Bad Dreams

My oldest is nine. He is starting to want to branch out and watch TV programs on channels other than Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. He understand that the ratings on a TV show are a good guide to help him understand if my husband and I will be okay with him watching it’s content. He asked me to sit with him while he watched a show about the history or legends of strange places. I wasn’t keen on him watching the show, as I felt it could be confusing and potentially give him nightmares, but knew that I couldn’t shield him from such show forever. I sat down with him and proceeded to watch the show.

Part of the episode included a gangster getting killed by other gangsters who were trying to free him. The show did a good job of showing minimal carnage, but you got the idea of what happened: there were Tommy guns, and spatters of blood with people lying on the ground. I told my son we needed to find something else to watch. Later that night after my son had gone to bed, he got up and told me he couldn’t sleep. I knew this would happen, I thought, ugh! I told him to sit down and talk to me about what was keeping him awake. “I can’t get the image out of my head. I keep thinking someone is going to come out of nowhere and shoot me,” he shared. My first attempt to make him feel better was based on facts: gangsters are something we mainly see on TV, not in real life. I proceeded to detail when gangsters were at their height and why gangsters were dangerous. He thought about this for a minute and said, “Thanks, but that doesn’t really help.” Okay, what else can I try? I thought about the technique I use when I get scary images in my head, I try to turn them into something less threatening or scary. I try to turn them into something silly or ridiculous. It’s hard to be afraid when the image makes you smile or laugh. I shared my idea with my son, “what if we could make what’s scary you into something funny?” He smiled at the thought. I said, “What if instead of bullets coming out of the gun, tickets, like you win at the Family Fun Center, came out of the gun; and it made a ding-ding-ding sound instead of a bang-bang-bang sound?” I had him now, he was grinning from ear to ear. “Or what if, instead of pulling a gun out of his coat, he pulled out a butterfly?” my son added with a laugh. “I love it! That’s really good,” I said. I could tell my son was feeling better and had a strategy that was helping him.

It turned out the TV show provided an opportunity to connect with my son and allowed me to give him a tool he could use; it felt good.

How have you helped your child work through a nightmare? What unexpected places provided an opportunity for you to teach, or connect with, your child?

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