My five-year-old son had been having trouble getting to sleep on his own.
We had several weeks of him resisting bed time. He didn't want to be alone in his room and kept coming up with lots things he “had to have” before he could sleep.
My husband and I were curious about what had changed, but our son wasn't comfortable talking about what was bothering him. He either switched the subject or said he didn’t want to talk about it.
As well as him reaching some new developmental milestones, I was also sensing some tension from him during the day too.
I was curious to see if play could unlock the cause behind him suddenly refusing to sleep and so I decided to do Special Time more often.
During our time I really practiced being present. Instead of pretending to have fun for his sake, which can happen when I’m not feeling resourced, I let myself have fun for its own sake, to share and witness his joy in play.
One day, soon after increasing the frequency, we were having 15 minutes of Special Time playing with cars on the floor. We were coming up with all sorts of ways that the cars and trucks could be farm equipment and the carpet was the farm. We were really engaged and enjoying our play, and when the timer went off to signal the end of Special Time, he suddenly blurted out, “I don’t like going to bed at night because I'm afraid of ghosts.”
I was surprised by this information – It seemed to come from nowhere! Although I was really excited that he had opened up to me, he can get embarrassed easily. I did my best to stay calm and non-reactive and simply said, “Oh? Tell me more about that.”
He actually wasn’t ready to say much more, so I let him know that I would be willing to listen whenever he was ready. Over time he revealed much more about his fear as I stayed receptive.
Releasing the Fear
He had clearly been holding the fear inside for a while. It was like a little knot inside him that wasn’t unraveling by itself. Special Time helped him feel safe enough to reveal his fear.
It took me quite a few times of getting down with him in play and showing him that I was present for him to feel brave enough to open up.
I discovered Special Time is a deceptively simple tool.
What seems like mere play can be deeply healing for a child.
Why it Works:
Developmental stages can be responsible for a change in your child's habits, but so can upsets. You might be aware of an event that may have caused fear, like a scary movie, or being the target of a sibling battle, but other times these fears remain secret and locked inside showing themselves only when your child acts up.
In Special Time, parents focus all their attention on their child for a set moment in time. This added attention raises a child's sense of safety. As your child feels your loving warmth and connection, he may reveal what's bothering him in play. For instance, his car might get scared of a ghost. By following his lead, you'll help to release his feelings about the ghosts. He might decide to battle the ghost or show his strength in other ways, and banish his fears that way, or he might, like Heidi's little boy, reveal his fears through conversation.
Don't worry about having to solve the fear. Telling you about it can sometimes be enough. If the fear persists you might want to try two other Listening Tools called Playlistening or Staylistening in tandem with Special Time.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:
Try some giggles to help release fears close to bedtime. Read The Benefits of Laughter at Bedtime to find out how it works.
Increase your child's sense of safety through Special Time and get our guide to Special Time and free checklist.