If you were like many new moms, when your newborn started sleeping through the night you might have thought, "Hooray, we did it!" But then came teething and nap changes and nighttime sleep got thrown off again. Your kid is bigger now, but there may still be bumps in the night -- some of which could require treatment. Read on for the most typical problems, along with smart solutions.
Problem: Your child comes running into your room because she's been dreaming that monsters are chasing her.
Likely diagnosis: A nightmare. Kids usually start having bad dreams at around age 3, and they're a normal result of brain development. Cognitively, two things are happening to preschoolers at this time, says Parents advisor Judith Owens, M.D., director of the pediatric sleep disorders clinic at Hasbro Children's Hospital, in Providence. Their imaginations are expanding, and they're becoming more aware of the world around them. As a result, they develop more fears because they realize that some things can hurt them.
In-the-moment fixes: Reassure her, but don't go overboard. "If you let her sleep in bed with you, that sends the message that she's not safe in her room and something scary is actually in there," explains Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Instead, tuck her back into her bed with a few soothing words and tell her you'll see her in the morning.
Long-term solutions: You can help your child feel more in control of her fears by building her coping skills. Ask her to tell you about the dream in the morning, and when she gets to the bad part, encourage her to use her imagination to come up with a new, positive ending (the scary giant hears his mom calling and runs away; or it becomes nice and stays for dinner). Have your child draw a picture of the dream and then together you can crumple it up and throw it away. In addition, try making a dream-catcher craft together to hang over her bed (go to dream-catchers.org for kid-friendly instructions). Tell her that according to American Indian folklore, hanging a dream catcher near your bed stops the nightmares and catches the good dreams for keeps. If your child continues to seem really disturbed by these bad dreams, discuss the issue with your pediatrician.