My Daughter And Nightmares – Garbage Trucks And Bears And Owls, Oh My!

It’s 4 AM on a Saturday…or is it Monday? Thursday? Never mind. It’s happening every night.
The regular sleep sounds fill the room
’til the whimpering starts, then the wails begin
And I trudge towards Sienna in the gloom

Sienna, now less than 3 months from turning 3, is at a beautiful stage in her life. With each second, each breath, her mind blazes with imagination. A sweet request turns Daddy’s hand into any character – Captain Hook, Baymax from Big Hero 6, Scooby Doo. Stuffed animals converse. Putting on a silky cloth turns her into a princess or a superhero. I sit there watching her with wonder. What’s going through her mind? What does she see that I don’t? But with your child’s Big Bang of imagination comes dreams, particularly scary ones. Currently Sienna’s besieged by nightmares. Each night she wakes up crying, asking for Mommy or Daddy. Each night one of us slips into her room to comfort and hold her, tell her everything’s okay and that she’s safe.

It started with garbage trucks. Every Friday night sometime between 2 and 5 a massive garbage truck snorts and squeals and bangs and screeches as it empties the dumpsters across the street. Awakened by the racket, Sienna screamed for Mommy or Daddy for help. I’d go in and pick her up, her little heart racing against my chest, tears like rivulets running down to her chin and falling onto my shoulders. I’d stroke her sweaty hair and tell her it’s okay. It’s just a garbage truck. I’d take her to the window to see the big green truck with blazing white headlights pick up and empty each dumpster until the noise finally stopped and it chugged down the street and out of sight. I’d hug and reassure her as I could and then I’d gently put her down amongst her stuffed animals hoping she’d feel safe.

“Daddy! Don’t go!”

And I’d be forced to sleep on the floor, the carpet rough against my skin, no blanket to protect me from the draft coming through the air conditioner. Other times I’d bring her into our bed where she’d fall asleep instantly, warmed by the heat generated by Elaine and myself.

It didn’t take long for the garbage truck to enter her dreams. Even on nights when its presence was unscheduled, Sienna would wake up in a panic.


Into her room I’d go imagining it from her perspective – a green metal monster with white hot eyes gnashing its metallic teeth, crunching its prey under the harsh yellow of streetlights.

“Scary garbage trucks” she’d whimper as I held her close.

“It’s just a bad dream, sweetie. A nightmare. Mommy has them. Grandma has them. Pop-Pop has them. I have them. It’s not real.”

“Don’t go.”

And I’d once more find myself on the floor after she’d calmed and I’d placed her back in bed. After weeks of suffering such nights, my back tight the following morning, we decided it was best to to just go in, hold her, tell her she was safe and leave the room despite her pleas and after a time they died down. The garbage truck still awakens her and she wails through the baby monitor, but once it’s through she’s able to return to sleep on her own.

Next up were “big bears” and I have no idea how they entered her dream state. We hadn’t read stories about bears. She’d seen bears at the zoo, but never their faces as they tended to just sleep the day away. I asked her teachers if they’d discussed bears. They hadn’t. It’s an unsolvable mystery. We tried Mommy/Daddy magic in which we’d create a spell used to repel all big bears. Holding my fingers splayed like the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, I’d put on a face of deep concentration and shoot imaginary sparks all around the room while deepening my voice and saying, “Go away big bears! Go away big bears! Go away big bears and crickets and praying mantises too! BOOM!” I’m not sure why Sienna wanted crickets and praying mantises in there, but who am I to argue? I just want us both to get a good night’s sleep. But still her screams pierced the night and I’d find her sweaty, big beautiful brown eyes leaking tears.

When that didn’t work we told Sienna one of her toys, a cool light-up wand given to her by one of Elaine’s friends, had the power to repel big bears. “Make sure you keep the wand besides you,” I said. If you think you see a bear point the wand, light it up and yell, “Go away big bear!” We thought the wand would give her control and power over these ursus plaguing her nights. It didn’t. Nor did taping a sign to her door that read, “NO BEARS!!”

“Big bears trying to eat me!”

“It’s just a dream, sweetie. What does the sign on your door say?”

“No big bears.”

“That’s right. Any bear that wants to get into your room will read the sign, shrug and walk away because they’re not allowed in.”

You know what solved the problem?


One day I decided to show Sienna a bit of Yogi Bear on YouTube and she laughed and laughed as I’d do what I think is a really good Yogi Bear impression:

“Hey Boo-Boo! How’s about a pic-i-nic basket?”

“Big bear’s silly!” Sienna would giggle, a sound like tinkling glass that makes my heart swell. “Big bear wears a hat! That’s silly!”

Yogi cured Sienna’s bear nightmares for whenever she’d mention them I’d bust out my impression and she’d crack up. “Silly!! Big bear wears a tie!”

Now it’s scary owls trying to eat her. Again, I have no idea where this came from. She has a Hedwig doll for which I paid $30 at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando and she LOVES it. During this nightmarish stretch of owl nightmares, she’s clung to Hedwig as if he were her savior. According to Sienna he’s a “good owl” who in her dreams “protects” her from the scary ones. She carries Hedwig from room to room along with her precious scarf, always hugging and talking to him, but still, every night, I’m up at least twice trying to calm my little girl down and convince her that the owls in her head aren’t real. They’re just figments of her imagination morphed into bad dreams.


Sienna cradling Hedwig

I even tried returning to pop culture by showing her this beloved Tootsie Pop commercial:

So now Sienna thinks owls are silly creatures that eat lollipops. Problem is now the scary owls won’t stop biting her until she gives them her lollipops so that plan backfired a bit. I’m not sure what to do next, but I do know that my daughter’s imagination is running at full speed and of that I’m proud and even a little bit jealous. What I do know is that Hedwig remains her protector in her dreams and is really working off that $30 I spent on him.

So what creatures or things are giving your kids the nightly fits and how are you handling it? Are your kids scared of ghosts? Hyenas? Pickles? Please share your stories in the comments section! I’d love to read them!

19 thoughts on “My Daughter And Nightmares – Garbage Trucks And Bears And Owls, Oh My!

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    January 5, 2015 at 7:49pm

    Man… That’s a shame. I used to wake up by the garbage trucks, but I loved it. I used to climb out of bed to watch them.

    Two years ago, I showed my son a video of how an asteroid hit the earth and killed the dinosaurs, and now he thinks it’s going to happen any day, so he does have nightmares about that, but not very often.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 9, 2015 at 9:57am

      Thanks for the comment, Oren. It really is amazing what becomes a catalyst for a kid’s imagination and leads to nightmares. Asteroids hitting the earth, huh? Def don’t show him Armageddon!

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Brian Scott

    January 5, 2015 at 9:26pm

    Well, my oldest is now 13, but I don’t remember going through that with her. My youngest is 16 months, and she does have fits at night sometimes, but can’t really tell me what is troubling her. I hope your little one overcomes the nightmares soon and gets a good night’s sleep.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 9, 2015 at 9:58am

      Thank you so much for the comment, Brian, and for the good wishes! I really hope she gets past this soon. It’s fascinating in a way, but it’s also exhausting!

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    January 5, 2015 at 9:28pm

    You’ve found some clever ways to deal with the other nightmares. I hope you can help Sienna soon and get a good night’s sleep.

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    January 7, 2015 at 1:18pm

    No real help from me… Eitan hasn’t had a lot of nightmares. I’ve recited that same Tootsie Pop commercial for him, though, and he thinks it’s hysterical.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 9, 2015 at 9:59am

      Sienna loves the commercial too! Always wants to see it because, well, it IS hysterical! I remember my friends and I quoting it in school. I wonder how long Sienna will believe that owls eat lollipops…

  5. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    January 8, 2015 at 7:18am

    That sounds horrible. It sounds like you’re doing everything you can and have tried ways to deal with them. Hope it eases soon for you all.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 9, 2015 at 10:01am

      Thank you so much, Martyn. I hope so too. She’s added a Hulk action figure to help protect her at night. What could be stronger than the Hulk?

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    January 8, 2015 at 1:20pm

    Clever response to daughters fears by curbing them with happy videos. It’s not always easy to morph their fears into something positive. My son often has nightmares. When he does, I feel so bad for him

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 9, 2015 at 10:03am

      Thanks for the comment and compliment, Mathew. I need to think of other famous owls. Woodsy the owl? I can’t remember what he did. What type of nightmares does your son have?

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    January 9, 2015 at 10:52am

    My son has only had nightmares about spiders and crabs. I have no idea why except for the fact that my wife screams bloody murder every single time she sees one. Also I blame Scooby Doo.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 12, 2015 at 2:59pm

      Spiders and crabs? Very strange. I can def see the transference of your wife’s fear to your kid’s. But Scooby? What did the poor dog do?

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    January 9, 2015 at 8:46pm

    Man, I am so lucky that we’ve never had to deal with nightmares.

    Then again, our 3 year old still crawls into bed with us every night. Fortunately, it’s not out of fear (as far as we know).

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 12, 2015 at 2:58pm

      Def consider yourself lucky, Tom, though I’m not sure how restful your sleep is w/ your kid sharing your bed 😉

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    January 10, 2015 at 5:01am

    I’m a grownup and unfortunately for me, I still have scary nightmares. Years ago I would have them two to three times a week. They’ve tapered down to one or two every few weeks or so. They are still very scary and very real. I wake up terrified! I sure feel for Sienna; hope her nightmares will be less frequent in the very near future.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      Lorne Jaffe

      January 12, 2015 at 2:57pm

      Thanks so much for the comment, M! Hope your nightmares lessen too! Maybe you need to try some “Mommy Magic” 😉

  10. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    January 10, 2015 at 5:04am

    p.s. Sienna is so blessed to have such loving parents who are there for her!:)

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