My husband and I have been lucky. We have gone over 3.5 years without a single, major nightmare incident. In fact, the only middle-of-the-night interventions we’ve ever needed since dropping nighttime feedings have been limited to plopping in a pacifier or singing a song during a thunderstorm. Naturally, we have attributed this to our superior parenting skills… in this case, the bedtime routine. Every night follows the same exact pattern– Dinner –> Bath –> Book –> Songs –> Bed— and while it
doesn’t always run hardly ever runs smoothly, it has worked for us… and we feel very high and mighty about ourselves because of it.
So last night, when our three-year-old came bursting into our room, crying hysterically, we knew something was wrong. Now I’m no pediatric sleep expert, but my crazy-sharp powers of deduction led me to believe that we had a nightmare on our hands. Impressive, right? You may or may not be as impressed by how well I handled the situation.
Before proceeding, I would like you, the reader, to think about 1) how you reacted the very first time this happened to you, or 2) how you think you would handle the situation if it was your child’s first real nightmare. Only give yourself about five seconds to come up with your plan of attack, and pretend that you’re doing this after being interrupted from a dream involving cocktails, beaches, and back rubs. Ready?
Here is a play-by-play of that night:
[Sweet girl runs into our bedroom in hysterics, screaming, covered in tears, and barely breathing.]
Sweet Girl: There’s. A. Ghost. In. My. Room!!!
Mommy: Come here, sweetie. What’s wrong? <Holds her and strokes her hair>
Sweet Girl: Scary dolphins. Scary dolphins keep swimming at me! I think we need to move to a new house.
Mommy: <Pulls out phone to check real estate listings. Gives self quick pat on the back for having just installed that Zillow app. Score one for Mom!>
Daddy: Daddy’s going to go look. Do you want to come with me, or should I go by myself?
Mommy: <Internal monologue> Did he seriously just say that?! Doesn’t he realize that THE ONLY OPTION HERE IS TO MOVE TO A NEW HOUSE? She said it herself! There’s no way she’s ever going back into that room, let alone going to sleep in it! <Keeps mouth shut. Continues perusing real estate listings. Waits for the inevitable backlash.>
Sweet Girl: <Deep breath> Okay, I’m ready. Can we ask it to go away?
Mommy: <Yet another internal monologue. Just call me Ulysses.> Wait, WHAT?!!! She’s ‘READY?!’ My little girl wants to ask it to go away? She’s so BIG!!! <Starts tearing up. Stops checking real estate listings and starts taking notes.>
[The brave duo exits the room to confront the evil dolphin ghost while mom waits patiently and cries tears of unprecedented pride. The dolphin ghost hunters reenter five minutes later.]
Daddy: Well, we got to the bottom of that.
Sweet Girl: Yeah. The wind thing I made at the museum was making noise and scaring me. So we moved it.
Daddy: We left Duckie (our dog) to guard just in case.
And that was that. We let her sleep in our bed the rest of the night, and though it was a little harder to get her down the following night, she handled it like a champ and eventually fell asleep by herself.
Needless to say, I was completely unprepared to handle the situation. I haven’t read a book on child-rearing since her first year, and even though I typically pride myself on being able to think quickly on my feet, I was rendered completely useless this time. Luckily, I’m married to a nightmare ninja… calm, collected, present. While I was stunned into immobility, my husband took control of the situation and handled it like a rock star. How did he do that?! How did he know? Has he secretly been reading parenting books without telling me?! What’s his secret?!!!
Well guess what… the secret is that men have parenting instincts, too. And we (I) often don’t give them enough credit for it. We (I) usually take charge first. We (I) criticize their discipline styles. We (I) watch their every move when we’re (I’m) present. Because we are the Moms and because we typically spend more time with the children than the Dads and because we have our own routines that happen to work, we think that we know best. And let me tell you what… in this situation, my husband knew best. The only thing that I can take credit for is keeping my mouth shut for once and letting him handle it the best way he knew how. My advice? Try it out. Or, if you’re a killer wife who lets the dad do his thing without scrutiny, then please accept this huge virtual high-five from me (Ouch! Good one!)… because it’s not easy.
- Go to your child, comfort her, and let her know you’re there. <cough> Duh! <cough>
- Help your child label the incident by assuring her that it was a “bad dream” and that those things don’t happen in the real world. This was my original plan before the hubby swooped in… so I’m not completely horrible at this.
- Let your child know that it’s okay to go back to sleep, and stay with her until she’s ready. Do not let her sleep in your bed afterwards, as this could create a bad habit. Uh… whoopsies! But, seriously, we probably would have let her stay in our bed anyway. Just being honest here.
- Let her talk about the experience if she wants, but don’t push it. Where’s the part about hunting down the ghost dolphin?!
- Since preschoolers tend to have vivid imaginations, you can play along with it to help calm their fears. This strategy encompasses things like using “monster spray,” checking under the bed for monsters, or (you guessed it) politely asking the ghost dolphin to leave. Note that moving to a new house is NOT on the list.
- Create a relaxing and stress-free sleeping environment, such as turning on a nightlight if they’re scared of the dark, providing a security blanket or animal to comfort them, and removing any fear-inducing items from the room. I’m assuming they’re referring to things like windsocks that can be mistaken for ghost dolphins.
So… how did you do?