Ev had his first nightmare recently. He woke up and came to his door crying. I went into his room and picked him up, and just held him for a bit and rubbed his back. He pointed to his bed and said it scared him. At first I thought he was pointing to his stuffed animals on his bed, thinking he saw their shadow or something and it scared him. I asked about taking them off his bed and he said it was his bed that scared to him. It dawned on me that he probably had a bad dream, so I asked him about it and he answered that he did.
He had a lot of questions and a lot of concerns. He was worried that if he got back in his bed, the dream would come back. He asked if the dream came from his belly. I told him it came from his brain, in his head. I did the best I could to answer his questions (at 3:30 am). It was quite difficult because I really wanted to validate his feelings (as we all know, emotions caused by a bad dream or nightmare are very real), but at the same time, I didn’t want exaggerate the issue because it was, in fact, just a dream.
Ev began to calm down as we talked about what dreams are and that they aren’t real. He seemed to get it, although the physical reassurance was helping the most. I was careful not to put him back in his bed until he was ready. And luckily, he fell back asleep and slept the rest of the night.
When Ev woke up the next morning, however, the first words out of his mouth were, “The dream didn’t come back!” And he was smiling. He asked how to make sure it never came back, which is a very tricky question to answer since some dreams never show up again and others repeat. He wanted to know about mine and his dad’s dreams, as well as his friends’ dreams. As bed time that evening grew near, he asked about the dream again. He said he didn’t want to go to bed because he didn’t want “the dream to get him.” We talked about it some more and he went to bed.
I started to feel a little guilty wondering if I did something or somehow caused the bad dream to come up. I know bad dreams can be caused by music or TV shows and even stress from the day. I would hate to think I was a reason for the fear. It turns out, Ev’s dream was about another “big kid” yelling at him and it scared him in his dream. Ev has just transitioned into a new classroom for 3-year-olds, so it seems he was just working through those feelings about the new room with children older than him. These situations or stressful events are going to come up and therefore bad dreams may come again. I feel better when I reassure myself: I’m not bad parent if he has them. Until next time, I’ll just be researching bad dream coping skills so my 3:30 a.m. brain is more prepared.