It's probably one of my favorite pasttimes. Give me the opportunity to take a nice, pleasant nap and I'm on it. I try to get the recommended eight hours each night. Some nights I'm successful but some I'm not. I've mentioned before that both of my children have histories of neglect from their biological home, and those fears don't go away at a certain age. I still have a thirteen year old with sleep disturbances and an eleven year old who has frequent nightmares. So alas, our situation is a wee bit different from most families with kids their ages.
I remember when I was a little girl, my bedroom was right across the hall from my parents'. When I was about six, I had seen an episode of the Bionic Woman (yeah, I know I just dated myself) where she was chasing after Bigfoot. In my six-year old mind, Bigfoot was very real. In fact, he was so real that he showed up outside of my window, in the shadows, in the middle of that very night! I booked it into my parents' room and ended up sleeping between them. If they had turned me away I don't know what I would have done. I was truly panicked and believed--in the way only a child can believe--that Bigfoot really was about to get me.
Today I was perusing the internet and came across this mini film: http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/lieve_monster_sweet_monster/?icid=main%7Cwelcome%7Cdl8%7Csec1_lnk3%7C185318
It's only about five minutes long, but chronicles the nighttime fear of Davide, a preschooler, who is convinced there is a monster in his room. His parents are responsive and Daddy continues to try to tuck him in bed and settle him down repeatedly. But Davide continues to come back over and over again, with stories of how the monster has reappeared; how he has changed positions in the room; how he won't respond to what Davide tells him; and finally how he is a "sweet" monster. It is then that Davide speaks the most truthful words of the whole film: I don't like the dark. I don't want my door shut. And the implied: being alone in the dark scares me.
A huge part of working with and parenting young children is beginning to learn and understand how they think. Davide is a clever little boy. He knows there's no monster, but he also knows he has a sensitive Daddy who will respond if he thinks his little boy is scared. Only once the jig is up does he come clean with the truth--Daddy, don't leave me alone in the dark.
Most of us have had experiences that have scared us in the dark at some point. Even as an adult, I'm not crazy about things that go bump in the night. Weird noises, houses settling, whatever--it always gives me an icky feeling in my gut. As the wife of a man who often worked twelve-hour night shifts at a local hospital, I became used to spending the night alone, and later, with my children. But there were still nights where something would frighten me, I would lose sleep...and it sucked.
Sometimes in an effort to raise strong, resilient children, we expect things from our kids that even we as adults have a hard time delivering. Perhaps my own nighttime fears have made me more sensitive to the dreams of my daughter, or to the fear of sleeping that my son has. My children are no longer little, but I have confidence that despite their nighttime fears, they WILL be able to sleep comfortably one day as adults...at least on most nights.
If you're a parent who is struggling with a child who struggles with sleep, remember this: a LOT of parents are in your position. It's hard and it's exhausting. But listen for the message behind the words. Usually it's a deep rooted fear of the dark, of being separated from the people you love and are with during the day.
And here's one final trick. If you can't beat that imaginative thinking, join it. I have a fantastic recipe for "monster spray" that is guaranteed to get rid of monsters of all kinds. Mix up the following ingredients and help your child spray it in any place monsters or scary creatures may be hiding. It has a 100% success rate--and yes, kids really believe this works.
1 spray bottle (you can decorate it with your child--sharpies and stickers work well)
food coloring (just a drop)
Mix it up and spray away, and watch those monsters stay at bay!