I’m not sure what to say to my 7-year-old about nightmares. She has sleep apnea which gives her frequent bad dreams which makes her scared to go to sleep. She struggles with the senselessness and helplessness of it and I guess I do too.
1.) When we don’t have answers for kids (ie you can’t make the nightmares go away immediately), we just need to show them that they’re not going through things alone. You two have in common that you feel like it’s senseless and you feel helpless. You can use this as a connection. You can say, “Hey, I wish this the nightmares weren’t happening right now too. I know we’re still working on a solution for this, but I can tell you something that I know NOW…You don’t have to go through this by yourself. We’re in it together” Then you could get a little goofy and say, “Should we say list of the things that are frustrating about this situation? Should we tell the nightmares why we hate them so much?” (or something like that that she’d respond to). Doing a Yuck dump TOGETHER can be an effective deposit and a great way for both of you to release some Yuck.
2.) Once she feels connected, ask her if she wants to come up with a plan for how to handle it if she does have bad dreams. Even though you can’t stop the bad dreams, you can identify ways to handle it when they do happen… which can be a small deposit into control. So talk to her about what she can do if she wakes up from a nightmare: Sing a song to her stuffed animals? Wrap herself up tight in her blanket? Imagine happy thoughts in her mind? Then you can get a report from her in the morning if she has one. Maybe you can even make an experiment out of it — which strategies she likes and which she doesn’t.
3.) At some point, you can also talk to her about the connection between her thoughts and her feelings. If she goes to bed thinking, “I don’t want to have a bad dream,” she will feel scared and powerless. If she focuses on the fact that if she has a bad dream, she knows how she’ll handle it, she will feel more empowered. It’s not that she’s not allowed to have feelings, of course. But it can be helpful to know that we have more power over situations than we think, simply by recognizing our thoughts and how they impact our feelings.
I hope that gives some food for thought!