Goodbye Nightmare Lover!

The nightmare took over. It came to me night after night, tiptoeing into my peaceful sleep and curling up beside me like a longtime lover. Quietly climbing into my bed, slowly inching over my body, not near enough to touch, but close enough to hover over my warm skin, its breath upon me. Beginning with a gentle caress, it traveled over me, inch by inch, plying my body to its will, allowing no resistance until the moment arrived when it entered me in my weakened state of slumber. At first came only a moan, barely audible, but enough for my brain to register it was happening. In denial, I ignored it and settled deeper into the mattress, rolling over, the universal sign for “not tonight, please…I’m tired” but with its one track mind it seemed to draw strength from my unwillingness to participate. The more I resisted the louder the moans came, until…

Lover

MOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!

They were the screams of my daughter and they came from down the hall. The nightmares were hers, this routine one I was all too familiar with and one I was sure I could not physically keep up with much longer. While she had always been one of those children who didn’t require a lot of sleep thus never slept through the night, through the years her lack of sleep was taking a toll on my own. I like sleep. I need sleep.

Yet, every night after an exhausting bedtime routine of prayers, stories, and night lights, kisses and hugs, questions and comforting answers, more kisses, more hugs, more night lights, I dreaded allowing myself to fall into a deep sleep knowing it wouldn’t last. The nightmares would arrive, the fear would take over and the screams would begin.

I tried everything – night lights, prayers, staying with her until she fell asleep, each night putting a bit of distance from her until I sat in a chair right outside her door – Dr. Phil recommended it, claiming it helped to progressively reassure the child you were still there. Obviously, Dr. Phil had never met my kid!

As our daughter got older, my husband introduced her to one of his passions, Superheroes. He started telling her stories about his favorite Superheroes and eventually started watching some of the movies with her. He explained that in his dreams, whenever something bad was about to happen, he pretended he was a Superhero and changed the course of the dream, fighting off evil and sending villains back where they came from.

My Superheroes

One thing we never did was discuss her nightmares in the middle of the night, believing she needed comforting more than we needed a play by play in that moment. Thus, many a conversation over breakfast consisted of our dreams, nightmares, and ways we could control them. My husband insisted our brains could be trained to control our dreams as he described his often becoming quite animated. He depicted scenes in which he picked up a villain, dropped him on his head, and his cartoon teeth flew out. My daughter soaked it all up like a little sponge, but the sleepless nights continued.

One morning, I woke to the smell of toast and the realization that I had slept through the night. Not sure if I was in dream state or reality, I shuffled my way to the kitchen to find my daughter and husband laughing and hugging over breakfast. When she sensed my presence, she rushed over to me. “Mommy! Guess what?! I had the best dream last night!”

To me, sweeter words had never been spoken. Words tumbled out of her mouth as she described a dream in which terrible, scary things were starting to occur, fear tried to envelope her and she almost succumbed to it. “Instead, I became a superhero and flew above it all! They couldn’t reach me up in the sky and once I realized that, I flew around the city. You should see the view from up there!”

In dreams we set aside the rules of real life. We are in control and can be anything we want to be. Believing in superheroes cured my daughter’s nightmares. What tools have you used to control your dreams?

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17 thoughts on “Goodbye Nightmare Lover!

  1. I tried sort of adapting this approach to help my four year old, who has been waking up because of bad dreams. Unfortunately, she’s not buying it…so we’re trying other ways to calm her. I’ll file it away in the “someday I may need this!” πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a great moment of freedom!! A few years ago I had a doozy string of nightmares. One night God-dressed in Will Farrill’s tight pants from Jimmy Fallon’s Tight Pants sketch-walked into my dream. He sang the song. I challenged sang back. He got in my face and I went to find another town to be the only one wearing “tight pants” in.

    Never had the nightmare again.

  3. So glad being a super hero in her dreams helped your daughter conquer those nightmares. My son had night terrors for awhile, but wouldn’t remember a thing in the morning. The only thing that snapped him out of it was turning on ESPN. Weird, I know, but it worked!

  4. Oh what an incredible intervention!!! BRILLIANT!! I loved your intro paragraph…. you had me captivated! I am SO glad your daughter was able to triumph over her nightmares!! I will surely pass this idea on to people with the same issue!!

  5. OHMIGOSH! I really *felt* your tiredness and your dread of your daughter’s panic, and her fear.

    I am SO SO SO SO SO glad you have had one good night. I wish you MANY more.

    I don’t know whether she might be a bit old, but there’s a cool kids’ book called ‘Cassie and the Kiss Soldier’, which is quite nice.

  6. What a wonderful tip for young parents! The way you weaved that story! Well you already know that I am a huge fan but I invision you compiling all of your parenting stories! Light Bulb moments! Ya know?
    Funny you are right you know? Talking about the dreams is probably an idea a lot of parents avoid but it is brilliant!!
    My kids didn’t have night
    terrors or real bad dreams but
    i did! And talking about them would have helped. I still remember the dream all these decades later! Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit would chase
    me down the hall. Now as an adult I realize it was because the oil painted picture of them that my aunt had sweetly painted for my room hung
    right over my crib! Big no Brainerd would be just taking it down πŸ˜‰
    Great post!

    • Thanks Diane. We felt that if we talked about the dreams, especially in the light of day, they wouldn’t seem so scary any more. I think we make it bigger in our minds, but when we say it aloud it some times seems a bit smaller and more manageable. Funny, The Adventures of Brer Rabbit was one of my daughter’s favorite movies. Go figure. What scares one child doesn’t scare another. πŸ˜‰

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