I’ve been offered a sleeping lifeline.
A few weeks ago I shared my continuing struggle of co-sleeping with a monster fearing toddler. For the last six or so months Millie has been afraid of sleeping by herself and has snuggled into my back, laid on my neck or just plain kicked me to the floor as she sabotaged our king sized bed. While she has nightmares of monsters, I have sweet, sweet dreams of just not sleeping on the floor.
For Mothers Day I asked for one night in a hotel. As hubby’s eyes got that lovely look of lustful anticipation, I then said ‘ALONE!’ I wanted to book in, close the curtains and sleep for 24 hours straight.
In desperation for sleep, special cuddles and a non-tired wife, last night my husband got crafty. He spent a few minutes re-branding some air-freshener. He called it Monster Spray and he and a delighted little lady walked around the house spraying it under beds, in cupboards and every other room in the house ridding it of imaginary beings.
Did it work?
My house smelt like frangipanis, but I was still kicked in the head later that night by toddler toes.
But God bless the power of media — lovely reader Liz has sent me the details of a ‘real’ imaginary monster killer. Dr Kaylene Henderson is an Australian child & adolescent psychiatrist and mother of three young children. She’s also an author. When her daughter was three, she too experienced months of frequent monster dreams. So she wrote a book for her called Little Children, Big Dreams and fortunately (for them both) the monster story worked beautifully. In only a week her daughter was free of her monster dreams and both mother and child were sleeping well.
Her book is now available online for all parents, and the best bit is her book can be personalised to your child. You know I’m on it like a mothers group on cake.
You can find more info at littlechildrenbigdreams.com.
In the meantime, here are Kaylene’s top ten tips for killing monsters…
Be aware of what your toddler is exposed to
Children learn so much from books and television yet don’t have the experience to know what is real and what themes are made up. To make matters worse, children’s movies and stories are often filled with monsters, child-eating wolves and murderous (and horribly misrepresented) step-mothers.
Don’t blame it on the boogey
Don’t ever let anyone threaten your child with “the boogeyman” coming for them. It’s false and just plain mean.
Get into a routine
Each bedtime engage your toddler in the same predictable wind-down routine to help them manage any anticipatory anxiety they might have.
Let there be light
If it helps them to feel braver, allow your child to have a dim nightlight or a torch in their bedroom.
Keep it real…
It’s important to acknowledge that even though monsters are not real, your toddler’s fear is very real. And real fear needs to be met with real comfort, even in the middle of the night.
…but not too real
Some parents seem to have success with “magical monster repellant spray” but this option never sat well with me. I preferred to be honest with my daughter, reassuring her that monsters did not exist and that her bedroom was a safe place. Similarly, repeated checking in her cupboards or under her bed or putting signs up prohibiting monster visitors would simply have confirmed for her that she was in real danger.
Dream a little dream
Teach your child about dreams by letting them know that dreams are just our ideas while we’re asleep. Ideas cannot hurt us, nor can they make something magically happen. To prove this, try playing a game with your child in which you both take turns thinking about something with your eyes closed, then open your eyes to check whether just thinking about it made it real. It can go like this:
(You, with eyes closed) “An ice cream!” (Open your eyes) “Shame — no ice cream. Just thinking about it didn’t make it real.”
After you’ve taken turns with this, you can try some less fun ones such as “Getting my finger caught in the door” or, if your child doesn’t seem too anxious, “A monster on the couch”.
By day, storytelling is a wonderful therapeutic tool. For children who are afraid of the dark or scared of monsters, the story should aim to shift the child’s attitude towards the monsters or the darkness through some event which isn’t compatible with fear. An example would be telling a story which ends with your child making friends with the feared monster. The Little Children Big Dreams stories which I’ve developed are great for kids who are afraid of the dark or scared of monsters and can be easily personalised with your child’s details. Or why not try writing your own?
Draw it out
Art is also an amazing communication tool and another great medium to help children overcome strong feelings. Having your child draw their fears for you (even if it looks like toddler-scribble) can be really helpful as you try to understand what’s happening for them. Seeing the drawn version of their scary monster with you, their big brave grown-up, by their side can also help children feel braver.
A teaching moment
Lastly, see through the exhaustion for the opportunity this provides. If dreams are meant to prepare your child if ever they should meet a real-life ‘monster’, wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of the lessons they learn is that you’ll be there for them joining them in battle?
Good luck and sweet dreams!