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How to help with Halloween nightmares

A young boy on a bed afraid of

A young boy on a bed afraid of something or having a nightmare. Credit: iStock

I loved horror movies as a child, but even I had nightmares. It didn't stop me from watching "The Night Strangler," any Hammer film I could or any other "scary movie" dared shown on television.

My 8-year-old son, a more genteel soul, is hesitant. He doesn't even like to watch the commercials for scary films (which, by the way, seem a lot scarier than they were when I was a child). And that's probably a good choice for him. It's almost impossible to turn on TV this Halloween season, even for a few minutes, without seeing harrowing clips for new movies such as "Paranormal Activity 4" and "Silent Hill Revelation 3D."

It may seem obvious, but if your child is having nightmares, it's important to see whether he or she is being exposed to such content, says California-based psychiatrist Dr. Tom Jackson, who specializes in the treatment of sleep disorders and anxiety.

Examine your child's daily life. "Might there be something happening at home or school or elsewhere in your child’s daily life that could be causing enough distress to possibly lead to bad dreams?" he asks.

If your child does have a nightmare, Jackson suggests the following tips:

- Don't ignore your child. "The one thing you don't want your child to feel at this critical moment is any sort of anger, frustration, impatience or other lack of support from you," he says.

- Go to your child right away. "Reassure him with comforting words, soothing him just as you would if he became frightened by an event during the day," he says.

- Calm your child. "Gently stroke his head or back, and listen to your child’s fears with empathy, understanding that his fears are perfectly real, and should not be discounted under any circumstances," he says.

- Stay in your child's room if needed. He or she may be afraid to fall back asleep. "Or perhaps lie down with your child or even let him join you in your bed," he says.

- Say, "It's only a dream." Jackson says young children may have a hard time understanding the concept.

- Tell them to "take charge" of their dreams. "Suggest, for example, that he imagine the nightmare scenario ending in a happy manner," he says. "Don’t underestimate this method, for it helps teach your child to conquer his nightmares by actively imagining taking charge of the scene."

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