Cozy in my soft blanket, I let go until dawn’s first light. Expecting a good night of sleep to renew and exhilarate me.
That is, until someone wakes me up. I startle at the sight of my youngest child, standing by my bed. He looks at me through half-opened eyes in the dark night. He tells me, “I’m here.”
I reach out to check his forehead for any signs of a fever, as I ask him “Are you sick?” My son replies quietly, “No, can I sleep with you?” I am groggy with the desire to drift peacefully back to sleep. After a pause, I pull him up onto our bed, and respond with, “Okay, just this once.”
Fear Grows in the Dark
This began a month long struggle of my 3-year-old son waking me up in the middle of the night. My child, who began sleeping through the night at 7-weeks-old was no longer sleeping soundly. He was suddenly afraid of the dark.
After several nights of trying to coax him to stay all night in his own bed, I was growing weary and frustrated. When I’m tired, I get much less effective as a parent. I mistakenly thought I could plead, beg, and remind him to sleep in his own bed.
Have you ever begged your kid to solve their own problems? It doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s not what you do as a parent, it’s what you don’t do that fosters problem solving. (It took me several weeks to remember this, and I’m the “expert.”)
Pick on a Problem and It Will Grow
First, I did research on children who fear the dark. We went to the library and checked out loads of books on the topic. One of my favorite children’s book is The Monster Who Ate the Darkness by Joyce Dunbar.
It’s about a little monster who is lonely, so he eats up all the darkness, hidden and seen. But no one can sleep, including a little boy who is afraid of the dark. The monster decides to release the darkness back into the world. In doing so, he finds comfort in covering the little boy in a blanket of darkness. Peaceful sleep is found in the cradle of darkness’ arms.
Second, I tried reassuring my son with my wisdom and wit. Reminding him that there are fun things about being in the dark, like lightning bugs, campfires, and flashlight tag. All my reassurance and research wasn’t working, he was still convinced that something scary creeps into his room at night.
The more I fretted about not getting a good night’s sleep, the more I tried to be responsible for abolishing my son’s fear. I had forgotten that fear is normal, and it can pass. That is, if I can stop picking at it!
The Choice That Liberates Fears
The more I took care of his fear, the more he needed me. I discovered a choice that liberated me from being held hostage to his fear. The choice not to be responsible for his sleep. Instead, I can manage my sleep deprived self.
I began defining myself, instead of defining my son. I stopped laying down with him. And, I stopped letting him lay down in our bed. Instead, I told him, “you can’t sleep in mommy’s bed.” When he showed up after dark, I reassured him that he is safe, and quickly took him back to his bed.
While it took him a month to realize he is safe in his room at night, he now proudly boasts, “I am not afraid of the dark now.” It seems the less “helpful” I am, the more my kids help themselves.
Children Are Not As Fragile As We Think
We want the best for our children, but sometimes doing for them undercuts their growth. Treat others as capable, and they will eventually shine their way through the dark.
When do you not do something for your child?
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Photo Credit: “Dreaming Children” by Raul A