Family life

Nightmares: Things that go bump in the night

Do your kids have bad dreams? Tracy wonders what you do to help chase them away.

By Tracy Chappell
Nightmares: Things that go bump in the night

Photo by BnPPhm via Flickr.

There’s no pitter-patter of footsteps. Instead, I’m jolted awake as her feet hit the floor and pound to the hallway. I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping that she just has to pee. But she barrels through the darkness, to my side.
“Mommy, I had a bad dream again,” Anna whispers, and I feel her arms reaching out to me, desperately seeking comfort.
I might have just been drifting off, or it could be three or four in the morning, but when my kids wake up, I do, too. I wonder if it will always be like this, if it’s like this for all mothers, this psychic connection to their very consciousness. With Avery, the easy answer is to make some room for her to cuddle up. If I’m ambitious enough, I’ll go and lie with her in her bed for a few minutes.
With Anna, it’s more complicated. Anna doesn’t arrive at my side looking for cuddles. She needs help casting out the monsters that haunt her dreamscape, and it breaks my heart. She has had bad dreams for as long as she could articulate the concept. They come in clusters over a period of weeks and then go away for months.
I used to just lie with her in her bed until she fell back to sleep (she doesn’t ever want to sleep in my bed). But we were searching for preventative strategies. Early last year, I found a dreamcatcher kit and we made it together and hung it above her bed. We created a glow-in-the-dark galaxy on her ceiling to give her something to focus on as she fell asleep. We leave a light on in the hallway. She has an enormous stuffed tiger that must sleep right beside her to "keep her safe." We have a nightly ritual of doing a little chant (“Bad dreams, bad dreams, go away; good dreams, good dreams, here to stay.” I heard it on Grey’s Anatomy.). Before we leave her at night, she asks us to provide her with three good dreams. Her favourites are things like “Pretend you’re making the world’s biggest sundae and choose what kind of ice cream is in every scoop and all the toppings.”
“Can you actually make yourself dream about the things we talk about?” I asked her once. “Of course,” she said. “Can’t you?”
Despite our efforts, it doesn’t always work. She’s never been able to talk about the darkness that visits her in her dreams — sometimes she can’t remember, other times she doesn’t want to say — but it leaves her physically shaken at my bedside, sometimes holding back tears, sometimes clutching my arm, always needing me and my paltry healing powers. I only wish I could banish that which haunts her.
Instead, I pull myself out of bed and spoon with her in hers, and do the ritual all over, wracking my brain to think of some new happy thought to fill her mind and send her off to dreamland. I do whatever I need to do to get her through the night, then try to steal some sleep of my own.
Do your kids have bad dreams? What do you do to help chase them away?

Photo by BnPPhm via Flickr.

This article was originally published on Sep 21, 2012

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