Limerick has been having significant difficulties falling asleep, at nap time and at bed time, even when he is obviously exhausted (bags under his eyes, defiant and emotionally-driven behavior, constant yawns, lack of appetite and a desire for milk, etc.). I’ve been having trouble identifying exactly what is causing it; Limerick doesn’t seem able to express the problem when I ask him what’s wrong or what would help.
Tonight, knowing that a general source of fear among the under four set in the family has been monsters lurking in various places, I asked him if he was scared. Instantly his body got calm and he buried his face in his hands. (In the dialogue that follows, note that Limerick refers to himself as “you”).
“You’re afraid of a monster.”
“Monsters aren’t real, sweetie. They are just pretend, just part of a story, from someone’s imagination.”
“But you still think there’s a monster.”
“Well, can we pray and ask God to keep you safe from any monsters and help you not be scared?”
“That won’t help.”
“What if we ask God to send an angel to fight away any scary or bad things while you’re asleep?”
“That won’t help. You will still think there’s a monster.”
Oh baby. The power of our thoughts is so great. I’ve been in a similar place, where I had a belief that I cognitively knew was unfounded but couldn’t let go (mine was linked to my depression), and I know how hard it is to change one’s thoughts – especially when tired, and probably even more so when one is only two years old. Honestly, I’m impressed he was able to articulate his thoughts so clearly, and I’m not surprised he is struggling to overcome his fears with reason.
I asked him if he had ever seen a monster, and he said he had seen one in a movie. Now, he knows the Monsters Inc. monsters aren’t real, and he seemed to have overcome that fear, so I was a bit confused until he said, “You saw one in the snowman movie.” Ah! “Marshmallow isn’t real either, sweetheart. He is just a pretend story.” The relief in his body was palpable, and at last he was able to relax and fall asleep.
Sometimes it is so hard to get to the root of a behavior with a young child, because it can be difficult for them to understand it themselves, much less explain it to an adult. But it is so much better – for him and for our relationship – when I can take the time to discover the fears and thoughts that are going on underneath, instead of simply trying to address his refusal to lie down and go to sleep by controlling his actions.