Halloween is a fun and interesting time of year for children, whatever their age. But, with an increase in scary imagery pretty much everywhere, it’s hardly surprising that kids are more susceptible to bad dreams – or even nightmares – at this time of year (1).
From the Halloween costumes and decorations in supermarkets to the creepy decorations in the homes of friends and family members, there is no way to completely shield our little ones from everything Halloween. So, how can we help our kids when their dreams are haunted by Halloween imagery?
In this post, we’ll look at the different things you can do to help soothe your child after a bad dream. And we’ve even got some advice from our resident Sleep Expert Dr Sophie Bostock up our sleeve too. Read on for some tips to help your children with their bad dreams throughout the Halloween holiday and beyond.
What causes bad dreams in children?
As of October 2023, there is no conclusive evidence on what causes nightmares. Dreams – bad or good – are thought to be one of the ways kids process their thoughts and feelings.
Your child’s bad dreams could be down to a stressful situation or an impending change such as changing schools or the arrival of a new baby. And for some kids, their vivid imagination could be the cause of persistent nightmares.
Reading scary books or watching scary movies can also feed into our children’s dreams. And, at Halloween these are more readily available than ever. But avoiding Halloween completely is just not possible. So, with an outright ban on Halloween out of the question, how can we help our little ones after a bad dream? And, is there any way we can minimise the Halloween exposure-induced nightmares? Let’s find out.
How to minimise nightmares in kids
When it comes to reducing the number of nightmares your child experiences, there are no guaranteed fixes. But, here are some of the things you can try:
- Encourage a healthy sleep routine. Try to encourage your children to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine. A soothing bedtime routine, away from the stimulation of screens, will help them to feel safe and calm. Try to avoid sugary drinks before bed.
- Check any scary books or films are age appropriate. With Halloween movies, handy age ratings are provided by the BBFC (the UK's regulator of film and video). These UC, U, PG, and 12A certificates give us a good indication as to whether a film is age appropriate for your children. And if your child is on the cusp of the next age certificate, it may be worth watching the film in question before allowing them to. That way you’ll know whether any of the scenes or themes are likely to disturb your child and feed into their bad dreams.
- Give your child something to sleep with. Many children find sleeping with a favourite or beloved blanket a comfort and never is this comfort more necessary than following a bad dream. This can help some children to feel more secure.
- Try a nightlight. Even if your little one has long since kicked the need for a nightlight, turning it back on could help. When they awake from a nightmare, a nightlight can help them to return to being awake more quickly. And seeing familiar things around you will help your child to remember where they are which should ease the after-effects more quickly.
- Leave their door open. Leaving your child’s bedroom door open helps them to remember that their family is not far away. They will realise that if they are feeling frightened, it’s okay to get up and find a family member who can offer some reassurance.
These are all examples of actions you can take to minimise the sleep disruption caused by your child’s bad dreams – especially during Halloween.
How to reassure your child after a bad dream
If you’re looking for ways you can help your child cope following a particularly bad dream this Halloween, here are the key points to remember.
- Reassurance is key. Be that calming and confident presence that helps your little one feel safe and protected.
- Be open and honest. Telling your child that it was a nightmare and it's over now signals to your child what happened in the nightmare didn't happen in real life. The phrase “it’s just a dream” will offer both comfort and reassurance.
- Be understanding. Demonstrating that you understand your child is scared and that it's OK to feel that way goes a long way.
- Unleash your “parent powers”. As a parent, you have magical powers whereby your love alone can cause those monsters to disappear – especially if your little one has an active imagination. Don’t be afraid to check their wardrobes and under the bed for monsters too. Doing so will give your child further reassurance that the coast is clear.
- Switch on a dim light. A dim nightlight or simply the distant glow of bathroom light is enough to help children feel safer in their bedroom as they go back to sleep following a nightmare.
- Offer help to get them back to sleep. Try a teddy, a blanket, or even some soft music. Discussing some good dreams your little one might like to have could be a good idea too.
- Listen to your child. If they want to discuss their bad dream, make time to listen. Yes, even at silly o’clock. Talking about the content of their dream will also give you the knowledge you need to be able to reassure them that none of it was real.
Your attention, reassurance, and love are the most powerful tools in your arsenal. So, when it comes to helping your child cope with bad dreams at Halloween time – and year-round – be prepared to pull out those parenting staples.
Advice on bad dreams in children from our sleep expert
The cause and effect of a bad dream can vary somewhat, especially in Children. And so, here’s some evidence-backed advice from our resident Sleep Expert Dr Sophie Bostock….
Occasional nightmares are common in children, affecting at least 60% of children. They are often linked to stress, changing environments or sleep deprivation, but it could also be that the child’s sleep system is still developing.
Around 1 in 20 children have nightmares at least once a week. This is particularly difficult for both children and their parents, because it can lead to loss of sleep and a reluctance to go to bed.
One study found that parents could help children aged 3 to 10 with recurrent nightmares by using a “Dream Changer”. This was a home-made device that looked like a TV remote. Parents in the study told their children that dreams are like videos we watch in our sleep. They used this script: “ When you get into bed, think about a good dream you’d like to watch. If a bad dream comes onto the screen, and it wakes you up, just find the Dream Changer and press the button to change the channel .”
Compared to a waitlist group, the children who took their Dream Changer to bed for two weeks had 2 fewer nightmares a week - and the benefits lasted 3 months (Bourboulis et al 2022).
This study showed that an important part of solving nightmares is that your child feels empowered to take control of bad dreams. Making time to talk about any worries that your child has during the day, leaving a night light on and sleeping with a favourite toy (a ‘bad dream busting buddy’) can also help.