(originally written February 2014)
I considered not sharing this because it’s one of those things that I have zero control over. That’s really hard as a mom. But I figure that if I share this and it helps encourage one of you, it’s worth it. Here we go…
Will has nightmares.
As an infant, he suffered through night terrors…which is a very different thing. The night terrors started when he was about ten months old. They were literally the scariest thing ever as a new parent. I watched his little body thrash, screaming and crying, and knowing that there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it, reduce it or prevent it. It was horrifying. I wanted to take it away. I wanted to have it on me. I wanted to do ANYTHING. As soon as he would wake up, he was fine. He acted like he had no recollection of the terror. He would immediately stop crying. He would be alert and happy and not startle more easily or anything that would indicate that he had ever experienced a scare.
At first I did not understand. Then one day I had just pulled into a parking lot and he was asleep in his car seat and I heard the first scream. I immediately went to the back to check on him and watched the entire thing. He didn’t respond to me trying to wake him…eyes open…but not aware that I was even in front of him. He just had this blood-curdling scream and was thrashing his head back and forth. I immediately thought that an insect was stinging him or that he was having physical pain…maybe the buckle was pinching him or his diaper was hurting him?! I pulled him out and held him the remainder of the terror…both of us crying…both in terrible fear. It was one of those experiences that I will never forget.
After he had this ‘experience’ that I could confirm was a night terror, I talked to the doctor about them. She asked if he had caffeine or a stressful event in his life or poor sleeping patterns…no. no. no. She asked if I had given him any medication or had a fever. no and no. She then introduced us to the concept of night terrors (gave us a print out describing it vs. nightmares) and told us that it was not unheard of for children his age to have these night terrors and that we should just make sure that he doesn’t physically harm himself while he has them and to wait to outgrow them.
Well…he did. They slowly started to disappear and his sleep patterns were changing.
Now we have a different issue…the nightmares. The nightmares are completely different. I don’t remember exactly when they started but I can definitely tell the difference. The nightmares he can be stimulated out of. He can recall the subject of them, he talks during them (yes, he sleep-talks…just like his mama), he even cries but it’s more of a whimper and then sometimes there is a bloody-murder scream during the end. He even has started to explain the reoccurring ones.
At first the nightmares were never explained. I would ask simple questions like “What did you see when you were asleep?” and he couldn’t tell me. Then one day he told me that there were foxes. OH the foxes. The funny thing is…we don’t really know where he got this ‘fox’ character. And we filtered it through our adult brains…thinking of a real fox or even the cartoon one from the nursery rhyme book. Then one day Will saw a squirrel outside and called it a fox. He also started calling small dogs ‘foxes’. It was very confusing but as far as we know…he doesn’t feel comfortable with small furry animals and they all get labeled their proper names and also the name of ‘fox’.
Then recently Will has started explaining some much more startling dreams. These are the ones that give me chill bumps and keep me up at night praying for him to have peace. Will has told us on numerous accounts that there are two different things he sees in his room…the Crunchy Guy and the Sticky Things. As much as I don’t like talking about it with him, I have gotten some great advice from our pediatrician on how discussing these reoccurring ‘monsters’ can be beneficial to him processing the dreams.
The Sticky Things are harder for Will to explain…they stick to his walls and they also stick to each other. They are always located on his walls and doors and ceiling…they never touch him or hurt him but they are very scary. They do not have faces. They do not have a color. They have no arms or legs or hands or feet. They can be big or little.
The Crunchy Guy is the scariest of the scaries. He says that the Crunchy Guy has sharp hands that crunch the walls (I’m assuming that they are claws) and that he is big…much bigger than the Sticky Things. He is a male. He also does not have a color (not even black or gray or white). He is not a giant (according to Will, “giants live outside”). He also does not touch Will or his clothing and he does not talk or make noises other than crunches. But oh is he terrifying.
Will can describe these two monsters in great details even days after his last nightmare. He never sees them in any other room but his own and can see them multiple times a night (he might wake up scared…I soothe him back to sleep and then he sees them again). Verbally, Will is not the kind of kid that has a wild and vivid imagination…he might have one in his head but in general, he is a rule-follower and a ‘things-should-be-done-a-certain-way’ kinda person. If you ask him what the moon is made of…he doesn’t say cheese or water…if he doesn’t know, he says “I don’t know.”
After these discussions about these ‘interactions’ with Will, we breached the topic again with his doctor. Being a normal shy three year old, he would not discuss it with his pediatrician at all…no answering questions…no eye contact…nada. He just shut down completely and wouldn’t talk about it. The pediatrician asked us about frequency and we told her that it was about 4-5 times per week. She seemed really surprised by that and said that most kids with normal childhood anxiety can have 1-2 per week. After a long conversation, she wrote us a prescription for some meds if we chose to use them and recommended a future appointment with a children’s psychiatrist – but told us to wait until he was a little more verbal with other adults because that would be most helpful. One of the reasons we decided to enroll him in preschool this year was to help him understand that there are other grown-ups that he can talk to and feel comfortable with. So far it seems to help in that department (he was completely stoic before when you asked him to say thank you to a stranger…but now he actually will say it outloud!). Whether it has to do with his age or development or just because he is exposed to more adults, I’ll never know…but it’s nice that he is coming out of that shy shell a little. We chose to never have the prescription filled. It’s not that we are anti-drug….we just felt that with little ones, it is usually best to try other options first.
In general, Will has always been a relatively cautious kid. He has understood that injuries hurt and he tends to not take a ton of unnecessary risks physically. That’s not to say he’s not 100% boy. He will still throw himself out of a moving Powerwheel just for fun 🙂 Personally I believe that the caution is an outgrowth of the emotional sensitivity that he has….he has always understood when someone is hurting or stressed…and he is drawn to that…like if I stub my toe, he watches me process the pain from start to finish and will try to comfort me. He understands. I personally do not believe that he has abnormal anxiety for his age…although I do want a professional to confirm this in the future and I could be completely wrong…but there are no other indicators that anxiety is part of his life. He has a regular routine, he’s very social with other children, he’s almost never on medication (even when he gets sick, I hesitate because he is allergic to penicillin and the other meds make his tummy a little upset), he is happy and silly and comfortable during waking hours. He doesn’t get headaches or stomach aches or muscle tension. He has heard Jer and I argue maybe twice? And he isn’t allowed to watch hardly anything on TV (Mickey Mouse? Curious George?). Overall, he doesn’t meet the description. In fact, his little life might be a little too boring.
UPDATE : Current Day!
I’m happy to say that a year and a half after drafting that original post above, Will no longer has the nightmares on a regular basis. We do still have an occasional nightmare (1 per month) but they aren’t reoccurring ones and usually it is related to a new experience or something intense. If he experiences a social situation at school that he is still processing then he usually has a nightmare.
Some of you may be wondering why this post took so long to actually be made public. Well…I personally didn’t feel like this situation was in a positive place yet and call me a fairy tale fan but I like happy endings. Now it is. It’s very happy 🙂 Also…I had posted lots of photos of Will falling asleep in random situations and places and positions on Instagram (I hash tagged them #sleepandsnooze if you want to see them all) and sometimes I would get some less than encouraging feedback. Of course, people that didn’t know us personally didn’t know his particular situation or why he was tired or why he didn’t like going to bed (I wouldn’t want to go to sleep either if The Crunchy Guy was waiting for me). I didn’t fault them for thinking his sleep habits were off but I didn’t like the fact that some folks blamed our parenting or our sweet scared three year old for his tiredness. In fact, I did feel like taking pictures of him sleeping were a way for us to cope in a healthy way to this phase.
Now I am no pro and this is not a doctor talking or medical advice but what helped us will not guarantee help anyone else (every child is different) but here is what worked for our little guy when dealing with the nightmares. First….it will take time. Also, we found that there are certain things that are triggers for Will and we simply avoid those while doing other things that could help. We avoid intense situations or TV shows that entice fear (even age appropriate shows for Will….especially ones with “bad guys” we allow him to decide if he wants to see them….usually he says no…like we fast forward practically half of The Lion King), we limit chocolate and dairy at night time but make sure he is well hydrated, we encourage lots of physical exercise (oh baseball practice is over? wanna show your little brother how to run the bases?), we pray each night about all the GOOD things that he will dream about (trucks and speed boats and rainbows made of marshmallows) and we are trying hard to teach him to talk through other stressful-to-him ordeals (if a friend does say something mean, we ask him what HE thinks and then we talk about how we are supposed to respond). Talking through situations that we weren’t present for is a big deal to Will. We ask him what happy/sad/scary/funny things happened at school and sometimes the answer is “I got to be line leader! Nothing! Nothing! And a friend pee-peed on the playground fence!” and other times we have sad things to talk about….a friend didn’t want to play tag…or so-and-so said my ears stick out. We are doing our best to teach him truth about himself and others so that he can process those situations easily. Another helpful thing we do is if he does have a nightmare, we go and sit with him and ask him what he saw and then we say over and over in a calm and loving way “It was a dream. It is not real. It didn’t actually happen. It was a dream and it will stay a dream. Let’s pray for good rest.”
Thankfully our little boy has had a resolution to this but I know that some people are plagued by nightmares for a long time. Hopefully this can be encouraging to some of you mamas out there with little ones in that stage. I know it was really hard for me to find accounts with happy endings and I hope that maybe this can be a bright little star in your night!