My nine year old son usually falls right asleep at night. This has been such a blessing for me and quite contrary to his younger sister who likes to stay up late. On one particular night he was jumping out of bed, playing with balls and going into his sister’s room to do an art project. Usually after the kids go to bed, I clean up the kitchen and tidy our home to prepare for the next morning. I really wanted to get my nighttime chores done and not deal with my overactive son. But I also knew that if he could release whatever was bothering him, he could probably fall right asleep.
So I went into his sister’s room and gently brought him into his own room. He said he wanted milk to drink and I said, “No, not before bed.” This made him really angry. “I never get what I want.” “You have stupid rules.” “The rules about no hitting, kicking, punching, pinching are good, but I don’t like your other rules.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like no milk before bed.” He replied.
He talked about how unfair it was and how he didn’t like my rules. He tried to kick me a couple of times but I was anticipating some physical movement so I was able to keep myself unharmed. I knew enough about what was going on with his limbic brain, that it didn’t make sense to try to reason with him because he wasn’t able to think well at that moment.
I kept working on staying close and making eye contact. I said again, “No milk before bed.” I encouraged him to take a shower because I knew it would help calm him down. We were doing lots of vigorous snuggling in bed and I kept my warmth turned up. He said “No way” to a shower and “I’m not going to sleep tonight.” Then he added, “I want a pair of scissors and (my sister) has two pair.”
I asked him, “What other rules don’t you like?”
He couldn’t think of any others so just focused on “No milk before bed.”
Suddenly, he started crying a heavier cry. He talked about his best friend who was going to be moving out of the country next week. He didn’t want his friend to be alone. He wanted their teacher who had been ill to be at school tomorrow so his teacher could say good-bye to his friend. He also wanted the teacher to come to the going away party.
My son had all this worry about his friend and about his teacher. I could really see this beautiful heart of my son. I was so thankful that I didn’t focus on his whining and all the rules he appeared to be angry about. These were clearly a pretext. His real hurt was his grief around his friend leaving. After eight minutes of crying to release his sadness and his worries, he said, “I want to take a shower.” When he was done, I tucked him into bed ever so snug and warm. He fell asleep immediately.
To get help with your child’s sleep struggles, learn more about our online course, Helping Your Child Sleep.
–Kristen Volk is a certified instructor. She lives in Denver. You can connect with Kristen through Facebook.