What is with the nightmares that preschoolers get? I can’t even begin to tell you about the things my poor 4-year-old daughter has dreamt about. Things that I don’t think she has ever seen on TV or read in a book. Scary things that are somehow created in her imagination in the middle of the night.
One night, she woke me up as she was wandering in the hallway yelling, “daddy where are you?” “daddy, I’m here!” I went into the hallway and asked her what she was doing. Apparently she had dreamt that her dad was calling for her, woke up, and started trying to find him. It was sort of creepy and seeing the confusion on her face when I explained that it was just a dream made me sad for my poor little girl, who I could tell didn’t fully understand how she could dream about something that seemed so real.
There have also been nightmares about sharks and spider biting her, being lost, and being kidnapped. Yes, my 4-year-old has dreamt about the scariest thing possible – being taken from her own parents. I can’t understand how these thoughts enter her subconscious, and quite frankly, it makes me a little angry.
First of all, I’m angry because I get woken up about 1-3 times on average per night with crying or yelling (and mama needs her sleep – especially while pregnant). Sometimes it was due to a scary nightmare, sometimes she just wants me to put her blankets back on her (argh), and sometimes she dreams that her brother took her toy (CLEARLY a reason to drag me from my bed in the middle of the night…).
At what point do you actually get to sleep through the night as a parent? Shame on me for thinking that after we sleep trained our kids as babies, I would sleep soundly once again.
Secondly, I’m angry because my daughter is terrified. As a protective parent, I don’t want her to be dreaming of these things and yet there is nothing I can do to stop them. Is it possible that she has seen, read or heard about kidnapping even though I think she hasn’t? Surely these ideas have to come from somewhere.
According to my research, we may never really know what causes some nightmares in preschoolers. It is most likely due to stress in their life (from big, obvious events like a new baby in the family or starting preschool, to something small like reading a scary book, dreading an upcoming doctor’s appointment, or seeing a barking dog earlier in the day). But preschoolers apparently just work through their emotions and stress through dreams and nightmares. So, yay.
Some of the ideas I came across to help with warding off nightmares seem like they might be worth trying – and I’m up for trying anything to help her (and me) have more restful nights. Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Encourage good thoughts by asking your child what he/she would like to dream about. You can also talk about an exciting upcoming event, fun events of the day or about a happy video/show they watched during the day.
- Add a positive element; if they are scared of monsters or things lurking in their room, create a “magic spray” with water in a squirt bottle and squirt it everywhere. Keep the name and what the spray does on a positive note (as opposed to calling it “monster spray” or something similar), so that it encourages safety instead of reminding them of scary things.
- Talk about it; tell your child that you understand what they are going through and sympathize. Tell them that even adults have bad dreams. Read books like The Mouse Who Braved Bedtime by Louis Baum and Sue Hellard and What a Bad Dream by Mercer Mayer to help them understand what dreams are and that they are not reality.
- Adding a nightlight to the room or allowing them to sleep with a “buddy” (aka stuffed animal) might help too.
Do your preschoolers deal with bad dreams too? What have you found that is helpful?