Q: My 6-year-old daughter watched too many episodes of a certain TV show when she was sick, and now she doesn’t want to go to sleep at night because she is having scary thoughts related to the show. She will come out of her room again and again, complaining of these thoughts (mostly before she has gone to sleep … rarely in the middle of the night) and want to be tucked back in. How would you recommend handling this?
A: I hope you’ve learned something here. Sick children, especially if they are feverish, are in a mentally and emotionally vulnerable state in which they are likely to misinterpret and exaggerate the significance of mundane events. They should only be exposed to media that will calm their central nervous systems. Exciting television shows do not qualify.
The answer to your question turns on how many times per night you have to tuck your daughter back in bed. If less than a dozen, then just tuck her back in. Believe me, this will pass. It’s nothing more than a common bump in the road of child-rearing.
In the meantime, you do not want to turn this into a disciplinary issue by getting upset and punishing her. Just stay calm and be the parent. When she comes out of her room and says she’s afraid, calmly lead her back and do the tucking ritual again. If you say anything, make it along these lines: “I’ve told you all I know to tell you about your scary thoughts, sweetie (Which, in fact, you have). I don’t have anything more to tell you (Which, in fact, you don’t). So, let’s go back to bed.”
Do not be deterred by any increase in the volume of her protests, including crying. Just tuck her in without any more talk, give her a reassuring kiss and leave. Repeat that procedure until it takes, which may take a dozen times on any given night. Assuming you remain calm and resolute, I predict a cure in two or three weeks – in the overall scheme of things, insignificant.
It’s important that you stop talking to your daughter about her scary thoughts. Ninety-nine percent of such things are random and therefore meaningless “mind burps.” Talking to a child about such things increases the likelihood that the thoughts and feelings will worsen and become a form of drama.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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