Child's nightmare reveals daytime anxieties
Dear Amy: I was awakened at 3 a.m. by my 4-year-old crying out for me.
When I went to his room, he was sobbing about having a bad dream. I asked what happened and he cried, "I was killing daddy!" He was hysterical. I asked, "How were you killing him?" He responded, "With a Hot Wheels track." I didn't push further, in fact, I kind of wanted to laugh.
He had gotten into trouble before bedtime when his dad told him to clean up the living room and pick up all of the Hot Wheel tracks scattered around the house. My son threw a fit about having to pick up his mess.
That night, I consoled him, and explained nightmares.
I'm wondering if the nightmare was his subconscious still being angry with his dad. Should I worry about future aggression or psychological issues? He was very upset that he had this dream and couldn't go back to bed without telling his dad he loved him and that he was sorry.
-- Concerned Momma
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Dear Concerned: The genesis of this nightmare seems obvious. And your son's instinct to resolve his feelings by apologizing and telling his dad he loved him in the middle of the dark night was a psychologically and emotionally very healthy (and mature) response. Good boy!
One reason parents try to have a peaceful wind-down to the day is so the family can enter the night relatively unfettered by unresolved disputes and anxieties.
Before your son drifts off to sleep, you and his dad should encourage him to reflect on the day. His own story about how the day went will reveal his anxieties to you, and help you to encourage him to resolve them. Ask him, "What was your least favorite part of this day?" Listen to his answer and help him to resolve any dangling worries. Then ask, "What was your favorite part of the day?" This enables both of you to relive something fun, silly and pleasant. Also ask, "How did you show kindness today?"
These questions at the end of each day will help him to modulate his behavior during the day and put his own story into context at night.