Your child is having nightmares. They can’t sleep, so they sure as hell aren’t going to let you leave them alone in their room . And in the dark? You must be out of your flippin mind! What are you going to do so everyone in the house can catch some z’s? I have some advice for you. Take it or leave it, because I am no kid doctor, sleep expert, or professional related to any of this. I’m just a mom who went through this 3 times so far, and after learning the way the first time, got through it quite easily with the next 2. Fingers are still crossed for the fourth – he’s not quite there yet. So, the first thing you have to do is get past the issue that everyone goes to first, and that really means jacks@*t.
I don’t understand why my child is having nightmares!
Okay, first I should probably clarify that I’m talking about young kids who are having nightmares, not night terrors. If it is an older child, there could be things going on that you may need to figure out. Having a lot weighing on their minds can certainly cause nightmares. I know it does for me. Night terrors are also a different ballgame. This article explains the difference well. If you have now established it is a nightmare, and not the other thing that has you running for a cross to pray over them, you are probably wondering why it is happening. As I put so eloquently before, this is irrelevant. Why? Because if you’re like most parents, the first thing you’ve done is go through a checklist of all the things that could have brought this on. Sometimes so you can find someone to blame for your lack of sleep. What does your checklist include? Who told him scary stories? Who let her see something scary on T.V.? Who took him for a midnight stroll in a graveyard and saw a cult performing a sacrificial ritual? Hey, nobody said you are supposed to think rationally at 3 am! The truth? They probably haven’t seen anything. A funny thing has started to happen. Their creative mind is starting to work overtime. They can imagine all kinds of things. Things that in our mind isn’t even scary.
They probably are not imagining what you think they are.
The freaky monsters and goblins that we are convinced they saw somewhere and are picturing in their heads may not be what’s going on at all. It’s just something their mind has created and we gave them a name for. Monsters. So now these monsters exist in their minds, and even worse, in their closets and under their beds! When Marco was 2, we heard him crying out in the middle of the night. We rushed in, swooped him up, and held him while he told us he was scared. We asked if he had a nightmare. He nodded. He’d never heard of that before, but now we were naming these things he saw in his dreams. His “bad dreams”. He’s 8 and just recently stopped referring to them as nightbears. We went through the checklist, came up that he had seen nothing, realized that finding a solution was MUCH more important than that, and decided we needed a plan.
What is the most important thing you’ll do?
Well, besides give lots of hugs, of course. You need to decide from the start how much time they are going to spend in your bed. How you handle it when your child is having nightmares from the beginning can decide if your kid is still crowding you out the night before his high school graduation. Now, if you already have a family bed, this won’t pertain to you, so you can skip this step. If you don’t, I’m sure you’ll want to bring them into bed with you so everyone can go back to sleep. Totally understandable, and this is exactly what we did with each child. The next day,though, we went into preventative measures rather than a maintenance plan. It was important to us that our kids kept some separate space for themselves, and felt secure there. What we aimed for was to try to give them that security at night in their beds, and leave open the ability to come to our bed in the now rare instances of nightmares,etc.
So we needed some tricks.
Of course, you will explain that there are no monsters in the room. We made it a point not to say they aren’t real, because we didn’t want to have them feel we didn’t believe them. There were “monsters” in their dreams, so how weren’t they real, right? We gave plenty of hugs, comfort, and understanding. Then we told them we could help keep the monsters away. This came down to 2 things:
I had read this tip somewhere, and the kids love it. You spray into the corners of the room, under the bed, and in the closet. It works like bug spray and keeps the monsters away. I think using a favorite body spray of your own works really well, too. They get the extra comfort of your smell nearby.
Each child was given one of the special stuffed animals that had been given to them at birth, or to decorate their nursery. These had been up on shelves until this time, but if this isn’t available in your case, you can always “reveal” the special powers of an animal they already have. It keeps away the monsters so they can have wonderful dreams. We’ve had Dream Bear and Magic Puppy and Cheetah (she didn’t want to change her name). They still sleep with them.
A mixture of tricks and compassion.
I find this recipe to aid a lot in this whole parenting adventure, not just when a child is having nightmares. We’ve shown them we care. We’ve fixed the problem for them. On the rare occasions that one of the kids has a nightmare now, they know they are welcome to come into our room to sleep. We tell them we will “reset” Dream Bear , Magic Puppy, or Cheetah tomorrow, since they seem to be broken for the night.
I know these won’t work for everybody. But, if you found this in a middle of the night search to figure out how to get your child back in bed with sweet baby dreams, it’s certainly worth a shot!
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