by Carrie Southworth, Co-Founder of Twigtale and Mom of Two
As a parent, I often think I can help my child better than anyone else. But recently I was reminded that great ideas can come from anyone who loves and cherishes your child.
You see, my 4 year-old daughter Savannah had been having trouble with nightmares. Nothing too extreme. Just the occasional middle of the night wake-up, cry-fest. We would go in, help comfort her, and she'd go back to sleep.
But then all she wanted to talk about were nightmares. ALL day, EVERY day. I'd tell her that nightmares are just pictures, or movies, in her mind. That they can seem real and scary but they are not real. I'd listen, I'd reflect. I'd tuck her in at night. I'd leave the door open. I'd leave the hall light on. I read every article online about how to help young kids with nightmares. I did all that I could.
However, the obsession with nightmares got worse. We have the fabulous book "There's a Nightmare in my Closet" (Mercer Mayer) and Savannah asked to read it daily, but at the same time she covered her eyes while it was being read. She wanted to know all about the nightmares in her closet, but they terrified her at the same time.
I was started to feel exasperated. And exhausted.
Enter Diane - my baby-sitter extraodinaire who helps with the kids on the weekend. One Saturday morning, she arrived with a bag full of supplies from the local craft store. Felt, pillow stuffing, googly eyes, glue, buttons, crepe paper, glitter paint, little hats and some thread.
Savannah peeked into the bag, "What are we doing, Diane?"
"We are making your nightmares!"
The two of them spent the entire afternoon in the kids play area, hard at work. At the end of the day, they had these adorably scary, plush Nightmares. All from Savannah's mind. One had a top hat, one had a crepe paper skirt. They all had numerous eyes and glitter paint smears.
Savannah gleefully showed them off. "These are my Nightmares! They are not so scary. They can live in my closet and I can visit them! Silly Nightmares! I am not scared of you!"
And that was that. The nightmare conversations have decreased by 90%. Middle of the night wake-ups have also decreased significantly.
My guess is that by giving Savannah the control of her nightmares, Diane freed her from the anxiety. Savannah was able to physically create and hold her nightmares. She was able to look them in the eye and say "I'm not scared of you!" Diane gave Savannah the power to minimize her own anxiety.
I felt such relief. I am grateful for Diane's creativity and efforts. I may be Mom, but Diane expertly empowered Savannah to help herself in a way that I was struggling to. And for the record, Diane is not available to take on any additional babysitting jobs. I have her booked every weekend for the next 16 years.
This essay was originally published in September 2014. Twigtale just launched Everybody Gets Scared, a new book to help children brave their fears and understand their feelings!