Playing with Bad Dreams

In the middle of the night, my 6-year-old daughter woke me up and said she was having a bad dream. At first, I quietly walked her back downstairs to the room she shares with her younger sister, not talking and just trying to be a soothing presence, and stayed in her room for a

Bad Dream

Photo by Christopher Eriksen

bit while she fell back asleep. I went back upstairs, but the next thing I knew, I was being awakened again—and I quickly and blearily repeated the process.
By the time she woke me up a third time, I was more conscious—and since I had recently begun taking the Hand in Hand class, I decided to channel what I had learned and take a different tack. First, Staylistening: I took her into another room, flipped on the light, and invited her to tell me about the dream.

I held her while she explained she had been dreaming about a lot of mean-looking eyes staring at her from all over the room. I just listened supportively while she expressed her fears (rather than saying something reassuring but negating, like, “Well, you know there aren’t really any eyes in your room,” and so on).

Next, I acted playful, remembering what I had learned about how either crying or laughing about fears helps release tension:

“If those eyes come back,” I said, “here’s what we’re going to do.  ‘Listen up, eyes! We’re going to squish you like cherry tomatoes!” I declared gleefully. “We’re going to flush you down the toilet!

She started laughing and joined in with more suggestions—stomping on them, throwing them out the window, and more. We did this together and laughed and hugged until she said she was ready to go back to bed—where she proceeded to sleep peacefully for the rest of the night!

Before, I think I always operated under the assumption that if I stayed quiet and peaceful during any nighttime wakings, my daughter would go back to sleep faster. But doing it differently this time helped illustrate for me that when kids fears’ are concerned, freedom of expression generally trumps keeping the peace!

–A parent in San Francisco

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