Has your child been experiencing bad dreams lately? If you’re not really sure what to do to help your little one get a peaceful night’s rest, here are 5 tips that you can use to help your child work through their nightmares or bad dreams or bad memories (you can use them too!)
Everyone experiences bad dreams and nightmares. I learned this technique this past year and I wish I had known about it earlier! Some of these tips may not work for all ages, but you’ll know what will work best for your child and the best thing that you can do is try. It’s always nice to have a new tool in your parenting tool belt to grab when you need it.
Before starting, make sure you are seated comfortably with your child in a safe, calm space. Explain to your child that you are going to teach them a tool that they can always use in order to be less scared of nightmares and bad memories. Tell them that they might feel a bit fearful at first but that that is ok. You are going to work with them on how to make those types of uncomfortable feelings move away.
#1 Create A New Version
Have your child think of the nightmare or memory that is charged with negative emotions. There is always an image like a picture or a short “video” in the mind associated with that nightmare and memory. This image is how your brain stores the memory. We are going to teach your child to “Photoshop” that image so that it gets restored in your child’s mind. It is this re-storing that will make it less threatening.
#2 Change It Up
Have your child play with the size of the image in their mind’s eye. Make it larger and smaller. Play with it until the image feels less emotionally charged.
Ask them where they feel fear. Do they feel it in their stomach? What does that feel like? Is it tight and crampy? Do they feel it in their chest? Is it heavy and harder to breathe?
When they adjust the image, ask them again how it feels in different parts of their body. What does better feel like? This will help them learn to understand how their body stores emotions and what their body is trying to tell them.
NOTE: Learning to take a step back from feelings and emotions and observe them in your body is also a useful stress-relief tool.
#3 A Rainbow of Options
Now have your child take the color of the image and make it more and less intense. Change it from color to black-and-white. Change black-and-white to a color. Change the intensity of the color, brighter or softer. Which colors make the image more bearable to your child? Less threatening? Maybe a little silly?
#4 Create Space
Have your child play with the distance of the image. Move the image closer and further away in their mind’s eye. Does your child feel calmer and safer when the image is further away or closer?
#5 Exercise The New “Photoshopped” Memory
Once your child has played around with the image to the point where it feels more comfortable to recall, have them practice recalling it in its new form. Remind them that the scary thought of the nightmare will probably return. However, tell them that when it returns in the future, they can then quickly remember this new Photoshopped image and feel safer. Your brain is like a muscle and this tool gets stronger each time it is used.
It is always great to be equipped with a toolbox of strategies to help maintain and create better mental health. Some work sometimes, others work other times. Unfortunately, we rarely learn these tools in school. I believe that it is a wonderful gift to be able to start filling that toolbox at home and this is one of many that I hope to share in the future. Sleep tight.