What a Nightmare

Friday, January 14, 2011

My little bambino has been mighty sick lately. He's on his way to the doc right now. But the thing that concerns me most is his apparent nightmare two nights ago. I mean, the Lion King hyenas are a little scary and sometimes daddy watches something questionable, but it seems odd that a child with a pretty limited vocabulary and teeny tiny set of experiences could have such a harrowing nightmare that he picked his way in complete darkness to our bedside. He usually doesn't leave his bed until someone goes to get him. Finding him whimpering next to my bed was probably just as scary to me as it was to him to have such a nightmare, because it just kills me when he experiences such angst. Poor little guy.

So, knowing me, I had to Google "toddler nightmares" the next day because I had no idea how to approach this uncharted territory. I don't like to just ignore seemingly arbitrary things like this and I'm all about making things better for my family. The best advice I found is to ask your toddler briefly what's going on, and then change their thoughts. Go downstairs and get a glass of milk and read them another story. I like to check for monsters and pretend to eat them if the little guy suspects there are any lurking under his bed. This seems to reassure him. But there's nothing worse than being short with a toddler, so a little empathy and back-stroking go a long way. We now have a night light for his room and leave his door open so that he feels more secure.

There's a lot of irony with being a parent. While we're busy reassuring our little people that everything is OK, we're secretly worrying about upcoming bills, strange vehicle sputters, the health of our elders, our work relationships, and then some. Those petty nightmares seem to pale in comparison to real encounters with death and poverty. However, it is because of a toddler's lack of experience that those worries derived from nightmares feel just as potent as our biggest adult fears. It really puts things into perspective, as they say.

This incident also provides a lesson in thought re-patterning. I like the idea of acknowledging bad feelings and then redirecting thoughts to other more pleasant and productive things. In the real world, empathy and active listening go a long way too. It's amazing what you can learn from raising a child. More and more, these experiences reiterate the things I've learned in my own life.

This is also a lesson in the active imaginations of children. When we think they're not looking or paying attention, they're really actively absorbing more than we realize. We're going to have to be much more proactive about screening our television and word choices. My husband and I might just have to start playing the quarter game pretty soon too. Our potty mouths might get us into trouble one of these days...

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