Around 2:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, my husband and I woke up to a shriek. It was our daughter yelling that there was a bear in her room. We rushed in to see what was happening and she pointed to the corner of her room. She said there was a bear, though clearly, she had a nightmare.
I have never seen my daughter as terrified as she was then. The “bear” was the shadow of her rocking chair.
My husband and I talked about shadows and showed her different shadows in her room. We discussed how shadows sometimes look scary but are not. We did shadow puppets to show her how fun they could be. After two hours, she finally went back to sleep, and we thought this was behind us.
The next day, all she could talk about was the bear in her room. She said it was scary but mommy and daddy made it go away. Then when it came to bedtime, she was terrified to be left in the room by herself. It took us two straight hours of her screaming to finally get her to sleep. This happened for the rest of the week. We tried EVERYTHING!
>> RELATED READ :: What to Do When the Bed Bugs Bite <<
What We Tried
Before bedtime every night, we tried the following:
- My husband and I made sure our daughter knew it was okay to feel the way she was feeling. It was okay for her to be scared.
- We made a big deal about checking her room for bears and ensuring was nothing there. When she told people about the bear, she told them we scared it away that night, but she continued to talk about it and continued to be scared.
- My daughter loves playing with flashlights, so we let her sleep with one. If she was scared, she can shine the light to make it better.
- We tried a spray bottle with water in it. We called it her “bear spray.” We sprayed the room to scare off the bear.
Unfortunately, these ideas did not work to fix the anxiety she remembered from her nightmare. It hurt my mom heart because she was so scared — so scared she would scream. When we would go in her bedroom and calm her down, the process would start all over. When we left the room, she would start screaming again. It got to the point where we just let her scream. She would start to fall asleep sitting up and then would finally lie down.
>> RELATED READ :: Scared Sleepers :: Six Bedtime Tricks for Your Anxious Child <<
The Final Trick
Recently, we have been using timers with my daughter. It makes it easier when we transition from one activity to another. We tell our daughter she has a certain amount of time to complete the activity and then tell her what will happen after the timer goes off. When the timer goes off, she immediately stops what she is doing and does the next activity. It is amazing how well this works.
We decided to try this strategy for bedtime. We did our regular routine of bath, books, songs, and then bed. Instead of leaving when she gets in bed, we set a timer for three minutes. We told her when the timer goes off, mommy and daddy are going to leave the room and you are going to go to sleep. During the three minutes, we sang more songs and massaged her head.
The first night, she whined a little bit but went to sleep about 15 minutes later. The next couple of nights, she went immediately to sleep. Then we didn’t have to use the timer anymore.
What the Experts Say
Has your toddler ever experienced a nightmare? If your toddler has, you are not alone. According to the Sleep Foundation, nearly half of three to six year old’s experience nightmares.
Dreams are ways for your toddler to understand their world and their day. Sometimes those dreams are scary and turn into a nightmare. Everything we tried is what the experts say to try. Unfortunately, they did not work for us, but they may work for you. I think the most important message is your toddler knows he or she is loved and you are there.
If your toddler has a nightmare, what are some tricks you have tried to get your toddler to sleep?