Inside: Whether it’s sharks, wolves, or the boogie monster, kids get scared at bedtime for all sorts of reasons. When this happens, try following these 3 simple steps to help your child sleep after a scary dream while supporting them emotionally and physically at the same time.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was an early morning, dark and cold outside. My mom was getting ready to leave for work. I was waiting for her by the basement door, bundled up in my coat, my school backpack on my back. It was almost time to get in the car so she could take me to my grandmothers where I’d catch the bus for school that day. But, I couldn’t move.
I stood at the basement door looking out into the pitch black darkness of that cold, early morning. My heart was thumping hard in my chest and loud in my ears, my palms were sweaty, and my feet felt like lead.
I looked back and forth from where I was standing to the car, over and over again, trying to judge the distance. How fast could I make it to the car? How long would it take me to open the door and get my backpack and then myself in? Maybe it would be quicker to jerk the car door open and then dive in, backpack and all, and shut it quickly before…
Before THEY got me.
Are Childhood Fears Normal?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 43% of all children age 6-12 report that they’re afraid of something (Understanding Childhood Fears and Anxieties, n.d.). Sometimes, these fears are real and sometimes they’re irrational. Sometimes, minor fears (like being scared of the dark, dogs, or even something as simple as a balloon) can turn into a debilitating fear called a phobia for young children.
It’s estimated that 1 in 30 children will have a fear that turns into a true phobia (at least one that matches the textbook definition). Phobias can interfere with day-to-day living, and they can last anywhere from a few weeks to months to even years.
It’s not really understood what causes innocent childhood fears to turn into phobias. Some experts believe it has to do with survival instincts (deep water will kill you so avoid it at all costs) while others believe it stems from more first hand experiences (like seeing a scary dog in a movie). Still others believe it can be a genetic thing (as in your grandmother and father had phobias and you do too) or even the result of children who are raised by parents who tend to worry a lot (Bendall, 2016).
In my case, it was from the first hand experience of watching a scary movie with my parents. Now, to give my parents some credit, the movie may not have been all that scary, but a part of it sure scared me. My phobia lasted for weeks before finally going away, and it did interfere with my daily life.
I saw them everywhere. They were always out to get me. They were even in my house, waiting for me at the end of the long hallway that led to my bedroom. I refused to go anywhere alone.
When My Kids Are Scared
While childhood fears are normal, especially night time fears, you may be wondering what you can do to help your child sleep after a scary dream.
Below, I’m sharing how my husband and I handle these situations with our boys based on what some experts recommend. I’m also sharing a recipe that you can make and use to help your child sleep after a scary dream. This easy DIY can help to relax their minds and ease them back into a state of sleep and sweet dreams if they do wake up scared in the middle of the night.
3 Simple Steps To Help Your Child Sleep After A Scary Dream
1. Let Them Get In Bed With You
Anytime my boys wake up from a bad dream, Dean and I always bring them into bed with us until they calm down a bit. From the get-go, we want them to know that they are safe, and we are there for them.
We spend time talking with them about what scared them, how it made them feel, and what they thought about it. We also try to help them come to their own conclusions about the things that scare them by asking if what they’re scared of exists and if it can harm them in their bed. Most times, this helps them to come to the conclusion that they are very safe at home with mom, dad, and their bros, and that what they’re scared of can’t actually be in their room.
Obviously, the age of the child will determine how much of an understanding of their fear they actually have. This seems to work really well for our older kids, but not so much for the younger ones. For them, we basically make sure that they know it’s okay to be scared and that we’ll take care of them.
2. Take Care Of Their Physical Needs
After talking things over, my kids almost always feel a bit better. Next, we ask them if they need a drink or to go to the bathroom. We also check to make sure they’re not too hot or too cold. Basically, we’re looking to take care of any physical needs that could trigger wild, vivid dreams.
I mentioned in my last post on helping children sleep that my oldest, Judah, is very sensitive to temperature. If he gets too hot, he almost always wakes up seeing crazy things and talking out of his head. Once he’s had 10-15 minutes to cool off, he’s back to his usual self and ready to go back to bed.
When the body has a physical need, it can often times manifest itself in our dreams. Have you ever dreamed that you were in the restroom and needed to go to the bathroom and then, all of a sudden, you wake up and realize you really need to pee! Or, in your dream, a train is coming at you full speed blaring its whistle and then you wake up to your alarm clock going off.
Yep. There’s definitely a coorelation between the external/physical side of things and our dreams.
3. Ease Them Back To Bed
Once we’ve talked things over and taken care of any physical needs they may have, Dean and I usher our kiddos back to their beds. Sometimes this works (often with the help of some Bye-Bye Boogie Monster spray – recipe below), and sometimes it doesn’t.
We definitely encourage the older kids to recognize their fears as something they can overcome on their own. We don’t want to coddle them too much or draw any negative attention to the bad dream as we don’t want their fear to become the norm. Obviously, we try to be sensitive to their emotions and let them know we’re there for them, but at the same time, we want to teach them to be increasingly independent. It’s a tricky balance, and it works differently for every child.
Depending on the situation, and the age of the child, they sometimes don’t want to go back to their beds. If that’s the case, we let them sleep with us for a little while.
Now, as much as I like my sleeping space, there’s plenty of room in our king-size bed so I don’t mind having a kid or two sleep with us for a little bit. And, I know that there will come a time when I’m going to miss having my boys snuggle with me in bed at night. Most times, when we let them sleep with us after having a bad dream, we end up moving them back to their bed after they’ve fallen asleep to finish out the night. And most times, they wake up happy in the morning and don’t remember much at all.
Bye-Bye Boogie Monster Spray To The Rescue
Now, if your kiddo has a tendency to wake up scared in the middle of the night, like all kids do from time to time, you can make a batch of Bye-Bye Boogie Monster spray. This DIY linen spray can help your child sleep after a scary dream by helping relax their mind and body. You can spray it in the air or on the outside of your kiddo’s pajamas. It’s works well to spray on their sheets before bed as well. You can also use it if they wake up in the middle of the night.
For bigger kids who can understand their fears better, you can explain how the scents in this spray help to relax their mind and body. For younger children who don’t quite understand fear or why they’re scared, you can simply use the spray to help them feel protected and secure. Try opening the closet door and spritzing the boogie monster out of there (or under the bed if he’s hiding there). He hates the way this smells, and he doesn’t want to hang around it!
Bye-Bye Boogie Monster Spray
Adapted from certified aromatherapist Christina Smith’s Lovely Linen Spray recipe
- 4 ounce glass or aluminum spray bottle
- 2-ounces 190-proof alcohol*
- 2-ounces pure water*
- 80 drops essential oils (I use Plant Therapy’s KidSafe “Sweet Dreams” Synergy Blend)
*If you don’t have 190-proof alcohol, replace alcohol and water with 4-ounces of vodka (which is premixed alcohol and water)
- Measure out 2-ounces of 190-proof alcohol.
- Add essential oils to alcohol. Mix well.
- Measure out 2-ounces of water and add to alcohol/essential oil mix. Blend well. Your mixture will turn milky colored.
- Pour mixture into a 4-ounce spray bottle. Label and let mixture rest for 1 hour for aromas to blend well.
Shake well before using. Spritze into air, on sheets, or outside of pajamas 5-10 minutes before bed.
Caution: Essential oils will not completely suspend in alcohol/water mix so there is a chance that oil droplets can come into contact with your child’s skin. Keep spray away from face (don’t use on pillows or stuffed animals).
When Wolves Ruled The World
My mom had picked me up from school and we were driving home. As we drove, I saw wolves everywhere, acting like humans. They were walking down the road, driving cars, and working in the bank. They were growling and snarling, and we barely made it home un-noticed.
This was the dream I’d had after seeing a wolf on TV. I became convinced that wolves were everywhere, and that they were out to get me.
I honestly don’t remember how I got over my fear or phobia… whatever it was. My mom doesn’t even remember it happening at this point, but my guess is that I just grew out of it.
The Ultimate Goal When It Comes To Childhood Fears
Ultimately, my and Dean’s goal is to help our children identify their fears and work through them with our help. We try not to be insensitive, and we try to address their emotional needs as best as we can while, at the same time, gently guiding them towards independence. We want our children to be happy and healthy and to know they are loved.
Most times, their fears come and go, never resulting in phobias. However, if a phobia were to come up, we’d reach out to an expert to help us deal with it in the correct way, especially if we were making no progress on our own. Dean’s brother is a psychologist, and he can be a big help in these sort of situations!
How have you dealt with fear (real or irrational) in your small children? How do you help your child sleep after a scary dream? Share with me in the comments below!
- Bendall, L. (2016). An age-by-age guide to kids’ phobias – Today’s Parent. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.todaysparent.com/kids/preschool/when-fear-takes-over-childrens-phobias/
- Understanding Childhood Fears and Anxieties. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from https://healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Understanding-Childhood-Fears-and-Anxieties.aspx
This post was underwritten by Plant Therapy. All opinions are mine. Plant Therapy offers 100%, pure, undiluted essential oils sourced from some of the top essential oil suppliers in the world. They have single oils and synergy blends as well as a line of synergy blends specific to children. Not only do they offer high-quality essential oils, but they also offer carrier oils, hydrosols, and other essential oil accessories to help you keep yourself and your home naturally healthy.