One thing I could always count on as a kid was knowing that when I had a bad dream, I would yell “Moooooooooom!” and she’d be there for me. Every. Single. Time. Her presence calmed me. I don’t recall anything she said to me, but just knowing I wasn’t alone was enough for me to relax and eventually fall back asleep.
As a parent myself now, I’ve done my best to give my kids that same kind of care when they have bad dreams. When they call me, I go in and give a hug and tuck them back into bed. However, I’m finding that doesn’t always work to calm them! Sometimes it seems they need more than that – something else to snap them out of their dream and help them understand that it was not reality.
One night in particular, reason and logic were not working for my daughter, and I decided to practice the “Alternate Ending” technique. It was as if my English major background grabbed the wheel and told my parenting self, “Move over darlin’, I got this.”
In my daughter’s dream, there was a bad guy with a gun. I asked her if she wanted to do something silly with me, and we proceeded to brainstorm other things that the gun could shoot out. Bananas? Oh man, monkeys would LOVE that! What if it shot out chewed bubble gum, then the guy would get stuck to the floor! What if it shot out money and you had a bag and you could catch it all and be rich!
It didn’t take long and we were in a fit of giggles together, imagining everything this once-scary gun could shoot out. I left her with the encouragement to think of other silly things it might shoot out and tell me all about it at breakfast the next morning.
Another night one of my kids had a bad dream about a scary monster. I let them in on a super-top-secret piece of information about that monster…it was afraid of…BOOGERS! (Bathroom humor is always a win.) It was a lot of fun to imagine ourselves picking our noses and flinging it at the monster, him cowering each time we started to reach for our noses.
I think when we give our kids the chance to change the ending, their bad dreams lose power over them. Our children become the ones in control, and they get to say how it all ends. That’s empowering!
Humor also helps too – because when we’re laughing it’s hard to feel afraid, and when we’re laughing TOGETHER, we’re making memories.
The next time you get called out of bed in the middle of the night, see what silliness ensues when you give your kids the Alternate Ending.