The stage of childhood when the nightmares start is upon us

Nighttime became a bit of a challenge here last month when my youngest started having nightmares after she saw a clown on a sci-fi show my son and husband watch. The clown wasn’t particularly scary but for some reason, it triggered her fear and the next morning we were up very early with a scared child telling me she’d had a dream about scary clowns.

Luckily we were able to go back to sleep but then I had a vivid nightmare about a man coming into my bedroom, walking toward me and not stopping. My daughter was asleep next to me when I must have cried out and woke her up again. In the dark I heard her voice, so sweet, telling me what I tell her when I comfort her after a bad dream: “Think about kitties and puppies, Mama. They will make you happy. It’s okay.”

I thanked her and we both conked out again but right before bed that night she started to panic, remembering her dream from that morning. “I’m having those dreams again but they are day dreams,” she told me.

I knew this meant my baby girl is a lot like me and a lot like her brother – she has a very vivid and active imagination, which leads to intrusive thoughts and images. I prayed over her, rebuked that spirit of fear and we looked at photos of kittens on the internet to try to take her mind off the images.

It worked a little while but then she said the images were back. I prayed over her again and then we sang Favorite Things from The Sound of Music and watched Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins. In the end I had to turn up our old stand-by of Frank Sinatra’s album In The Wee Small Hours which is what we play when sleep is hard to come by.

My son was about the same age when the nightmare phase started. Back then I would play Diana Krall to help him sleep and for head afterwards both he and I would almost fall asleep no matter where we were when we heard Diana Krall singing. This was especially concerning while shopping in Barnes and Nobles one day. I was looking at books, Diana came on and I just wanted to find one of those plush chairs and pass up.

When the nightmares started with my son, I’d curl up with him while he cried, trying to take his mind off whatever images were playing in his mind by telling him stories about the Care Bears. Many times I would drift off in the middle of the story and he’d poke me awake and tell me I needed to finish it.

I’m wondering if Care Bears will work with my daughter as well. I can see her waking me up to finish the story in the same way her brother did.

“Mama! You fell asleep!” He’d yell, poking me awake with his little chubby finger. “You have to finish the story first!”

Luckily this time around I don’t have to stagger out of bed the next morning, no matter how many times he’d poked me awake in the night, and stagger into work. I simply have to stagger around the house helping with homeschool and cooking meals and letting our dog in and out. I’d say “and cleaning” but, I must be honest, I’m horrible at cleaning.

So far this week, the only one having weird dreams is me and some of them have been related to me trying to protect my daughter. Other dreams have been about people in my family who have already died, for some unknown reason.

Nightmares. They are certainly weird and inconvenient at times.

Do you remember those times with your children or maybe with yourself? What do you do when you wake up with nightmares? Maybe you can try to tell stories about Care Bears!

Written by Lisa R. Howeler

I'm a mom, a wife, a writer, a photographer and a former journalist. I write a little bit about a lot of things on my blog Boondock Ramblings. In September of 2019 I self-published my first novel, A Story to Tell and published another one in May of 2020. I enjoy John Wayne and Cary Grant movies, Jan Karon's books, and I have an electic taste in music. Welcome to my blog and feel free to poke around. Fridays are Fiction Fridays, where I share a piece of fiction I'm working on.

13 comments

  1. My daughter went through this after we had the Derecho. She couldn’t sleep no matter what and I ended up falling asleep in her tiny bed most nights. She still has nightmares, but not every night, thank goodness.

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    1. I had to cuddle with my son and right now my daughter is with me until we can get a bigger house (hopefully soon!). The real issue came when we had our daughter and my son was having nightmares and then I had to try to hold a newborn and a crying 8-year old at the same time.

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  2. My older son went through a stage of what I would call night terrors, at around the same age as your girl. He would be half awake, terrified, and I couldn’t reason with him because he was still in the nightmare. It was scary for me too. I did a lot of praying over him as well and played a recording of children singing hymns and other old Sunday-school type songs when I put him to bed to focus his thoughts on positive things. I remember an incident one evening, after going through this for a while, praying very firmly and loudly: “fear, be GONE in Jesus’s name!” It’s not something I’m normally likely to do but something just came over me in that moment. After that the nightmares became less frequent until they finally stopped.

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    1. I had to do that with my son too. I’m probably more likely to do that stuff but I don’t usually do it in front of my daughter because I’m sure it would freak her out more. hahaha. So far her nightmares haven’t been as bad as my sons, but some of his were caused by sleep deprivation and a change in the house when my daughter was born. Poor kid…we didn’t transistion the best back then.

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  3. Oh man. Nightmares can be so difficult and exhausting for us parents. I had terrifying nightmares as a child and so I am still able to sympathize deeply with my children when they are afraid. My nightmares lasted until adulthood for me. I do think it was something spiritual though, as when I got saved at 18 and started walking with Jesus, I really did find peace. My kids started having nightmares and I would make them pray. There’s something truly powerful about a child praying. Sometimes I would lie there for an hour with them until they would finally give in and pray. I also memorized scripture with them that they could quote if they got scared. Psalm 23 and Psalm 91 (the whole chapters) are so comforting when I am afraid. My kids have found a lot of comfort in those passages as well!

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    1. I will look them up so I can say them with them. And yes on the prayer. So important to do. I have nightmares now and sometimes they are just awful, but they are so vivid – like stories in my head all night long sometimes.

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  4. I was older and not sure if it counts as nightmares or not. I never had dreams of scary clowns or monsters or anything, I just had this recurring image that would not go away and I could only describe it as “burnt tomato soup”. Oooookay, weird-o little me. LOL My Mom would stay in my room until I went back to sleep. I don’t think she had to tell me any stories or anything, but I was older. Probably between age 10-12??

    Thanks for telling us about Diana Krall and that Frank Sinatra album. I added them to my Insomnia Spotify list.

    Good luck with your babes.

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  5. This makes me feel so lucky my 5 year old just needs a light turned on and Daddy sleeping next to him for a few minutes in order to fall back asleep. I wish he could or would tell us about his nightmares, but he always says he doesn’t remember, so it’s impossible to tell what is scaring him. Of course, I do sometimes I wish I could have stories like yours so I can pass my wisdom on to my kids if they find themselves in this situation. But I do have an almost 3 year old…

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    1. Oddly, both my kids started their nightmares around 4 and 5. I don’t know if that is when they became more aware of scary things that could hurt them or what. Both of my children are very deep thinkers, which is probably because their parents think too deep and blather on about it in front of them. We are trying to get better at that. Hopefully you won’t have to face the nightmare stage!

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      1. I think it’s great when adults can be so open around kids, but, yeah, I can see how it might be a little too scary for young kids sometimes. But nightmares are actually a great sign of a properly developing imagination. As hard as they can be for parents to deal with them, they’re important for a child’s development, so I’m all ears if you have any good tips to help them settle at night. I’m sure my husband would appreciate finding a way that won’t involve him getting up 2-3 times at night to take care of our son who only wants daddy.

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      2. I try to direct their imagination to something other than what scared them – telling their own story, changing the narrative. I tell them we are going to tell the story about – whatever their favorite character is at the time -cartoon or stuffed or super hero, whichever and that seems to help distract them from what they were dreaming about and replace the images in their heads with good ones. Since I was raised in a Christian home I also pray with them but it’s the redirecting their thoughts that seeks to help the best.

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      3. I like that idea! I’ve read about a similar strategy, of changing the narrative of the dream itself so it isn’t so scary, but I really like the idea of replacing it with something the child loves. Since my son never tells me what his bad dreams were about, I think this will be a good strategy to try out with him.

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