Nightmares are something many children and adults experience, whereas night terrors are more likely to affect children. Both can be equally frightening for both children and foster carers, especially if you are woken from a deep sleep by a screaming child.
What are Nightmares?
Nightmares are vivid and frightening dreams that can disrupt a child’s sleep and leave them feeling scared and anxious. They tend to happen later in the sleep cycle and the child is more likely to remember what the nightmare was about.
What are Night Terrors?
Night terrors usually happen earlier on in the night and a child may scream and shout with their eyes open for around 15 minutes before falling back to sleep. It’s very scary for foster carers but usually the child won’t recall any of the episode.
There are several strategies that can help both the child and foster carer manage and cope with nightmares and night terrors effectively.
Create a Calm Bedtime Routine
First and foremost, it is essential to create a calm and comforting bedtime routine. A consistent and relaxing routine before bed can help ease anxiety and promote better sleep. This may include activities such as reading a bedtime story, listening to soft music, or practicing deep breathing exercises. All this helps children feel secure so they are less prone to nightmares. A bedtime routine is important for all foster children, including those in short term foster care.
Look at Underlying Fears and Anxieties
Try to address any underlying fears or anxieties that may be contributing to the nightmares. Talk to the child and help them express their feelings and concerns. Encourage them to chat about their dreams and reassure them that nightmares are a normal part of growing up. By validating their emotions and offering support, children feel more empowered to cope with their fears.
Create a Soothing Bedroom
Make sure the child’s room is dark, quiet, and free from any distractions that may trigger nightmares. Soft nightlights or comforting objects, such as stuffed animals or blankets, can provide a sense of security and help alleviate fear. Additionally, introducing relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery or gentle massages, can help induce a state of calmness and reduce the likelihood of nightmares.
Banish devices before bed. Instead, encourage activities that promote positivity and imagination, such as reading uplifting books or engaging in creative play.
If nightmares persist and significantly affect the child’s well-being, consult the child’s GP. They can provide further guidance and recommend appropriate interventions, such as therapy or counselling. Additionally, keeping a dream journal can be beneficial in identifying patterns or triggers that contribute to the nightmares. This information can help both the child and the foster carer gain a better understanding of the underlying causes and develop targeted coping strategies.
Look After Yourself
Coping with a child’s fear and distress can be emotionally draining, so self-care is important. Connecting with other foster parents and joining support groups can provide a sense of community and offer valuable insights and coping mechanisms.
Coping with nightmares and night terrors in small children requires patience, understanding, and a supportive environment. Remember, it is a normal part of childhood, and with the right strategies in place, nightmares and night terrors can be minimised, allowing for more restful and peaceful sleep.