It’s that time of year again, the time when my son is scared. When the days grow shorter and darker he traditionally develops a fear of – something. One year it was skeletons, one year it was masks, one year it was ghosts, one year it was robbers, this year it’s quite specific, a green skeletal devil with horns.
It all started at the beginning of November (yes, that’s three months ago, almost) when he sat in front of TV to watch something about a zoo. At 5 in the afternoon there was a trailer for a murder mystery. In this trailer there was a tiny blip showing somebody wearing a halloween costume with a green mask and devil’s horns.
The night before was the last night my son has slept in his bed since then. And if that wouldn’t have been unnerving enough he is also afraid of being alone. So when, for example, he is playing in his room, and I’m sitting in the kitchen, and then I want to get something from the basement, and I’d be unwise enough to open the actual door and get down the stairs there would be a wailing child running after me. And when I’d get up again he’d stand there, mad at me and screaming, “How dare you leave me alone? You know I’m scared!” On the other hand he will totally go to the supermarket alone and buy a toy. No problem there. It’s just being alone at the house. Or rather somewhere where he doesn’t see or here another person because we never ever leave him alone at the house.
When he is going to sleep there has to be someone with him in the next room (we have drawn the line at being in the same room) at all times. So I’m no longer allowed to watch DVDs in my very favorite chair in front of our big old TV, no I have to sit on the hard and cold kitchen bench with my laptop who then decides it doesn’t like this particular DVD. After that I go into my bedroom without having talked a word with my husband (who is in the annex, working on his new album) and get to bed, the bed I share with my son. I’m not allowed to turn off the light completely, and I have to push him back to his side of the bed repeatedly and with force because for some strange reason I don’t like to share my pillow. Also, repeatedly through the night there will be a clear, ringing voice calling, “Mama?” in near panic. Which makes me more awake than him and then, just when I have gone to sleep again, he asks again.
My husband and I have been taking turns in “night duty”, and once or twice a week he sleeps at my mother-in-laws place to give us a break. I only really realized how much I feel like being on a leash when yesterday while my son was away with his grandmother I sat in the kitchen knitting, and then wondered what my husband was doing. I sat there for a while and then it hit me: I could just stand up, leave the room and go over into the annex without someone yelling at me! Wow. Sweet freedom.
Now, for those of you not familiar with my son, he is not 18 months old, no, he’s 7 years. He knows perfectly well that he is safe in the house. Ever since he turned three we could leave him playing in one part of the house and go to the annex, at least briefly. He has always been afraid of the dark so he there’s a light in his room, and for quite some time now there had to be someone in the next room when he went to sleep. Once he had fallen asleep whoever was on duty that night could walk out, and then only return when it was time to got to sleep ourselves.
I have a big problem with this. I can’t sleep properly. When I hear anybody scream “Mama?” I have to suppress the urge to slap that child whoever it is. I have told everybody I’ve met for the past three months about this. I’d say I have a problem.
Now, I know that he is really scared. I know that his fear isn’t rational and I remember how it is at that age. That’s why he has a light on while falling asleep, and that’s why there is someone near. But then I also remember that even though I was afraid there were bears in the basement I still went there. Telling myself, “There are no bears in the basement, there are no bears in the basement.” all the time. And you know what? I never saw a single bear there.
My son on the other hand, my son who knows perfectly well that there are no strange devils lurking in the corners of our house, my son ends every talk about how we just please want to sleep again, and how we know that he is scared but that he is perfectly safe with the same sentence: “But I’m scared.” Yeah, we knew that already, thanks.
I bought nice educational books, I elevated his stuffed giraffe to a monster-slaying super-toy (worked for half an hour), bought him a magic slumber mouse (he was set on trying to sleep alone but then he went off to his grandma’s and the next night he was – too scared again).
Everybody we have talked to so far has said the following things:
- every child is afraid of something
- there are a lot of children who still sleep in their parents beds
- this too will pass
- maybe stickers will help
- and the final thing, when we kept on saying, “Yeah, we tried that but it didn’t work.” or “Yeah, I knew that already.” then people say, “You have to get help.”
And you know what? They might be right. On the other hand it’s not as if I didn’t know anything about behavior modification or parenting. And our son is really, really stubborn. You know, I’m a pretty stubborn person but that’s nothing compared to him. I talked to a student who happens to have a son the same age as mine about what to do when your son is really rude and threatens to hit you, and he said, “Well, then he has to go to his room until he has calmed down.” And I looked at him, blinking for a couple of seconds with a blank look, and then I said, “And he just goes there?” And he said, “Well, if he doesn’t I make him.” That made me laugh really hard. I can, of course, lift my son up and carry him to his room, and I might even manage to close the door behind him but since we don’t own a key to that door there is nothing to keep him in there. I put him to his room, he comes out again, I put him back, he comes out again, I start screaming, he’s howling, I put him back… One time we spent 90 minutes pulling on opposite side of the door both of us screaming, and then he was only three years old. And when everything fails he just runs off to his grandmother.
Still I have decided not to let him oppress me any longer. He wants to wail behind me when I’m leaving the room? So be it. I also told him that he has to sleep in his room again. He’ll get a sticker for every night he spends in his own bed, and after two weeks we’ll go ice skating. Yesterday he actually fell asleep in his own room. My husband was lying next to him, but still. I went to bed at 11. At 11.30 he started calling me. Then he called again. Some time later he started crying. Then he called again. At 1 o’clock in the night I allowed him to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor of my room…
Tonight we’re signing a contract, both of us. He will either sleep in his room alone without making a noise or he will go to my bedroom on tiptoes without disturbing me and stay in the sleeping bag. When he stays in his room until 6.45 there will be a sticker. 14 stickers equal a trip to the ice skating rink. There will be no discussions , no wailing, no nothing. I might have to add that we have a “no discussions about things I should do or buy for him after 6 in the evening”-rule. This child will have a debate about whether or not he will eat breakfast, come to the table or dress himself for school. I told him he’s free to not eat and walk to school in his pajamas, whatever he wants. Then he yelled at me for no making him stop reading when it was time to get ready. Very funny.
Wish me luck.