Sleep time can be frightening for so many children. They may have trouble falling and staying asleep because of scary prior experiences. This time may have been when they were molested, or perhaps it was the time when they awoke to what other people were doing to each other that let them know that the world in which they lived wasn’t safe. Also, if they were the children who had to be in control during the day to make sure that others were safe, they learned that if they were asleep, they couldn’t be protective.
I’ve even had some children tell me that, if they go to sleep, the caregivers whom they are beginning to trust could die or disappear. These kids can be reminded, through play, that the adult caregiver is there to keep them safe while they sleep and won’t disappear on them, or go away. Here is a play activity that you should repeat to help children experience feelings of safety, security, protection and trust instead of fear during sleep time hours. This activity reminds children that the parent is watching over them and keeping them safe while they rest, so that they don’t have to worry.
The parent can have the child (or children) lie down wherever they are having trouble resting. That may be on their bed, a sleep mat, couch or some other place of rest to which they are accustomed. The caregiver sits in a chair at the door where the child or children can see them. The caregiver dims the lighting, folds their arms and acts as a guard, confidently scanning the horizon for danger. Every time I’ve tried this activity in a caregiver-child therapy session, a child will either pretend to awaken and cry to see if and how the caregiver will provide the rescue, or cry out that a monster or bad guy or some other threat is either in the room or trying to get in to the room.
With karate hacks and Kung Fu kicks, or sometimes with a broom or fly swatter, the parent can chase the imaginary intruder away to the happy laughter of the children and then return to the guard post. Practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes, and creating a new way of being in the world and with others takes time, effort and a lot of repetition. The more fun the play is, the better the brain retains the new information. The more physical the play is, the better the body retains the memory.
Remake of an Old Children’s Bedtime Prayer:
Remember, “Now, I Lay Me Down to Sleep”? (My, but that prayer would scare me as a child. I didn’t even want to consider the possibility I could die before I woke!!)
Try the remake:
“I thy child forever play
About thy knees at close of day
And into thy arms at night I creep
To learn thy wisdom while I sleep.”
(Author: Alice Bailey)