Bad Dreams, Nightmares, Scary Things, Oh My!

We’re going to need a king-sized bed soon. While the little one is already sleeping through the night, the 3yo has yet to do that. Okay, not that he’s never done it, but it does seem rare. Recently, nightmares have meant that not only is he getting up, he’s getting up and coming to sleep with us. And they seem like pretty scary nightmares–lots of stuff about tornadoes and the earth opening up. (Note to self about letting a 3yo who already lives in tornado country watch the movie Wizard of Oz.)

It’s really pretty awful when your 3yo says to you “Are you going to bed yet? If you stay up, will you keep an eye out? If you go to bed, it’s okay. But if you are up, will you keep an eye out?” I mean, it’s horrendous enough that he has to ask us to “keep an eye out” at night for his “scary things”, but when he adds that it’s “okay” if we don’t because we want (“selfishly” is implied) to sleep, too, well that’s just guilt-inducing. It’s almost enough to make me stay up all night long with a lantern and some HGTV. Almost.

After a week or so of this, my husband issued a challenged. “I’m not worried about this because I know you are going to fix it.” Emphasis on “you”. At first, I gave him the eye roll. The “I’m not in this alone and you are welcome to help out you know” eye roll. But then he really put the moves on–he tried flattery. When my husband tries flattery, which he only does when desperate and when he’s sure sarcasm is not working, it’s almost guaranteed to work. Almost.

But this time it did. “You always solve his problems,” he starts off, warming up. “You’re SO GOOD at this.” He knows he almost has me, so he goes in for the kill. “You are SUCH a GOOD MOM.” Okay, okay, okay. I mean, please, do I have to do everything around here? (Said with mock martyrdom.)

My first instinct was to go with the nocturnal animal angle. I’ve been talking a lot about the nighttime with 3yo since this has started, and the only time he’s been interested in a positive way was when he learned that some animals stay up at night and sleep during the day. In fact, while driving in the car recently, I said that I thought some mice stay up at night (I wasn’t sure about this, but since owls eat mice it sounded reasonable), and my son says that he bets the kind of mice that stay up all night have really big eyes. I used to teach science. I was SO proud of him and this hypothesis based on previous observations of nocturnal animals.

So I went online to look for books about nocturnal animals. I found a couple but a lot of them were scary-looking. They were really going for the gore. I settled for these two, which have minimal gore and horror but both do mention animals eating other animals. Not sure if I want to introduce that concept as part of an attempt to make the bad dreams go away.

I also found a lot of great nighttime and bad dream books. My 3yo was instantly fascinated by them, especially The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream, which was partially because his Granddad and Grandma have an almost infinite collection of Berenstain Bear books that he was recently introduced to at their house and partly because it was third-party proof from such reliable sources as Brother and Sister Bear themselves of this “bad dream” business that mom and dad had been talking about that he was TOTALLY not buying.

We immersed ourselves in these books for a few days. He would fall asleep with the books on his stomach, open to the page of the space aliens attacking Brother Bear in a dream. Ironically, that didn’t make him have more dreams, but actually seemed to help. He talks much more openly about his dreams now and even had his first good dream recently (about Cinderella!).

I believe books and good soup can solve any problem, and while I’m sure this is not solved, we are a long way from where we were a week ago. Below are the books we used and a little bit about them.

Title: The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Dream
Authors and Illustrators
 (they both did both!): Stan and Jan Berenstain
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 2 – 7

 

Summary and Review:  Brother Bear is into Space Grizzlies but when the toys give Sister a nightmare and the movie gives Brother one, too, all four bears end up in bed talking about bad dreams and how they SEEM real, but they aren’t.

Title: The Berenstain Bears In the Dark
Authors and Illustrators:
 Stan and Jan Berenstain
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 2 – 7

Summary and Review: Sister Bear is afraid of the dark but she learns that she can control her mind and not let her imagination get carried away. I love the pictures in this one that show scary shadow monsters and then the pile of clothes and furniture that created them.

Title: The Dark, Dark, Night
Author: M. Christina Butler
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 2 – 7

Summary and Review: This was my favorite and my son loved it, too. Gorgeous, gorgeous pictures and a cute story with a great punchline. The animals are each afraid of the pond monster, who keeps getting bigger the more animals that walk with them in the dark. But they realize that the pond monster is actually just their own shadow (something that older kids will be able to deduce and younger kids will easily see when you point it out on the second reading.)

Title: Can’t You Sleep Little Bear?
Author:
 Martin Waddel
Illustrator: Barbara Firth
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 2 – 7

Summary and Review: It’s a classic; it’s gorgeous, and it’s a wonderful story. The prose is nice to read and the message about the beauty of the natural world and the power of love is perfect for those children who, like Little Bear, are afraid of “the dark all around us”. I especially like the combination of fear and the implied attempt to just get one more minute before bedtime. Very real.

Title: Good-Night, Owl!
Author/Illustrator:
 Pat Hutchins
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 2 – 7

Summary and Review: This is a super-cute book with fun illustrations and it introduces the theme of animals who are awake in the day and the night which is something my son has really latched onto in his attempt to understand the darkness. Owl is trying to sleep, but all the day animals keep making noise and waking him up. He doesn’t sleep very well, but don’t worry, he gets the last laugh!

Title: The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark
Author:
 Jill Tomlinson
Illustrator: Paul Howard
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 2 – 7

Summary and Review: This book is gorgeous and the story is simple with a repetitive prose that I really like in a picture book. Baby owl is afraid of the dark, but when he asks people about the dark, they all give him different descriptions. The boy things dark is “EXCITING” because there are fireworks. An old lady says it is “KIND” and a girl says it is “NECESSARY” (for Father Christmas to come). Baby owl likes fireworks and Christmas, but still doesn’t like the dark until a black cat takes him on a tour and shows him a beautiful view of the city rooftops under the stars at night and owl recognizes “my world!”

Title: Where Are the Night Animals
Author:
 Stan and Jan Berenstain
Genre: Science, Nonfiction
Age: 2 – 7

Summary and Review: This book is a nice cross between a story and nonfiction. It has great illustrations and gives a great idea of what goes on at night. It introduces the term “diurnal” as well as nocturnal” and has a nice appendix at the end that shows what the nighttime animals do during the day.

Title: Night Animals (Usborne Beginners)
Author:
 Susan Meredith
Illustrator: Patrizia Donaera and Adam Larkum
Genre: Science, Nonfiction
Age: 2 – 7

Summary and Review: I like this book a lot. Simple photos and drawings, large print and sort words for early readers. Great way to introduce this concept of nocturnal animals. Not scary at all, but does include an illustration of an owl swooping down on a mouse and a leopard eating a dear. Makes me consider buying other books in the Usborne Beginner series, even though I’m generally skeptical of text-book like books. They do come with a website, which is just the most horribly structured thing you’ve ever seen. If you want to spend time flailing through a site that looks like it was designed before the internet, they have some cool printout and coloring pages, but my guess is you’ll do better on Google.

Activity with the kids:

The goal of these books for us was to separate what was not real (scary dreams about Space Grizzlies and Pond Monsters that are really your shadow for example) from what is real (the beauty of the stars and the animals that are awake and living in the night). Reading these books and talking about these with your kids should help them build a good framework on which they can hang their own ideas, separating them into dream and reality increasingly by themselves.

What about you? If you made it this far in this long post??  Do you have any good tricks for nighttime fears? Have you read any of these books? Please tell me below in the comment section! I love hearing from my readers!

4 Responses to “Bad Dreams, Nightmares, Scary Things, Oh My!”

  1. I will say DO NOT let your kids read Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit. We read that to Adela and she started biting her nails because of it. She now can’t stop and her fingers are shredded.
    Fortunately, Adela hasn’t had too many horrible dreams. She has had a few and Russ ends up sleeping in the bed with her (she is too lazy to get out of her bed). We do have a nightlight which really helps. I don’t know if that would be too helpful or not. Maybe a large stuffed owl to hang in his room? (Although that could be creepy!)

  2. That is AWFUL! Will definitely not get that book, although I’m not optimistic about the nail-picking-biting thing because I’m worried he’s going to get it from his dad anyway. 😦 Ollie has a few nightlights (two in the room, one in the bathroom and one in the hallway on the way to our room!). I really like the owl idea…I think he’d be into that! (He used to call us from his room but I think he knows there’s a much better chance we will let him into our bed if he’s already there saying “pretty please”.) 🙂

  3. I feel for you! I’ve been there. “…but you’re so good at this…” That’s the excuse my husband uses all the time. Maybe you should buy a kind-size bed. The day we bought ours, my son was with us one night and that was it. Now the bed feels too big. Well, I can’t think of any books that worked for us, but yours sound great!

    BTW: You have just been awarded the Liebster Blog Award! Go to: http://www.runninggirlsblog.blogspot.com/ to pick-up your award.

    -Romelle (aka: Running-girl)

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