My daughter is going to be 3 in June. She plays pretend, mostly by herself but sometimes with one of the adults in her life, hours out of every day, and I'm wondering if that imagination is what is causing the nightmares! She doesn't watch a lot of TV--1 to 3 episodes of Diego or Barney per week when she is at my parent's, while I'm at school, but she doesn't have any exposure to scary shows, books, etc.
The nightmares started in the last few months, since a recent move...she LOVES dinosaurs, but had a few nightmares from them, and will tell me now, "I like dinosaurs, dinosaurs are scary." She also got scratched by my grandmother's cat once, and after that, had several nightmares in one night about "cat claws in my bed." Both of these fears were easily soothed when she came into my bed (she has her own bed in the same room as me and if she needs to she can come in my bed at any time.) Last night, however, we had a terrible night. She came into my bed after waking up, screaming hysterically from the first nightmare. then she had a nightmare that spiders were in MY bed, springing awake suddenly with more screaming, and after that, refused to get in my bed, and went back to hers. Then she woke again, crying and screaming, looking around with wild eyes and refusing to even set foot on the floor--she was clinging to me like a little monkey :( It was so heartbreaking--I've never, ever seen her so afraid. I ended up turning on the light to show her there were no spiders, and she would then step on the floor but wouldn't get in either bed, and every once in awhile would look around at the floor in fear, saying, "There are spiders! There are little animals coming to get me!" I tried telling her that I would keep her safe, that our dog would keep her safe (he really does like to eat bugs so I told her that he'd eat spiders.) We ended up calling her dad on Skype (he is stationed overseas and it was early evening there) and talking to him seemed to help distract her, but he was also bewildered by how afraid she seemed because he's never seen her like that either. After about 2 hours of lights on, she was willing to get into bed if I laid on the side where the spiders were (haha!) and she fell asleep quickly...and woke up many times between then and when we actually got out of bed 3 hours or so later, afraid. Even now, hours later in daylight, she seems afraid every once in awhile.
Are nightmares typical at this age? I remember having many, many nightmares as a child, but my family fostered a lot of fear in me (my mom especially is still afraid of everything!) My daughter has been through A LOT at her young age. Her dad was deployed briefly. Her dad and I later separated so she suddenly was spending 1 or 2 nights a week away from me, with him (which she seemed okay with), and about 6 months later, he moved to Japan, where he will be for a total of 2 years (he has been there almost a year now.) When we moved back to my hometown 4 months ago, we moved into an apartment in sort of a shady part of town, so perhaps she has picked up on my anxiety a bit. (We adopted a dog a few weeks ago, though, so, I am no longer really nervous.) We have moved a dozen times, twice in cross country moves. I have really tried to stick to AP principles though--she nursed until she self-weaned at 22 months, co-slept exclusively for much of her life, never cried it out, I don't spank, etc. Before our recent move, I worked 25 hours a week as a nanny and brought her along, but now I am a full time student and she goes to my parents (who she loves, loves, loves!) two days a week while I'm at school, and is with me the rest of the time. I feel very connected with her and she has a strong attachment to me, her dad, and my parents, and she is an extremely happy, friendly little girl...I am told constantly by strangers, friends, and family that she is uniquely joyful and loving, and she is very well behaved. This is the only area in her life in which any trauma from all of these events may possibly be showing, because she has seemed to adapt so easily otherwise.
Can anyone tell me if this is typical, or if it may be trauma from past events? Any advice for what I can do? Seeing her that terrified is gut-wrenching and I want to find a way to help her.