Nightmares have frightened us all at different times in our lives and that is as normal as waking up in the morning. From what we know now, nightmares can occur as early as one year of age. Reassurance and being responsive to a child’s needs can go a long way to helping them to cope with and overcome nightmares over time.
In one of my most frightening nightmares I dreamed I was living in the house my ancestors built before the Civil War. It was made of logs and chinking with crude wood flooring. I was walking through the living room and the floor fell away, leaving only beams. To walk, I had to jump from one beam to the next and then balance until I tried to jump to the next. Stump-like creatures began reaching up between the rafters to try and grab me. Teetering on the beam, I would try to get away, fearing I would be caught.
At the time, that dream was very real and nothing my parents told me made that fear go away. I remember sweating, and holding my urine so I did not need to touch the floor. What I needed was a practical way to get rid of those stump beings. What would have worked for me?
A flashlight or nightlight would have killed the shadows and the source of the stump creatures. My parents would turn the light on and come into my room and poof, they would disappear. Of course, they could do that because they were in charge of the lights and that is what I needed.
Flashlights or nightlights are readily available, affordable and easy to use. The flashlight has one advantage over a nightlight. Holding a light in their hand and operating the switch it may give them a sense of power that would be missing with a nightlight. (I was a kid, I would know!)
Children have vivid imaginations and that may be part of the reason nightmares plague them. Once the lights go out the open closet harbors creatures with large eyes and sharp teeth or slithering snakes— until the light turns on again. Often parents can use that gift of imagination to vanquish those monsters once and for all. Try a few of the solutions parents shared in my Parents Anonymous Group below.
Use a small spray bottle and set the control to ‘mist’ as opposed to stream. Then fill the bottle with ordinary tap water so that if it spills there is no stain. (I used an empty eyeglass cleaner bottle.) Have the child keep it under their pillow until it is needed. When the first ‘monster’ arrives, the child can use the Monster Mist to blast them and make them disappear! Give them a simple rhyme to go with it:
No monsters today!
Go away and stay!
Don’t make a peep!
(Child’s Name) needs his/her sleep!
Security bracelets are made from ‘magic’ beads (Pony beads or any large bead) strung together with elastic, string, yarn or any other threading material. Put the security bracelet on the child at night and take it off at breakfast. The ‘magic’ security bracelet provides an ‘aura’ of protection around the child wearing it. Note: No necklaces! Necklaces could be a strangling hazard.
Native American Dream Catcher
Use any rounded frame, large or small, (Paper plate, bent willow, hula hoop, etc.) and lace web-like netting dotted with sacred beads and decorated with feathers to create a Native American Dream Catcher. Instructions can be found on the internet for simple or elaborate designs. The dream catcher is supposed to allow good dreams to enter sleep while snaring bad dreams.
Holy Trinity or Three-Corner Protection
When Katie and Chelsey were young, one of their favorite items of protection was holding onto the corner of their blanket or bedspread since there was ‘magic’ in the corner. For the faithful, it can also be called the Holy Trinity, having three corners, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit as protection.
The main goal here is to calm anxieties and promote restful sleep in youngsters. If it works for their child, parents should be able to get more parent time and rest as well.
A group member once suggested to me that telling children ‘monster spray’ and ‘magic beads’ was not being quite honest with children. I asked only one question in return, “Do tell your children about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?” My motto: Do what works! Each parent must choose what will work best for them. When they are old enough to know that ‘monster spray’ has no real protection qualities, they may be miffed they were fooled. But when they have children of their own, don’t be surprised if ‘monster spray’ pops up again.
Are there any actions a parent can take to prevent nightmares?
Avoid scary movies, stories or games that might be frightening. The Wizard of Oz is a great story but it has given many children terrible nightmares. Many games, as innocent as some might be, can scare children; remember PacMan eating the dots while being chased?
• Focus on happy, cheerful things before bed like soft music or books before lights off; use a player with automatic shut-off for convenience.
• Talk in the dark and play games to get them used to darkness; stay positive.
• Show children how our eyes become accustomed to the dark and begin to see.
• Show children the dark can be fun by using a flashlight to make shapes on the ceiling or wall.
• Show how interesting our hands are by shining a strong light under their hand shows up.
A word about night terrors: Night terrors are very different from nightmares, since they occur during the rapid eye movement stage (REM) or while the child is sleeping. Parents can try to comfort children and hold them until they are calm. In all likelihood, they will not remember it and may not even wake up. While night terrors are disturbing to witness, they are relatively harmless in children. Night terrors generally are not a sign of a medical problem but if you are concerned, speaking to the pediatrician can alleviate any worry.
Do you have ideas to share with us? The creativity of parents never surprises me!
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her blog here contact page.