Last night my little one, age four and a half, was having bad dreams. He wanted to go back to sleep, but the dreams continued to form in his mind as he tried to fall asleep.
I whispered to him that we could make a new dream, one he liked. Sometimes that seems to help. We can imagine something lovely happening, and he’ll feel a little better.
But tonight it was “Make it stop! Make it stop!”
Laying in bed with him, half asleep, I tried to reassure him, to hold him. I said “I don’t know how to make it stop, honey…” But then I realized I actually do know how.
I’ve talked with him before about breathing, and how it makes life easier when you’re really scared or sad. (Try to maintain a state of "freaking out" while really breathing; it’s hard!) We talk sometimes about being "discombobulated" and how to get back to being, as he says, ‘bobulated.
So it wasn’t an entirely foreign thing to him when I said this.
“Actually, I do know a way, but it’s hard.” (“What?” he said.) “You need to breathe, and pay attention to the breath, and nothing else.”
I couldn’t believe I was telling him this, and he was listening. “You can count the breaths. That can help.”
I whispered “One, two, three. Count to three, or five, or ten, and when you get scared again, start over.”
And I held him while he quieted his mind, and went to sleep. Amazing.