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My son used to be very independent little boy without any fears. In the last two years his night terrors and fears have gotten out of control.

He dreams about robots, house fires, tornadoes. The dreams are horrible. Now he's scared being in a room alone and won't go anywhere unless a person is with him.

He sleeps with us (ugh!). It's just been horrible. What can I do so he's not scared of his own shadow and stop the nightmares?

I feel like this is changing his personality and I hope it's not a precursor to anxiety or other mental health issue. (My brother in law had same issues when he was young I have been told. He became alcoholic and just an unhappy person.)

Something changed and I need help getting him back to the fearless little boy.

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    Did he watch/read any new media? News? Films? Books? – user3143 Mar 9 '15 at 14:01
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    The only thing that helped us is a book developed by psychologists to help with this: Uncle Lightfoot, Flip That Switch: Overcoming Fear of the Dark, Second Edition. – neuronet Mar 10 '15 at 1:14
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    Don't forget to look at your own attitude. Childhood fear can have roots in parents behaviour. Are you afraid a lot? Do you talk about your fears to him? – Thorst Mar 10 '15 at 10:21
  • Please don't be so afraid of him having a mental health issue that you don't investigate the possibility. If he does have one, proper treatment may be what will bring back your "fearless little boy." – Aravis May 15 '15 at 14:51
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Poor little guy. Try searching for information on "childhood fears" and "night terrors", those are the usual terms used.

Here's one set of basic recommendations:

General Guidelines for Any Age

When your child is afraid -- whether at age 5 or 15 -- remember to approach the fears with respect. Chansky suggests following these basic guidelines:

  • Don't try to talk your child out of being afraid.
  • Stay calm and confident. How you talk to your child about fears is as important as what you say.
  • When helping your child to confront fears, find out what feels comfortable. Don't force your child to do more than that. However, don't give your child a total "out." Complete avoidance isn't the answer for anxiety.
  • Practice coping responses in a variety of ways: with drawing, stuffed animals, or role-playing.
  • Reward efforts -- big or small.

Childhood Fears and Anxieties, WebMD April 2007 (it's worth reading the whole article)

Have any major events recently - or at the start of this uptick in fear - happened in his or your family's life?

E.g. moving house, moving school, bereavement, divorce, illness of a family member, accident, etc...

5

My little girl had a similar bout of bad dreams and was able to overcome it after we convinced her that she could control the dream, i.e. if the room was on fire she could become a super hero that could spray water out of her arms and put the fire out. It worked for her, hopefully you can find something similar for your boy.

One more bit of advice we always have held strong to: your bed is your bed and you don't need to let children into it. It would be better for you and him if you went and stayed with him in his room until he falls asleep, even if that means you sleep on his floor that night.

The other advice already posted is good: don't try to diminish his fears or tell him to get over it. Help him understand why he's afraid and see if he can come up with something to overcome that fear (i.e. understand that fire alarm protects us from fires). Empower him.

4

The other answers provide excellent advice about fear. I would suggest you also check (just to exclude it as a possibility) that he is not suffering from something sleep related.

For example: night terrors. Some useful articles may help explain what I mean (in particular the wikipedia one):

Night terror article on wikipedia

NHS article on night terrors

I suffer from something like this still and we have had to remove things like the light-bulb from our bedroom so that I don't become afraid of it in the night and attack it as I wake up in fear.

A relative of mine suffers from an unusual form of epilepsy, which is triggered when she falls asleep. It causes her to hallucinate all sorts of unpleasant things (such as spiders crawling over the floor). It was hard, at first, to realise that this was not simply her dreaming and thus not simply nightmares.

My guess is that there's nothing like that going on - it would be a surprise if there were - and my hope is that this is just fear which I am sure your good parenting will overcome, but it is worth checking out at least whether night terrors aren't a factor.

2

A friend of mine had a son who was terrified of being in his room alone, and was constantly having nightmares. For his birthday (with his mother's approval) I gave him a gun that made a sound and lit up when the trigger was pressed. I told him it was a super-anti-monster gun and that all monsters were afraid of it because if you shot them with it they would disintegrate. Apparently it helped, although they had to deal with hearing the gun go off in the middle of the night a couple of times.

I had another friend who dealt with the issue by telling her daughter that sugar was poisonous to monsters, so every night they would sprinkle some on the floor on her room so monsters would stay away. Not something I'd recommend, they ended up with an ant infestation :(

The fear is all in his imagination, so the cure can be found there as well. You might try giving him a special flashlight that will scare monsters away or make them "vanish forever" or a bag of toy soldiers that can be put around his room on sentry duty. Or get a can of air freshener and call it a "good dreams maker" and let him spray it in his room at night.

Now, that being said, if his fears are coming from something outside of his own fertile imagination (and please don't assume that if there's something going on he'll necessarily be able to tell you about it) you might want to think about taking him to a therapist. Dreaming is the way we process the day's events, and bad dreams are often the way we deal with childhood traumas that we can't process openly. I had constant nightmares as a child. Now I can look back and see that there were things going on in my life that caused them and if I had had a way to address those issues directly I wouldn't have had them ambushing me every night.

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    Perhaps use something like cornstarch or talc instead of sugar. :) – Aravis May 15 '15 at 14:48
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I am absolutely not familiar with this kind of problem, I am not sure this will be of any help, I am not sure what I am saying is even correct.

From what you say, he seems to be afraid of events he cannot control.

Maybe help him by teaching him what can be done in those cases (in case of fire, calling the firemen, etc., and no, I don't know what to do in case of robots going out of control). If he absolutely needs a way to be able to contact someone in case of danger, teach him how to contact a family member (memoryzing a phone number to be called), reassure him that there will be no event so sudden that he will not be able to contact someone, even if he is alone in a room.

Also, maybe he is afraid of not being able to react when he is asleep, in which case reassure him that he will wake up before anything happens (the fire alarm will wake him up, risk of tornadoes are being predicted and make enough noise to wake you up, etc.)

Maybe he is grasping the concept of death, and gets anxious about it, which is a big phase of life. In which case, I absolutely do not know how to deal with it correctly... :/

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    "I don't know what to do in case of robots going out of control" -- send someone back in time to prevent the robots killing your rebel leader as a child, of course. Sadly those films aren't suitable for a 7 year old or for someone experiencing robot-related terrors, but there's probably some junior robot-fiction that is. – Steve Jessop Mar 9 '15 at 20:44
  • @SteveJessop, the accepted way of dealing with troublesome or uppity computer equipment is to confuse it with paradoxes. Getting the child to learn some paradoxes would at least be distracting for them! (There is an alternative way of dealing with robots but that should wait until puberty at least). – A E Mar 9 '15 at 21:04
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When I was in college, I had a girlfriend who suffered from night terrors. It sounds to me like your son isn't have "night terrors", but having extremely bad dreams. I don't want to correct you on this and I'm willing to take downvotes for this answer (first one on THIS exchange).

Night Terrors are very common and seem to be hereditary. The person who is suffering from a night terror is usually being held down by a gremlin (in their dream) and are paralized with fear and the pressure of this gremlin. The aren't able to breath as well because of the same gremlin. People have reported seeing a white horse (A "Night Mare") in their dreams and also someone standing over them, usually at the foot of the bed or in a door who they say is "death himself".

What's most fascinating about night terrors is that this is a recurring theme between cultures throughout the world, people who don't know eachother have the same dream. There have even been amazing pieces of art depicting this.

Anyways, enough of the history lesson. While I was with my girlfriend, I did a little research and studying. I came up with a way to stop her night terrors INSTANTLY. I did some research on her and found that her night terrors would normally last 3 minutes before she would start trying to scream out in her dream, which would come out as loud whimpers and moans. My test involved waving a card sprayed with a scent that she had a strong affinity for over her nose when she started to have a night terror.

In her case, she had a very strong GOOD memory when she smelled Curve Cologne. She thought of me, who would keep her safe. She explained that when I waved the card over her nose, the night terror would INSTANTLY go away and she would start dreaming of me instead. I knew, at least, the night terror would go away because I could see and hear her settle down immediately. She would relax (still asleep), no whimpering, moaning, etc.

Since then, I met my wife and found that she had the same night terrors. I did this same experiment with her with the same instant success, though with a different scent.

Now, about your son. The advice given already is amazing. I wanted to give you some of my studies and research. This may require some work on your part, where you will have to stay in your son's room until he starts having a nightmare then wave a strong specific scent in his face. Does he have a good memory to your parfume, oranges, cut grass, etc.? when you notice him tossing and turning, wave a scent over his nose. If he's anything like my "experiments", he should settle down right away. Eventually he won't be afraid to go to sleep, and possibly may train him to think of those good things while he's asleep.

Another thing I was able to help my wife with is when she was having a bad dream (rather than a night terror), I was able to get her to just "wiggle her toe". If you can remember the simplest little thing ("wiggle your toe"), it's a good way to start lucid dreaming. The advice above about your son knowing what to do in those situations would be great, especially if he can start to lucid dream. If you can teach him to control his dreams first, then he can start to be a super hero (suggested from another post).

Good luck with this. My son is 1 year old and I'm sure I will be dealing with this soon.

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Here's what you do For the little guy. For his night terrors give him 1 to 2 small square of dark chocolate candy 2 to 3 hours before bedtime every night. Believe me this works it's stops the trigger of any night terrors from happening. Now remember it must be dark chocolate candy Of high grade percentage. His fears will stop once his night terrors are gone. I encourage all parents with children that have night terrors to try dark chocolate. It's cheap and it works. Remember this is a daily regiment before bedtime. If you stop the daily regiment the night terrors will come back again. Give it a shot help your kids.

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    Welcome to this site. Please include evidence that supports your recommendation, so that others may read about this as well. While you're here, please have a look at the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. Thanks. – anongoodnurse May 13 '15 at 22:32
  • Chocolate can be a stimulant, and dark chocolate moreso. – Acire May 13 '15 at 22:33

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