As a child, I was terrified to go to bed at night. My parents were great parents, but didn’t always censor what I saw on television. I watched what they watched, which were shows such as Unsolved Mysteries and movies like Fire In The Sky. Haven’t seen Fire in the Sky? Don’t. Just don’t.
Being the youngest, I was the first to go to bed. Every night I would reluctantly climb up the stairs and head down the dark hallway to my room. I made a solid fortress of stuffed animals around myself, and pulled the sheets up to my eyes.
When I became a parent, I vowed that my children would never be afraid of what lurked in the shadows of their bedroom, even if I was. Then, just a few weeks ago, after tucking my three-year-old into bed, she whispered in my ear “I have bad dreams,” and the hair on my arms stood up.
Every night that followed, I woke up to my daughter crawling into our bed at 3 a.m. I had to rectify the situation quickly.
Here are a few things we did to help turn her dreams from sour to sweet:
Eliminating the scary stuff: it turns out that my daughter was following in my footsteps and watching a few cartoons that were scaring her. The videos were G-rated and she seemed to enjoy them, but we opted for something a little more upbeat with friendly themes and she started to sleep more soundly.
Get creative: making a dreamcatcher helped to keep all of her bad dreams at bay too. Making one was a great way to bond while learning about dreamcatchers, and now she feels at ease looking up at it before she falls asleep each night.
A good night story: in addition to telling my daughter stories about pleasant things like princesses and Candy Land, reading books about bedtime fears and nightmares is a big help too, and there are plenty of great titles to choose from.
Bed time fun: hunting for potential closet monsters with flashlights is helpful and fun. One of my daughter’s favourite things to do is cast spells with her magic wand. Right before bed, she’ll give her wand a few shakes and chant “magic, magic, monsters go away.” We have yet to see any.
Something to snuggle with: at times when it’s difficult for my daughter to fall asleep, I give her her favourite doll to cuddle and encourage her to tell some stories of her own. It’s a great way to develop her imagination and have someone there in the bed with her.
Reassurance: each night before I leave my daughter’s room, she asks if I’m coming back. I assure her I am (and I do check on her). I also let her know that if she is scared or needs me, that she is welcome to come to our room. The nights that she sleeps on her, I let her know what a big girl she is, and the praise seems to go a long way.
Disclaimer: nightmares can also be the result of a deeper emotional issues. These tips can help, but if nightmares persist, you may want to visit your family doctor for recommendations.