Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
A sweet little girl wouldn't sleep in her own bed. Come to find out, she was not afraid of her room, her bed or the dark. She just didn't want to fall asleep. Ever night, she would get in her parents' bed, secure herself with parents on either side, and she would want to chatter all night. The parents would repeatedly ask her to go to sleep so they could later transfer her to her bed. But, she would fight tooth and nail against falling asleep. Her parents had to struggle every night until the late hours.
What she was really afraid of was bad dreams. Every night when she felt asleep, she dreamed of a huge, angry and fierce looking man chasing her. She would wake up soaking wet and screaming, determined to never sleep again.
We talked in great detail about the man who chased her in her dream. Then, I said to her, "You know you can change your dream."
"You can?" she asked looking interested.
I said, "A dream is like a movie you see on television. The difference is that a dream is a movie you make. You are the film director and script writer. You are the boss, you can change it anyway you like."
I suggested that her movie could begin as usual, but as soon as the man starts chasing her, he stumbles against a rock (or runs headlong against a tree), falls down in sheer pain and is screaming for help. She let her imagination run with my idea and turned this fierce man into a pitiful and laughable figure. We rehearsed it a couple of times, drew it, colored it and had her tell her mother the new "script" for her dream. She was instructed to read the script to her mother before going to bed.
One change in the story and the nightmares were gone! The first night itself, she slept through. Many children have gotten rid of their nightmares with a stroke of a pen, a dash of crayon and a little bit of help. Recognizing that you don't have to be a helpless victim of your nightmares and that you can change them as you please, empowers you.
Children across cultures seem to go through the stage of fearing fairies, goblins and monsters when parents must look under the bed and declare it a safe zone. I was once introduced to an ingenious Native American device, called a "dream catcher." It is like a little round net in a ring with several colored strings that one could buy from a Native American fair.
A dream catcher too can work well with little children, but it doesn't empower a child in the same way as the changing of the dream does. The former is like giving a hungry man a fish for dinner and the latter is like teaching him how to fish so he can feed himself forever.
I am not suggesting that simply by asking children to change their dreams or buying a little dream catcher would solve the problem of nightmares forever. There are many others things that need to be taken care of, which are difficult to explain in a newspaper column. However, many adults and children suffer from nightmares for long periods because they don't know that something can be done about them. With a little bit of help, you have the power to change them.
In a previous article, I had written about the "worry cup." For children who stay awake in bed worrying about everything, a worry cup can often work. Parents take a cup and name it as their child's worry cup. Along with the cup, a bunch of marbles or beads are designated as "worry marbles" or "worry beads."
A parent or parents sit down with their child at night and list all the worries their child has. The child picks a bead for each worry and drops it in the worry cup. Thus, all the worries of a child can wait in the cup all night and he or she can go to bed worry free.
I recently came across a children's book, "Tell me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep," by Joyce Dunbar and Debbie Gliori. This "something" can be read by a parent and child together.
It is a story about a little bunny, "Willa" who is afraid of bad dreams and just can't go to sleep. Her brother "Willoughby" tells her to think of happy thoughts but Willa doesn't know how. So, Willoughby reminds her to think about the breakfast goodies and the nice toys she can enjoy the following morning. Willa wants more happy thoughts. So, Willoughby reminds her of other happy things such as blooming flowers, floating clouds, the shining sun, and flying birds along with the sound of buzzing bees and quacking ducks.
So, in the world of bunnies, everybody wakes up to something happy. Even the night wakes up to the morning, feeling happy. So, children of the world, do you know what makes the morning happy? According to Willoughby, to find you sleeping in the morning and waking you up from your sleep makes the morning happy. So, kids, sleep tight tonight and make the morning happy!
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