How to help your child handle nightmares

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How to help your child handle nightmares

Parents often ask me "what's the best way to help a child with nightmares?" I think what's really important to remember is that the border between what's pretend and what's real, what's happening inside the child in a dream and what's happening in the real world is much more fluid for children than it is for adults. So if you have a child that comes in and tells you that they've just dreamed that a monster came in their dream and took you away, and they're crying and upset, and you're trying to help them with that, you might narrate their experience a little bit and say something like, "You just had a very scary dream that a monster came and dragged me into the woods and then you woke up and told me about it. But I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere. And I know you're really scared but I'm not so scared because I'm not afraid of monsters anymore." So why say that you're not afraid of monsters anymore? I think what you're doing is you're acknowledging to your child that they were scared and that their fear was really real to them, but that you aren't afraid anymore, and that you may be one time had dreams like kids that scared you. But now, you know that you're going to be okay when you come out of a dream. This helps acknowledge how real the dream felt to them, but also you're providing the soothing comfort and helping them transition to a wakeful stance where they can then calm down and be ready to go back to bed.

View John Grienenberger, PhD's video on How to help your child handle nightmares...


Expert Bio

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John Grienenberger, PhD

Family Psychologist

John Grienenberger, PhD, is a psychologist, attachment researcher, and Co-Executive Director of the non-profit Center for Reflective Communities in Los Angeles. He is also a Founder, Executive Director and Clinical Director of Community West, a psychological treatment center for adolescents and young adults in Los Angeles. He has extensive experience in family work, and has trained hundreds of therapists in his mentalization-based approach to working with families. He has authored numerous papers, presentations, and training programs in the areas of psychotherapy, attachment, mentalization, and parenting, and has conducted trainings and presentations both nationally and internationally. He has a part-time private practice in West Los Angeles conducting psychological and psychoeducational testing as well as providing psychotherapy to children, adults, families, and couples. Along with spending time with his children, John also enjoys backpacking, snowboarding, hiking, and mountain biking.


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