You finally settle into bed with a sigh and feel your body relax for the first time all day. You are warm and cozy. The sounds around you start to blur and you feel yourself drift off to sleep.
Within seconds that comfy, dreamy, almost asleep stage is shattered by a shrill, frightened scream followed by one word.
It’s happened to you, hasn’t it?
Almost all kids have nightmares at some point. It is their brain’s way of dealing with the emotions and experiences that have built up. Since young children really can’t tell the difference between something real and a dream it is hard for them to relax and go back to sleep.
I can understand that. Once in a while I will have a nightmare that will awaken me with my heart pounding a serious flood of adrenalin. Sometimes the feelings hang with me all morning long – I just can’t shake them. It’s easy to see why little kids get scared.
The best thing you can do, no matter how frustrated you are, is to go in to your child and soothe her. Listen to what she has to say. Too often, we want to get back to bed as soon as possible and cut our kids off when they are telling their dream.
Be sure to listen to the whole thing. It helps her get it out of her head and it may give you some insight into what is causing the nightmares.
Hold her, cuddle her, and tell her that everything is going to be alright. Remind her that dreams aren’t real and that they can’t hurt her. Leave a light on if she asks.
During the day, talk to her about what might be bothering her. My youngest daughter kept having horrible nightmares about zombies and she would wake up screaming.
It turned out that her older siblings were not only watching zombie shows when she was around, but they were teasing her about zombies being real. At the same time our Pastor was preaching from Revelations at church and the combination had her totally stressed out.
I took her to lunch and we talked about how zombies are not real. Since our family is Christian, we talked about how God was right there with her all the time. Then we brainstormed ways she could take control of the dream.
I suggested that she could pray for the zombies in her dream and they would turn into unicorns. She was totally besotted with unicorns at the time.
She finally came up with her own idea of giving the zombies a magic flower that turned them back into real people who would come to tea and be her friends. That sounded good to me.
I made sure that my rules of no teasing and no scary stuff for the littles in the house were honored. The older kids didn’t mean to scare her – they just didn’t see how petrified she was. Once they understood what was happening they were very protective of what she watched.
Some of that could have been that I threatened the older kids with the chore of staying up with her when she had a nightmare, though. In any case, it wasn’t long before there were no more nightmares and I was able to sleep all night long.
Do you have tips on dealing with children’s nightmares?