Most of the time, an active imagination is a huge strength for kids. Their imaginations help them explore the world in beautiful ways that we, as adults, often miss out on.
But sometimes, that imagination can get in their way. I’ve found this to be true most especially when my kids are having nightmares. Their imagination will completely run away with them, even after they have woken up and the nightmare sticks with them. They will keep imagining the nightmare, seeing it in their minds and making it worse and worse in their heads.
Bad dreams are difficult for anyone, but for creative kids, they can be really disorienting.
I spent a few of my parenting years squeezing onto a twin size mattress, telling my kids “it will be okay” and “that dream wasn’t real” only to be met with sobs as my scared kiddos would tell me more and more details of their nightmares and what “might” happen.
This went on until about a year ago when I figured out a better way, thanks to the Harry Potter series. I won’t nerd out on you too much, but if you’re familiar with the books or movies, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that Remus Lupin and a Boggart taught me how to help my kids conquer their nightmares.
Now I’ll share Lupin’s wisdom with you so you can help your kids conquer their bedtime fears as well.
Boggarts are monsters who, when they look at you, transform themselves into your worst fears. It’s the perfect example of a child’s imagination getting the best of them when it comes to scary things.
How you defeat a Boggart? That’s the best part! You defeat it by somehow making what scares you, funny. Is a huge spider crawling towards you? Remove it’s legs and watch it roll around like a big bowling ball. It’s funny, the kids laugh and the fear (an Boggart) is conquered.
Using this strategy you can train your child to use their imagination to defeat their fears and work through them.
Distracting my kids from their worries, NEVER works. They always go back to what they were worried about and for nightmares, they start obsessing over them and making them worse.
Now, they are learning to take control for themselves, and use their creativity for good.
It does take a bit of practice before you can teach them the best ways to use their creativity for good in the middle of a scary night, but if you work together with your child you can do it!
Here are some real life examples from the nightmares both of my kids have had in the last year, and how we defeated them.
My daughter (5 years old) is absolutely terrified of tornados. Her big brother watched “world’s deadliest tornados” on Netflix and loved every minute of the science-based show, while she sat on the other end of the couch completely horrified.
It’s no surprise that tornados often make their way into her nightmares. We don’t live in a part of the country where tornados happen, but this isn’t a logic-based-fear so I don’t approach it that way. Instead, I use her imagination.
One thing my daughter LOVES is Skittles. One night she woke up crying because of a tornado nightmare. As she told me the details of her dream (talking about it helps!) I told her that she must have missed it… because the tornado on our street was very special. The tornado was made of SKITTLES. There were hundreds of thousands of skittles swirling around the street.
At this point she skeptically starts to smile and waits for me to go on.
TIP – It’s important to be as detailed as possible with the way you shape the story AND give them something to keep imagining after you leave the room, so I didn’t stop there…
I went on to explain that since there were SO MANY skittles flying around, mommy and daddy simply couldn’t keep her from eating them. She would definitely be able to run outside and grab as many skittles as she wanted and eat them ALL.
Skittles were flying everywhere after all. The whole street is covered in them.
By this point in the story, she was laughing hysterically and started adding in details of her own and even miming herself eating the skittles.
TIP – When the kids start adding in their own details you KNOW you are on the right track and have given them something better to think about.
As she started to take over the story, I could tell the fear had passed. I left the room and she went to sleep grinning, thinking about eating all the candy she wanted.
My son (7) often has nightmares about “bad guys” coming to our house and killing all of us. (Morbid, I know!)
He may only be 7 but he views himself as the big hero and is always crushed in his dreams when he’s not able to save everyone or the bad guys defeat him.
For this one, I always play into his fantasy of being the big hero.
We start plotting ways to transform our home into an epic fortress that even the smartest “bad guys” can’t penetrate.
When it comes to designing traps and conquering bad guys his imagination will quickly take control, in the best possible way. I just have to point him in the right direction and suddenly his mind has transformed our home into a spy-training-school where he trains real spies and ninjas how to fight better. Bad guys beware!
The only issue I’ve had with this line of reasoning with my oldest is getting him to quiet down about all his plans and go back to sleep.
A few last things to help you if you are trying to help your chid conquer their nightmares.
- Make sure you remain calm
- Listen to them tell you about the nightmares before you come in with ideas of your own to make it less scary
- Speak confidently about your ideas to change the narrative
- If they have any objections to your story, use them to make your story bigger and better (example: the first time we told the “spy training school” story my son objected that our house was just a regular house, not a school. I went on to explain that the house was in disguise so the bad guys didn’t expect anything, and that’s how we were trapping them. Every objection is just another way to use their imaginations to build a better story.)
- Use a calm voice, even when your child is melting down
- Affirm that it was scary (or they will think you don’t understand) while pointing them towards a better story.
I’ve been using this nightmare conquering method for over a year now, and it has worked with my kids every single time.
How do you deal with your child’s nightmares? Would this nightmare solution for creative kids work at your house?
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