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How to help a child with recurring nightmares

Jack-o-lantern carving of a grinning goblin.

Impressive pumpkin art can still cause nightmares. (Photo: Flickr/John Sagredo)

How to help a child with recurring nightmares

October 23, 2012

Ghosts, ghouls, and goblins are hallmarks of Halloween, but they can stir up nightmares and other anxieties for kids that last longer than the holiday.

Below is a related question on how to help a child with recurring nightmares, followed by useful tips from Dr. Jody Navitsky, a pediatrician on JustAnswer.

Q: My daughter is having a recurring dream about monsters that eat people. She is 7 years old and quite distressed about this. She says she feels sick when it is bedtime and has a headache. I am guessing this is from the anxiety that the dream is causing?

A: At this age it's amazing how active imaginations can be. This problem is very real to your daughter, and you should consider it real to you as well. The feeling of being sick around bedtime is of course related to the trepidation she feels. She knows that when she falls asleep the monsters may come, and this scares her.

Frequently there may have been something even minor that set off her fear -- a movie, video game, Halloween preparations at school, or a comment from a friend or classmate.

See if you can talk to her about when it started and what she remembers. Ask her questions about the dream. Many times you can reason your way (as she is starting to be able to do at 7) around making her safe from the monsters.

There are tricks I'm sure you have tried using her own fantasy -- magic flashlights, knock three times on your wall and the good fairies will come, etc. You make up whatever you think will work and cultivate the idea. Above all make her feel safe and that she can always come to you if she is scared. There is no way to "tough out the nightmares" as she can't control it.

If there is any tension at home currently or she is going through a scary time for whatever reason, sometimes this can manifest as nightmares. If you feel that you have tried everything feel free to consult a psychologist for counseling. Sometimes anxiety can present this early, but nightmares really are a theme on their own and extremely common at her age.

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