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Bad dreams and nightmares:

Stress can be a problem for your children all
the time or just once in a while. It also can be mild or more serious. As it
gets worse, your child’s fear, anger, and frustration start to take over. At
this level, stress is with your child whether he is awake or asleep.

A bad dream or restless night once in a while
are not cause for concern. Even a nightmare on rare occasion is not something
about which to worry; but if the bad dreams happen often and especially if they
are bad enough to call nightmares, your school-age child is experiencing
excessive stress.

There are some strategies you can use to comfort
your child. First, encourage your youngster to have a quiet time before bed.
You might talk with him for fifteen or twenty minutes about something positive
and not stressful. The idea is to help him slow down and calm down before
trying to go to sleep. This slowing down time combined with a regular bedtime
helps establish a going to sleep routine that facilitates your child’s being
relaxed and calm as he falls asleep.

You also should see if sometime during the day
you can get him to talk with you about his fears and frustrations. Talking is
always the best medicine for stress; but talking specifically about the dreams
or nightmares does not help much.

Your conversation could start like this.
“Nightmares like the ones you have been having aren’t much fun. They
usually mean we’re upset or unhappy about something. At least, that’s what it’s
like when I have bad dreams. What’s the one thing bothering you the most right

Nightmares are not uncommon for children three
to five-years-old or so and are normally not related to unusual stress. For
these children, it is typically enough to help them learn to awaken after a bad
dream and especially after a nightmare. Also, encourage your child to try to go
to the bathroom and to always awaken you when he has a bad dream. Your
reassurance while he is still afraid helps. Talking about something to get his
mind off the dream often is just the right touch. If things do not get better
for your school-age children in a couple weeks or your younger children’s
nightmares persist and do not gradually reduce or are extreme, be sure to
consult with your child’s physician about the problem.

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