My middle son started suffering badly from nightmares back in the Fall. I would awake to him screaming in his sleep, to him gently shaking me awake, or to him curled up at the foot of our bed -- I shudder to think of the number of times I might have kicked at him, thinking he was the cat! At first I tried talking to him about them -- attempting to see if there was any link between them and something else going on in his life -- but I eventually realized they're likely a resurgence of the nightmares he had as a toddler, so I started focusing on teaching him coping strategies.
I'm a big believer in the power of words (no, really!), so my first idea was get him to tell me about each nightmare after it happened to dispel whatever scary feelings were wrapped up in it. This worked to a certain extent, to the point where one night I heard him in his bedroom say "Nightmare, you go away! You don't scare me!" Something shook this newfound confidence, however, and before long he was back to sharing his brother's bunk.
My next idea was the addition of a talisman. At bedtime we'd talk about the pillowcase his Grammie made him and how it would help keep them away, about the special bears and stuffed animals and their job in keeping nightmares at bay, and how his favorite blanket would wrap him up so the nightmares couldn't see him. This didn't work so well, but one day he asked if an amber necklace like his baby brother's might work and I jumped on the idea.
The necklace worked the best of all our earlier attempts. He only had two small nightmares when wearing it and kept talking about what a good job it did in keeping them away. We still couldn't get him back to sleeping in his bunk, though -- the nightmares had made it a scary place for him. Trying to get a 7yr old and a 9yr old to quietly sleep together in a twin-sized bed was getting to be kind of ridiculous, though, so something had to be done!
Last night we "cleansed" his bunk. We carefully picked out special sheets and talked about why they would help, we selected two pillowcases his Grammie made to put on to his pillows, we stood his stuffed toys (including my childhood stuffed bear) sentry by the bunk bed ladder, and arranged all his books and toys "just so". The final step, and the one that I think empowered him, was giving him back the power of his words.
I told him we were going to make magic and cast a protection spell on his bunk. He looked at me skeptically and said "ooooooookaaaaaaaay.." We took some peppermint essential oil and anointed each bed post, saying "No nightmares can pass here. Each of these drops will form a force field that no nightmares can cross." He added his own bit at the very end of our ceremony about how if any nightmares hit his invisible shield of protection, they will crumble like dust and fall to the floor where he will be able to see them when he wears his 3D glasses.
What can I say? He's imaginative. ;)
Later in the night, I heard a boy calling out in his sleep and tossing and turning in bed. I was worried that our cleansing ceremony had been for naught, but when I went to check it was Boy#1 on the bottom bunk who was in the throes of a bad dream. Boy#2 slept soundly last night. His theory is the nightmares crumbled like he told them to and then found his brother.
Maybe, they did. And maybe I believe a little more in magic today than I did yesterday. ;)