Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Alligator in Your Head

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Recently - and by that I mean for the past two months - Bo has been acting, well, traumatized. Like something horrible happened to him.

It started with him nervously whispering, "What was that sound?" every time a car drove by the house or one of the cats made a thump.

Then it escalated to him losing his mind whenever I or the mister went down to the basement to toss in a load of laundry or scoop the litter boxes.

Eventually he was following me from room to room and asking if his papa was still in the house every time the mister was out of sight.

And sleep? Forget it. In 2016 my big boy has gone back to sleeping like a newborn, waking up multiple times a night - sometimes inconsolable. He has ended up in my bed more nights than not lately.

Naturally my first thought was that something terrible had happened to him. So I asked the mister. I asked at daycare. And I just plain asked around, but no.

I think I know what's going on, though. Poor Bo has bad dreams - this we know - and it occurred to me that Bo probably has no idea that dreams are dreams.

It occurred to me because one day he says, "Do you remember last night when the alligator bit my leg and pulled me into the water? That really hurted."

And I said that no, I didn't remember that because no alligator had bitten him or pulled him into the water and furthermore I wouldn't ever let that happen, obviously.

But Bo was adamant that this was absolutely positively something that had really happened "last night," which is his way of describing anything that happened in the past.

It must be the dreams - the ones that I know he has because he cries out in his sleep and has night terrors so terrible they've made me cry more than once.

Now I don't know what to do because I've tried to explain what dreams are... they're movies that play in your head when you're sleeping... they're pretend stories your brain makes up... they're not real but they seem so real, I know, because I have bad dreams, too, and they rock me to my core even thought I know they're not real.

How in the world do you explain dreams to a toddler? How do you tell him that the alligator he could see and hear and feel as it dragged him under the lapping waves was just a product of his sleeping brain?

Seriously, how?

UPDATE: For anyone who is interested in empowering toddlers and preschoolers to face their bad dreams with courage, check out The Dream Catcher by Caroline Twomey! It's so great!


  1. Oh no! I have some thoughts on this, happy to share in person with a hug! He did mention today that there was something negative with sleeping in his bed, I forget if it was scared, or sad, or what. It is tough, though, I'm sorry!

  2. Not that I'm a child psychologist but I'd start with establishing the idea of stories as fiction and make sure he's got that really down before you even address the idea as relating to dreams.
    Maybe also focus on how he can distinguish realistic things vs fantastic things so he can get a better grasp on whether what he's experiencing is likely to have really happened.

  3. Poor guy! Since dreams are basically random bits of your brain as it's tidying itself every night (to grossly trivialize real research), maybe compare it to sweeping up a bunch of stuff? Puzzle pieces from different puzzles?


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