crumples up and throws away.
-- Jodi Mindell, PhD, is a leading authority on clinical sleep disorders in children and the Associate Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Mindell is a former member of the Board of Directors of the National Sleep Foundation.
Owens, J. A. & Mindell, J. A. (2005). Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep: The All-in-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens . New York: Marlowe and Co.
Reviewed by Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., June 2010