Night lights aren’t always enough – dealing with nightmares in toddlers
Night lights, a favourite blanket, a teddy bear, a cuddle from mum and still, your toddler is waking with nightmares. Nothing makes a mum feel more helpless than being unable to protect a little one from their own mind! Here are some tips to help you understand early childhood nightmares and night terrors.
It’s not just being afraid of the dark or the monster in the closet
As babies grow to toddlers, their REM sleep cycles change. This transition to longer sleep cycles can cause night terrors as the brain moves from slow-wave sleep to REM sleep. Your child will often be sitting bolt upright, eyes open screaming blue murder – and there’s nothing you can do, sometimes not even wake her! A night light is not going to cut it! The good news is, your toddler won’t remember a night terror and it’s much harder on you than it is on him – such good news!
Common causes of nightmares in toddlers
The most common cause of toddler nightmares is the common cause of nightmares in everyone. The first job is to rule out these common causes before digging deeper:
• Fear of the dark and a big imagination. A good night light in your child’s room will help overcome a fear of the dark or monsters. (Check out our kids night lights for designer décor ideas) Avoid reading scary stories or watching scary TV shows before bed and help your child’s budding imagination focus on happier concepts before sleep.
• Overstimulation or being overtired. Your child’s brain may be working overtime and this may cause nightmares. A solid bed time routine, soothing bed time music and a regular daily routine can help.
• Stress. Family life, big changes, upsets in routine – even just a relationship your toddler can’t understand, all cause stress. If stress is the cause, the older the child, the easier it will be to diagnose. Ask your child about their day. Ask about how they feel about what is going on in their lives. Help them to understand how to deal with it. If your toddler is too small for these conversations, try relaxing activities such as baby massage, soothing baths and helping her feel safe and in control can help.
When to get help from your doctor
According to Macquarie University, 11% of kids struggle with anxiety. Anxiety is one of the leading causes of nightmares that just won’t stop. These might be re-occurring or fearful nightmares. Your toddler may be more prone to anxiety if one or both parents suffer from an anxiety disorder. It’s not easy to diagnose anxiety in young kids because it’s natural to find some fears in small children. Signs of anxiety issues may include taking a negative attitude to activities, refusing to join activities out of fear, separation fears, clinginess, shyness, acute and specific fears, obsessive behaviours and feeling sick a lot. Unfortunately, these are also all the symptoms of being a toddler!
If your child is showing excessive behaviours like these and then experiences nightmares, it might be time to seek an opinion from your GP. It’s probably nothing but it doesn’t hurt to check.
A good child psychologist or occupational therapist can help your child to gradually overcome fears and learn new strengths. This can help ease the nightmares and build a happier child all round!
Sometimes toddler nightmares can be cured with a good kids night light and a lot of cuddles, sometimes only time or therapy can fix the problem. It’s tough on little ones but it’s tough on mums too. While you take care of your toddler, don’t forget to take care of your own calm too!
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