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Children’s Nightmares and Changed-Up Sleeping Arrangements

April 3, 2011

Sophie has always been a good sleeper. She slept through the night at a very early age. And once she fell asleep for the night, she rarely woke up until morning. But nightmares struck Sophie a few months ago and the sleeping situation has not been the same since.

Sophie’s woken up scared from bad dreams before. But this time was different. This time, the bad dreams happened more consistently, nearly every night. And Sophie was able to tell me what was scaring her and what the nightmares were about.

It started with Sophie waking up screaming in her bed. I’d go into her room to find her upset, sometimes not even awake. I’d give her a kiss, tell her mommy was here, make sure she had her safety blankie, and I’d be on my way. If she was awake and really scared, I’d hold her in her rocking chair until she fell back asleep. Then an hour later, the bad dreams struck again. And then again. You know the drill. Those long nights with constant interruption made me feel as if Sophie was an infant all over again. Not fun for me or Bryan. Certainly not fun for Sophie.

After this went on for at least a week, Sophie began to tell me that monsters were under her bed or were in her dreams. One morning she told me specifically that she had a scary dream that monsters were chasing her so she had to find me to feel safe.

And that’s when the sleeping situation changed. Sophie fell asleep fairly easily at bedtime (and still does). But sometime after 2 a.m.,  she entered our bedroom, sneak up close to me, and whisper, “Mommy, can I lay with you?”

Up until now, Sophie wanted nothing to do with sleeping in our bed. When she was a baby, I tried co-sleeping thinking it would make the night-waking and feeding easier. But no, Sophie would not have it. Many a time, I’d ask Sophie if she wanted to lay with me when I was trying desperately to nap. Nope. She wanted her own space. I can’t say I blame her.

So now – when she began asking to sleep in the bed – I had no problem letting her climb right in. I assumed this was her way of needing security. I didn’t feel right kicking her to the curb if she was scared.  So this became a semi-nightly pattern for Sophie and me.

While I was impressed that a 3-year-old could articulate her dreams and that she sought me out for comfort, I was unsure how to help her (aside from scooting over in the middle of the night).

Sophie’s former childcare provider suggested asking Sophie to come up with strategies for defending herself from the monsters. Perhaps give her a flashlight. Good suggestion, I thought. But when I mentioned it to Sophie, she starred at me and said, “Mom, I don’t want to SEE the monsters.” She had a point.

Then said childcare provider suggested I ask Sophie (in the morning) more questions about the monsters; What did they look like? Where did they hide? Are they nice? Do they only live in her room? Do they like to hide in other places in the house? What color are they? The idea behind asking Sophie these questions was to get her talking about the monsters, making them less scary.

I tried this technique, and believe it or not, it worked! Sophie told me the monsters were black; they weren’t very nice. The monsters didn’t want to hide anywhere else, etc. And amazingly, that night, Sophie didn’t make a peep and stayed in her bed ALL NIGHT! The next morning, Sophie proudly said to me, “Mom, I stayed in bed. The monsters didn’t come!” The next night, Sophie said, “Mommy, I didn’t need to come in your bed because I wasn’t scared.” Hearing this from Sophie, I felt like I really succeeded as a parent.

Now I must confess that while the technique worked, the sleeping arrangements are still up in the air. Sophie later decided she likes coming into our bed at night. When I ask her why, she said she feels safe with us. So while the monster are gone (we think), she still feels like sleeping with us in the “wee small hours of the morning” are more safe than sleeping alone.

I know it may be a habit at this point and I do feel somewhat guilty there’s yet another creature sleeping in the bed. However there’s a part of me that doesn’t mind it either. It’s a nice extra few hours of bonding we have since we’re apart nearly ten hours each weekday.

If it is a stage or habit, I’m sure she’ll grow out of it when she’s ready. I’ve yet to see a teenager in their parents bed at night. I want Sophie to feel safe and happy. If this is what I need to do right now, then monsters or no monsters, I’ll do what it it takes for my daughter.


Another milestone in the Project 365 endeavor — March accomplished!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2011 11:40 pm

    Very interesting, considering I can still remember the nightmares that I’d have as a child. A lot of them were recurring in regards to who it was in them. They would consist of being called at the end of the hallway by an unreal looking boy, dressed in a button up short sleeve. Then the dreams would be a group of unreal looking children waiting for me and whatnot. This stopped when I was 8 from what I can remember. Since then, I do remember the last times I’d dream them, I would actually fight back anyway I could; and even try to reason with them. One wonders how a child’s mind can conjure such ideas at such things, before even being exposed to it via our various forms of media.

  2. April 4, 2011 6:27 am

    This brought back a lot of memories — with two kids who had nightmares and night fears. It’s always challenging to find good ways of handling it, and you did a great job! (As for sleeping arrangements, from my experience there is always some kind of an issue–with teens it can be back to extreme low sleep for parents as you wait up! And those late night cuddles with daughters can still be pretty terrific, too!)

  3. April 4, 2011 2:52 pm

    Sophie is such a sweetie. You keep that girl close to you no matter what time of day it is. With or without monsters. 🙂

  4. April 4, 2011 5:07 pm

    My 21-month-old started having hourly nightmares about a month ago. She’d go to bed fine, but then wake up in hysterics. But she wouldn’t sleep in our bed… or at all, for that matter, until she was too exhausted to stay awake. Being so young, she couldn’t articulate very well what was scaring her, but we did pick up on the fact that it had something to do with the door. After 2 sleepless weeks & lots of consolation, things seem to be back to normal.

    A family I babysat for years ago used this technique: as part of their bedtime ritual, the kids took a wooden sword & swept it under their beds to get rid of the monsters. Maybe if the nightmares start up again, the preemptive measure will help!

  5. April 4, 2011 5:45 pm

    Your post makes me think of conquering monsters of a different sort – our writing demons and self doubt. Like Sophie, if we face our fears, we can conquer anything!

  6. April 4, 2011 8:14 pm

    Poor little Sophie. I am so glad she’s learning to face her demons! And good job to you–as her mom. I used to have nightmares a lot as a child. Bad people were always chasing me. I think it’s just a little kid thing. I think the advice your child care provider gave you was very wise, and I will keep it stored in a brain filing cabinet for the day when I might need the same advice! 🙂 Thank you for sharing.


  7. April 5, 2011 5:39 am

    Leah, my son just turned 12 years old and he still comes and says that he feels safer in our bed vs his.

  8. April 5, 2011 1:22 pm

    Leah, I so feel for you. It is so hard to see our kids have nightmares!

    But, I have to disagree with your childcare providers. She is only 3. Having her focus on the monsters so much will keep them front of mind every time she settles into bed.

    Intelligence can be a blessing and a curse for children. She most likely absorbs most of her experiences more keenly than most kids and is unable to shake what most kids disregard. Until we recognize what moves and shakes us, it sticks with us. Dreams are our way of sorting out our emotions and experiences. And for kids, they are not yet equipped with the filters we have as adults. They also cannot articulate fears as they really don’t understand them yet.

    Monsters are the easiest translation for fear that a child can relate to and that is why they frequently show up in kids’ dreams. So, when they experience something fearful (serious or even superficial), monsters appear. Even a simple change in routine can be unsettling for a child. A new caretaker, a move to a new home, a new job for a parent, or perhaps someone or something did actually scare her.

    Dreams are an invaluable resource into our subconscious and should not be disregarded as being “just a dream.” They are invaluable tools to help us learn about our underlying concerns. Mostly, you’ll notice you can track back to the previous day what shows up (albeit often symbolically) in our dreams.

    I suggest that when she wakes up from a nightmare, have her try to tell you as much as she can about the dream, even if it is scary. Let her talk it out as much as she likes. You may begin to see a pattern and should pay attention if the dreams change. The more you can get her to articulate what happens in her day, the better she can process the events of her life.

    But asking her to dwell on the monsters is only going to make them play a larger part in her life. Ask her about the changes or events that have made her “uncomfortable,” and maybe that will be a step forward. And the more comfortable she becomes about life, the less likely she will need to sleep with you.

    That is the best I can do with an undergrad in Psych and a lot of life experience! Check the library and websites… She’s a little young for Monsters, Inc, but maybe some library books for kids on dreams or monsters in dreams might help.

    Good luck and sweet dreams for all of you!

  9. April 5, 2011 3:37 pm

    You sound like a wonderful mother, Leah. I especially love how you are still able to incorporate humor into a very unhumorous situation: “But when I mentioned it to Sophie, she stared at me and said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to SEE the monsters.’ She had a point.”

    Thank you for a glimpse into the parenting world. It seems like you’ve got a handle on it! 🙂

  10. Leah permalink*
    April 5, 2011 11:15 pm

    Thank you all so much for your nice comments, suggestions and encouragement! I truly appreciate it. I will respond to each one of your posts. But I wanted to say that after I wrote this piece, I asked Sophie how the monsters are doing. She said, “They’re gone. My room is calm now.” I replied, “Then why do you come into mommy and daddy’s bed at night?” Sophie says, ” Because I love you so much.” 🙂

    • April 6, 2011 2:28 am

      Awww, she’s the sweetest! So glad you shared that sweet moment, started my day off in the best possible way. LUCKY YOU!

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