Saturday, April 19, 2014

Things that go bump in the night

Nightmares are horrible.  So is sleeplessness.  Think back to the last nightmare you had.  Don't think ABOUT that nightmare - just think about what you did- chances are you didn't just roll over and go back to sleep.  So don't expect your child to be able to do that. They need you and they need your help.
A few nights ago Gracie had a nightmare.  Now all my kids have handled their bad dream episodes a little differently.  My eldest was the worst - Anthony would be up for hours.  He would be fairly inconsolable and almost argumentative at times.   When he was 9 we had our house blessed and he finally got a pretty good handle on them.  JR seems to have a bad night every once in a while but he seems to be not fully awake even when he is complaining about the dream.   And Gracie, well she is just sweet about them.  She will sometimes tell us in the morning that she was up "all night" because of a bad dream.

I had moments of panic myself when I thought of all four kids having the same type of nightmares that Anthony had.  Maybe we have worked out way into some good strategies, maybe the other kids are just easier.  Anthony is old enough now to be more logical about the scary times.  Regardless, here are some good strategies for the middle of the night scary times.

Preventative measures.

First kids need to be taught to try to control their thoughts just as much as controlling their feelings and their actions.  Pointing out that it is unkind to hit is good.  Coaching your child that it is also important to control their anger also good.  In the same way, when you see them thinking bad thoughts - and yes  -you can see those bad thoughts in their expressions - talk to them:  "I know you are upset and you are doing a good job controlling yourself now.  I want you to try to stop thinking about how mad your sister is making you today and think of some one you know who is having a hard time in life now.  Can you think of anything we could do to help them?".    If you can help them master the process of switching away from harmful thoughts to helpful thoughts during the DAY, then having that skill will help them stop ruminating on the bad dream in the middle of the night. Of course it also gives them a really valuable skill for life success!

Nightmare time.

When you are hit with the actual nightmare first calm the child.  Reassure them that they are okay and safe.  Tell them that you know they are scared.  Telling them "it was just a dream - go back to sleep" without also reassuring them is counter productive.  Usually they know it was just a dream.  They want you to recognize their feelings.   Do NOT ask them to tell you about the dream.

If they are out of bed, take them to the bathroom (that is often a source of bad dreams).  Get them back to bed,  pray with them, rub their back, sing a song, snuggle with them, do what ever it takes to relax them.  Keep the chit chat to a minimum.  Let them know you can talk about it in the morning if they still want to.  You want to get their mind OFF the nightmare, not have them focus on it.

Many kids will drop off asleep at this point. If it was a particularly traumatic dream then give yourself a pat on the back for teaching your child how to control his/her thoughts because now s/he needs the skill!  Walk them through some guided imagery.  Have them picture themselves in the middle of a baseball game (of what ever sport they play), playing for their favorite team.  Or have them create in their mind the perfect day and what that would look like.  Do not have them think about anything stressful as stress can induce bad dreams as well.

If this doesn't work, then ask them to tell you just the last part of their bad dream.  Then you take it from there - create a wonderful non-scarey ending to the bad dream.  We have had The Avengers sweep in to take over the battles.  Anything is possible. I am a fan of Angelic Interventions.

If this doesn't work get a drink of water, a book, and a flashlight.  You have both been awake for a little while now. Tell him/her that you will read one story by flashlight (so that it isn't bright in the room) and then turn off the lights.  Let your child know that you will stay until s/he is asleep.  Try to calm your mind while you are laying there.  Recognize that although you will be tired in the morning you WILL get through the day.  Don't let yourself get overworked about how cranky you will both be!   Create a thankfulness list (not a ToDo list) in your head as your child dozes off to sleep.   Listen to your child breath and be thankful that s/he are calmed by your presence.  Be thankful for the special time together in the quiet.  After all, they are only little for a brief (albeit exhausting) period of time!

Thanks for stopping by and good night to you all.


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