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A Creative Solution for Preschool Nightmares

Updated on December 5, 2017
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Neil Allen is a single parent, former nanny, and human service student who shares his experiences working with children.

When my daughter was about four years old, she awoke one night with a nightmare. She was sobbing and really upset. We both needed to be up for work in the morning and having a squirming preschooler in bed with us was not an acceptable solution.

My husband had a moment of pure brilliance. He picked up her pillow and took her hand, then led her into the bathroom. “We’re going to shake the nightmares into the toilet and flush them away,” he told her.

I watched from the doorway as he shook her pillow over the toilet bowl. He said things like, “Get off the pillow.” And, “Go away nightmares.” My daughter started giggling and wanted to shake the pillow, too. When they were all in the toilet, he motioned for her to flush the toilet.

My daughter was still giggling as they went back to her bedroom and he tucked her in. She fell back to sleep and was asleep for the rest of the night.

Thankfully nightmares didn’t plague my daughter and she only had a few more. Each time we would go to the bathroom and she would shake her pillow over the toilet and flushed them away. It always worked a charm.

Nightmares aren’t something preschoolers can understand, especially not when they are sobbing in bed after just waking from one. This method works because it allows them to have a way to identify where the nightmares are and have them be outside their body. It also gives them control as well as distracting them—they’re too busy giggling to remember much about the nightmare.

A friend of mine in England recently tried this twice with her four year old. I had mentioned it to her in a discussion about how to deal with the inevitable nightmares that were lingering on the horizon for her daughter. When it finally happened she decided to give it a go. Both times her daughter was giggling as she dumped the nightmares in the toilet and flushed them away. She fell right back to sleep.

Your mileage may vary with the success of this method. You need to know your child and understand the way your child thinks. For example, this wouldn’t have worked for my autistic nephew as he wouldn’t have been able to see the nightmares going into the toilet and flushing nothing away wouldn’t make sense to him.

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