True fact: Your daughter’s nightmares may turn into your own worst nightmares. Why? Because poor or inadequate sleep has been linked to childhood obesity, lower test scores, and even bouts of depression and anxiety. None of which you ever want your girl to have to deal with.
“Even if you do your best to prevent bad dreams, it’s pretty impossible to avoid them entirely,” says Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “But dealing with them in the right way can help keep them at bay and make bedtime a whole lot calmer for everyone.”
Follow these five simple tips from Dr. Bastiani Archibald to help turn your little one’s dreams from scary to sweet:
- Banish the Brush-off
When your girl says she dreamed of a giant monster or something equally outlandish (say, evil bananas or a mean bunny rabbit), resist the urge to laugh and instead really listen to what she’s telling you and take her fears seriously. Tell her that you would have been afraid, too, but then explain to her that bad dreams are just our imagination making things up while we sleep, and sometimes the things can be crazy. Your little one may even giggle at the thought in the daylight. And unless her nightmares are reflecting the real world, remind her that the people or characters in her dream aren’t real, and that means they can’t hurt her or anyone else.
- Give Her Love
Remind your daughter that you and the rest of your family are there to protect her and that you’ll always do everything in your power to keep her safe and happy. Nightmares and bad dreams can be signs of anxiety, so give her reassuring hugs and a little extra quality time in the upcoming days.
- Ask Questions
Oftentimes, nightmares are a mixed-up reflection of her day or another worry in her life, so check in with your daughter and ask her if there’s anything going on at school or in general that has been upsetting her. Maybe she’s feeling nervous about an upcoming move, or feeling uncertain about her performance in a specific subject area. Whatever it is, uncovering the root problem gives you an opportunity to tackle it head-on and help get rid of the issue at its source.
- Praise Bravery
Remind her of times that some of her favorite characters from history, books, or movies have been afraid, and how they reacted with strength and courage to get through it. This is an opportunity for her to practice her bravery! Some things in life are a little scary, and being able to face those fears is a really big deal that even grown-ups sometimes struggle with. You know she’s got what it takes.
- Be There at Bedtime
If she had a really bad dream last night, she may not want to go to sleep tonight—so make sure her bedtime routine is as soothing as possible. A warm bath followed by a distracting story with a happy ending can help send her off to dreamland with a smile. You can also offer to lay with her as she falls asleep, keep a dim nightlight on, or keep her bedroom door open for an extra bit of security.
And once you’ve kissed one bout of nightmares goodbye, you’ll want to do what you can to keep her nights boogie-man free. Here are a few everyday things you can do to help with that:
- Establish good sleep hygiene. That means sending her off to sleep at about the same time each night, making sure she gets a full night’s rest, and keeping screens off for at least the last hour or two before bed.
- Check in with your daughter regularly so you know about any big changes or challenges she may be facing and can help her navigate them with confidence.
- Keep news exposure to a minimum, and answer any questions she has about current events in simple, age-appropriate ways. If you find that she’s afraid of something that really could happen in real life, remind her that although there are some bad people in our world, the majority are good and want to help keep her and everyone else safe.