We all have fears and occasional bad dreams. We can avoid thinking about them or avoid things that remind us of what we fear. We can distract ourselves and pretend like we are “just fine.” How do you cope with fears? What do you do that helps when you have a bad dream?
Some fears are rational ones (logically it could happen), and some are irrational (very unlikely that we will be faced with that circumstance). Many adults have found creative ways of coping with their fears. For example we can use logic and reasoning to assess the likelihood that we are in real danger. Children, at very early ages, can also be taught creative ways of coping with fears and nightmares.
The first thing to understand is that no matter how silly or unlikely the feared situation or dream may sound; it is a very real experience for the child, or adult, for that matter. It is vitally important to hear them out and be honestly curious about the nature of the fear. Listen quietly and calmly. Do not belittle or laugh about your child’s fear! You might be saying to yourself “but that is so unreasonable, it won’t happen…get over it!” While you should use care and concern when talking about the feared situation, it is generally unwise to cater to the fear (such as going out of you way as a family to avoid something) or to overreact to the fear. Stay calm, be present and listen closely. If you will be going into an unfamiliar situation or new experience, be sure to realistically prepare the child so they know what to expect. In this life we need to be able to move through some of our fears. We are not guaranteed that this will be easy or successful, but if we don’t face the fear, it will grow bigger and bigger, until it begins to make decisions for us.
If the fear is being played out as nightmares, here are some commonly used conversational tools that may help you.
Be curious about the dream. Find out what he/she remembers. What was it about, and what about it was scary?
If we are talking about a child or loved one, stay close and cuddle the child.
Normalize that what they are saying is a scary thing, “I can see why you were scared! Giant ants chasing me would scare me too.”
Ask detail questions. After hearing “the worst part,” begin asking detail questions that are silly. Example: “Wow that sounds scary! Did the monster have purple spots? Will he melt if you blow on him? What is his weakness? Was he in his pajamas too?”
Here is the most important part after listening and normalizing, invite them to give the story an ending. Nightmares most often end at the climax, not with a conclusion. Ask them “What do you think happened next?” If they cannot come up with a creative ending help them out. This can be a real opportunity to bond. Build them up in the process. Feel free to grant superpowers or invite natural disasters at this point! Give them whatever they need to succeed. Remember this is a dream, so you can end it any way you want.
Retell the story together with the beginning, middle, climax (the scariest part), and a conclusion.
We all have things we will be afraid of. How do you handle your fears? If you need help facing those fears or relief from persistent nightmares, make the call 507.351.8799.