It is 8:04 AM when Max finishes his hot coffee as he likes it; on the terrace of his favorite Pub, the sun is starting to heat this June morning’s atmosphere. He has a few visible dark circles, and his shave is more than approximate. Max remains motionless with the distant gaze, the brow furrowed as he is challenged by his colleague and friend, David. At 8:30 AM, they must start their working day at the bank where they are both client advisers:
– Hey, Max, are you okay? You look thoughtful! Is everything fine?
– Hey Dav, what’s hap? Yes, it’s okay, I’m just tired!
– Ah yes, but that’s the evil of the century. In addition, having little Lola shouldn’t help, eh. It’s the famous terrible two; we lived through that too, and it will pass, (KEL).
– Yes, of course, but the biggest worry is that she wakes up once, sometimes twice a night . That fatigue and stress exhaust Giulia and me. We feel helpless; it feels like we can’t do it… We have 20 minutes left. Let’s have a coffee and tell me how you managed with your last one, Mike.
– You have come to the right door! With three children, I am almost a pediatrician; all I need now is the salary.
Publications on children’s psychological development (R. Deldime & S. Vermeulen – 2004; E. Pichon – 2014, etc.) show that their characters start asserting themselves at around two years. They begin to express their wills and personalities, sometimes going through sheer anger. Your baby seems to be changing from an angel to a little uncontrollable imp. At this time, it appears that their vocabulary boils down to saying “no,” so you have to negotiate everything. The “no” is the most successful form of affirmation at this age. The child also develops different fears, which largely explain the sleep-related difficulties.
Fear is a fundamental phenomenon; it allows you to be on alert and develop the survival instinct. Fear manifests itself physiologically by accelerating all physiological functions: increase in blood pressure, heart rate, secretion of adrenaline, etc. Can you really sleep like this? No, then why ask that of your child? Especially since their fears are multiple and seem irrational to us (M. Rufo, Hachette – 2011).
- Fear of the dark
Fearing the dark and the night is conducive to the imagination, leading children to fantasize about the existence of a hostile world. That way, your little one explores a reality distorted through the prism of their anxieties. Nightmares are a classic feature. Not surprisingly, your child tries to delay bedtime because they associate it with bad things.
- Fear of disappearing
The child lives a distorted reality. Seeing their excrement disappear is perceived as a loss of themselves. Couple that with the fear of disappearing in the meanders of sleep. It must be said that the notion of temporality is still very abstract at this age.
- Fear of separation
It is undoubtedly the most tenacious and the most intense. Falling asleep, for your child, means taking the risk of losing you. They also fear being abandoned by their loved ones, through whom the child builds themself daily.
The fears in question here complicate the delicate moment of falling asleep. Around two years old, the child asserts their personality and will. It is out of the question for many children to fall asleep and risk “losing their family.”
Studies on dreams show that dreams appear around the second year, bringing the nightmares along for the ride. These are nocturnal prolongations of the day’s unfounded fears (M. Rufo, Hachette – 2011).
All of this happens to a tiny human being who can’t seem to distinguish between reality and fantasy. To avoid all of this, the child strategizes to push back the hour of sleep. Understanding these mechanisms allows you to set a global strategy to improve falling asleep and sleep quality.
1. Reassure the child
It is a natural need for a child, and it is your role as an adult. As the child fears the unknown, you can consider explaining that the darkness allows The Sandman to pass. You can explain to him that adults sleep in the dark. You can consider putting a night light in their room to make the darkness less thick. You don’t have to minimize their fears, but you have to hear them out and explain the reality. For that, you have to listen.
Make yourself available to listen to your child’s fears as much as possible, even if they seem unfounded. It is not about inventoring all the possibilities and proving why they shouldn’t be afraid. No, it’s just a matter of showing that you’re there. The child needs to be understood, don’t you?
3. Understand and let it be known
Understanding goes through listening, as I told you, but also through your attitude. This attitude allows you to take the necessary steps. Saying “I understood you” is very good, but taking action that proves it is even better. Explaining situations that scare the child means showing him that you care about his fears, listen, and do everything to reassure them. This is empathy.
The well-known sleep ritual is a set of attitudes and a ceremonial that allows the child to control their fears. It enables your little one to arrive on time for sleep in perfect control of the situation. As a result, they should fall asleep quickly and sleep easily. This ritual could consist of putting away toys, telling a story, peeing at a specific time (after reading the same story for the 127th time in a row, etc.). Find your own ritual that characterizes you in the relationship with your child.
5. Find a fetish object / Suck the thumb
The thumb or another finger or even several fingers simultaneously – it’s everyone’s thing. The main idea is to understand the child’s need for reassurance. The thumb and the blanket (fetish object) are means of calming down and effectively fighting against fears. You should not discourage the child from these behaviors that you may not understand. On the contrary, you have to reassure them. Help your baby understand you’re willing to fight these fears alongside them so that they grow big and strong.
- Wow, Dav, I should have told you before, your advice is fantastic. Thanks, I will talk to Giulia about it, and we’ll try to put it all into practice! How much do I owe you for the Doc consultation?
- A good cold beer at noon when it will be hot should be fine… Come on, let’s go, we have to go to work to justify our salaries…
PS: One last point: Trust yourself and don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to be a perfect parent. The illusion of perfection is useless because it creates intense frustration. This feeling does not allow you to find solutions, suffocating you in a mixture of incapacity and guilt.