I've been pretty lucky that my boys (11 and 9) haven't suffered too much from nightmares throughout the years. I mean, Max didn't sleep much at all until he was 5.5 and still has sleep issues, but none of these problems are because of nightmares, just him being Wide! Awake! at inappropriate hours of the night.
However every so often Z has one, and a couple of weeks ago was one of those rare occasions. It was a scary dream in which someone had hurt his little brother Max badly. He was so upset and didn't want to go back to bed in case the nightmare came back. Totally understandable, we've all been there right? I know I have.
I tried to take his mind off it in the usual way, letting him cuddle up with me and watch some cartoons, but he couldn't shift the feeling in his heart of how awful it was, so I realised we needed to bring some confidence back.
I asked him if he noticed that I always try to look at the positives in any given situation. Like ok he'd had a bad dream but he knew that's all it was, he saw Max sleeping peacefully before he came downstairs (it was only about an hour after bedtime) *and* he got to hang out with me downstairs for a bit longer before bed. He still didn't want to go.
So I started to tell him about how you can actually sway what your dreams will be and how you're going to feel in the morning by thinking about them in a positive light.
Like if you keep watching the clock as you lie there unable to sleep and say to yourself how awful you're going to feel when you wake up in the morning on not much sleep - guess what? That's how you're gonna feel.
But after battling with so many difficult nights I've also come to realise that the opposite is also true. If I tell myself as I drift off to sleep that those two hours are going to be the most restful sleep ever and I'm going to wake up with my alarm feeling able to get up and on with my day? It'll happen. That's not to say I won't hit snooze a few times but it does make a marked difference to me.
We came up with a few words, a mantra if you will, for him to say to himself so he wouldn't worry:
"Tonight my dreams will be happy and fun, and tomorrow I will remember them with a smile."
I asked him to repeat it with me out loud, in a confident voice a few times, and to say it to himself any time he was starting to worry.
About 30 minutes later he was fast asleep.
But here's the important bit - the next morning as we were doing our usual rushed morning routine to get ready for school, he started telling me about these cool dreams he'd had about his favourite game characters all hanging out together and on some sort of an adventure, smiling and telling me how cool they were.
I turned to look at him, and reminded him: "You're remembering your fun and happy dreams with a smile!"
He hadn't even thought about it until I mentioned it, came over to give me a huge hug and said thank you.
So long story short - if your child (or you!) are having bad dreams or stressing about what you're going to do the next day, there are 4 simple steps.
- Figure out how you WANT to feel both in your dreams, and/or when you wake up the next morning.
- Make up your own mantra, from "I will wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day with a smile", to "I may have been up and down with my baby five times last night, but I still feel able to handle anything today throws at me."
- Repeat this at least three times when you go to bed - more if you need to. Use it as a meditation to repeat as you concentrate on your breathing in bed if that's your thing.
- Wake up the next morning feeling how you want to feel.
I hope this might help some of you, especially those with kids who suffer from nightmares. It's never fun seeing our kids feeling scared, and this can be a way to give them back a sense of peace and confidence that's absolutely invaluable.
Much love xoxo