How to deal with nightmares

BabyJayne asks: What should I do about nightmares?

I love to dream.   You probably know what it looks like when dogs dream, especially if we’re dreaming about fighting bears or chasing cats or something else really exciting.  Our paws go back and forth, and our lips snarl.  It’s fun to watch, but even more fun to do!

But some dreams aren’t so nice.  Sometimes all our worries come up in our dreams, and we think we’re living through something just awful.  Once I dreamed I was getting beaten up by a gang of kittens!  Oh it took me days to get over that!

There’s nothing strange or wrong about having nightmares, whether you’re a kid or a grownup.  I find that the best way to look at them is as statements from your brain: “There’s something you’re not dealing with enough, so you’re being reminded of it now.”  Why, Handsome has even had bad dreams about having forgotten to phone someone he’d promised to call!  Nothing wrong with that dream, it made him wake up and remind himself to call her in the morning!

But lots of nightmares are much scarier than Handsome’s phone call dream.  Sometimes they’re even violent.  So if you have one of those, here are the things I recommend to do:

1)           First, just lie in bed and breathe fully, and think about the dream.  Try to remember everything you can about it.  If you can write down any of it, that will help.  But make sure you breathe slowly and deeply, and get your body to relax, before you do anything else.

2)           Then find someone you can talk to about it.  Tell them all the details you can.  And tell them how the dream made you feel.  That’s a very important part of it.  (Some kids think dreaming about monsters is fun!  That’s okay, but that’s a very different dream than when another kid is scared by them).

3)           Then try to figure out if the dream means anything.  Did someone scary in the dream remind you of anyone?  Did the dream happen at a particular place?  (Handsome has had bad dreams about a high school history class for over twenty years!).

4)           Write it out as a story, or draw it as a picture.  This really helps you feel better, and might help you figure out more of what the dream was trying to tell you.

5)           Usually, that’s enough.  But if it’s not, if you keep having nightmares, then I’d suggest you talk to a therapist.  It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or anything like that.  Just that you need someone who’s trained to help people deal with things like these dreams.

And if it’s okay with everyone else in the house, maybe you can have a dog sleep by your side.  It won’t keep you from having the nightmares, but when you wake up, you’ll feel safe and loved.

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