Well, well, what do you know… I have been coaching my clients to handle their child’s sleep challenges and regression, now I am faced with my own daughter’s sleep regression lol.
It has been going on for more than a week. She started to develop fear of the dark. She had been fine all these times to be left in the dark after lights out. She is not alone. She shares a room with her elder sister.
With my eldest, she usually falls asleep within 10 minutes from lights out. Thereafter, she usually doesn’t wake up even though there are fireworks blasting, thunderstorm, or her baby sister crying or throwing a tantrum next to her. Phew for that!
Back to her new development of the dark, this is normal as this age is when their imagination blossoms and runs wild. So I stayed with her for additional 5 minutes next to her in the dark initially. But this interaction is getting worse by the day – she wanted me to stay much longer and if I leave the room, she would climb down her bed and leave her room to come look for me.
We bought a night light – the type that you plug in to the electrical socket. She was excited about sleeping with it, but when it was lights out, she would say she’s scared again. Never once did I say, “There is nothing to be scared off” or “You are not scared” because her fears are very real.
My husband asked, “What would you tell your clients if this was happening to them?” I sensed that he was a little panicky that our nightmare would come back haha.
I said, “Acknowledge the child’s feelings and then stay consistent about leaving the room or the cot”. I knew that I had to put on my sleep consultant hat and put a stop to this.
What I did was to tell her how it’s going to happen. “Adik, I am going to leave the room and I will be in my room. I will come back and check on you in 5 minutes.” Obviously, she started getting scared and didn’t want to let go off my arm. I reassured her that I would be back and left.
Not even 1 minute later, she was crying and she opened the door to look for me.
I sent her back to her bed and repeated “It hasn’t been 5 minutes yet, so I want you to stay in bed until it is time and I will come back to check on you.”
She got down and left her room again within seconds of me leaving the room.
I repeated this three times. Then I told her that if she got down from the bed again, I would have to lock the door from the outside. All the while I remained calm and firm. She, on the other hand, was sweating and crying, begging me not to go.
I started to get up from her bed and walked towards the door. She got down from the bed and followed me. I then closed the door behind me and held the knob from the outside so she couldn’t open it. This time, she screamed at the top of her lungs, then she said “I kencing in my pants…!”
At this point, I’m pretty sure most parents would have felt so guilty and would just give up with the consistency. I did feel bad for her. So I calmly said, “Oh dear you had an accident. It’s alright, let’s get you cleaned up.” She was sobbing and sweating while I cleaned her up and got her changed. “You had an accident and now we’re all cleaned up. Let’s try this again. I know you can do this. I’ll be in my room and I will come back in 5 minutes.”
5 minutes passed, she didn’t leave her room. I went in to check on her and she was about to fall asleep. I gave her a kiss and told her she did it, and what a brave girl she is. I left the room again and told her I would be back. 10 minutes in, I went in and she was fast asleep.
I probably have to repeat this tomorrow but I am quite confident that she has overcome her fear of the dark. You probably think that the whole ordeal have traumatized her. Quite the contrary.
“When you let your child express her feelings, listening to her attentively, you help her recover from adversity, instead of helping her avoid how adversity feels. You help her grow in confidence.” – Patty Wipfler, Founder Hand In Hand Parenting
I helped her recover emotionally with her feelings that have been bothering her at bedtime. She has been struggling, I have been struggling. So I listened. I didn’t fix the situation, nor did I want her to stop crying so that it would make her feel better. I wanted her to express all her fears, her emotions, her frustrations around not being able to go to sleep like she did before. And she did it! She healed from these niggling feelings and it restored her sense of security around sleep again. That was why she managed to fall asleep rather easily after she had wailed, cried, sweat and peed. The stress dispersed through her tears and bodily fluid while I was being empathetic and supportive to her.
Read more about A Good Cry Can Promote Secure Attachment.