By Alix Tonsgard, MS, Early Learning Specialist, DuPage Children’s Museum
We have a wonderful program at DCM called Family PlayShop. Every week parents, grandparents, nannies, and anyone else that falls under the caregiver umbrella, join us to connect with others, swap stories and laughs, seek guidance and resources, or just be in the presence of others who may or may not be sharing similar experiences, and all while playing and learning with their little ones.
A few weeks ago, as we sat and played, the topic of irrational fears and night terrors in the toddler years came up. I shared that the little one in my life is currently terrified of vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers. He is 23 months old and at a stage in his development where his brain is working really hard to distinguish what is real. I shared with the group that knowing what I do about the brain and child development helps to put this into perspective, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a challenging time to navigate.
The topic then shifted to discussing night terrors. Witnessing your little one experience a night terror is really upsetting. As the caregiver, your instinct is to comfort your child and let them know that they are safe. Night terrors and nightmares are two very different things. Night terrors take place during a stage of sleep when the child is not dreaming, and as a result they do not feel afraid and do not remember the experience when they wake. Typically the child will not wake when the terror passes, so the best thing you can do is make sure they are safe and let it pass. Children who have night terrors typically grow out of them. This is another one of those difficult moments when, as the caregiver, you have to try to just breathe and remember that this is more upsetting for you than for the child.
Nightmares are a different story. Nightmares generally occur in children ages 3 – 6 years. Like dreams, we don’t really know what causes them which makes it hard to prevent them but here are a few things you can do to promote a good night’s sleep;
As I reflect on the conversations that take place here at the Museum, I’m left thinking about just how powerful it is to have a space where caregivers can feel supported and understood by others. One of the unique features of the PlayShop program is that families sign up for a 4-week session (many families return session after session) which allows them to develop relationships. In any educational setting, but I will argue, especially in early childhood, relationships are critical, not just relationships between adults and children but relationships between adults as well.
Children and adults alike thrive in environments where they feel respected, supported, and able to trust others. High-quality early childhood settings make establishing these relationships a priority as we know the critical role they play in the successful growth and development of young children. It’s moments such as these that prompted our tagline “more than a museum.” Yes, we are a museum, a place to play and learn and grow, but really it runs so much deeper than that. In these moments I am most proud of the work that we do here at DCM and the impact we have in the lives of the families that we serve.
Alix Tonsgard is the Early Learning Specialist at DuPage Children’s Museum. She holds an MS in Child Development from the Erikson Institute. Acting as the Museum’s advocate for early childhood development and learning, she ensures that the latest research in Early Childhood Education is represented in all Museum exhibits, professional development initiatives, and public programs.