Mean Stories and Sleep

These days, bedtime takes about two hours. This includes baths, pjs, cups and bottles of milk, stories read, sound machine on, night lights on, fans on, overhead lights off, poem recited, kisses goodnight. All of this takes about 30 minutes. The rest of the time we’re convincing Sophie that “stories” aren’t going to come out of her floor and eat her.

We have no idea how or why she imagined these “stories” up. But that’s what she calls them—”stories.” There are two. One is a giraffe story. The other, a pig story. And while she’s in bed they come up out of her floor and cause her to scream. Loudly. When she screams we run to her room and find her, wide-eyed, red-faced, cheeks and nose wet with tears and snot, absolutely and completely terrified, so panicked she can hardly control herself. (And, of course, this is about when the boys wake up crying, because of the screaming.)

At first we sat Sophie down and talked a lot about make-believe and reality. We talked about the nature of stories (I find it so interesting she calls them that). We had long discussions about what’s real and what’s not. This only made her angrier. She accused us of not believing her (which was a fair accusation because we of course, do not). We thought, by convincing her these stories weren’t real, her fear would lesson. But her terror, to our deep dismay, only grew. Not because the stories were coming more frequently, but because, I believe, she felt like she could no longer count on those she loved and leaned on for support most—her parents.

So we did some research. And contacted our pediatrician. And discovered that she’s too young to fully grasp reality versus make-believe (which is still troublesome to me as I truly believe she grasps it when reading books and watching TV—maybe I’m wrong). But after sleeping with her in our bed night after night (feeling her roll and toss and fling her limbs into our faces and finally giving up, letting her sleep horizontally to the headboard, arms across Andy’s face and feet ever-so-randomly kicking me in the stomach) we were willing to try anything—even if it meant telling a lie, which is, that we believed her.

So the next night all three of us got on our hands and knees and had a talk with those stories. We banged our fists on the floor and yelled, “Stories! You listen here. You are not allowed to come out when Sophie is in her room. Do you understand?” Three ears to the carpet, we waited for a response. I jumped up. “They said yes, Sophie! They promised!”

Things got a little better after that. We’d put her to bed, bang on the floor and yell at the stories, wait for a response, and then we’d promise to check on her until she fell asleep. First one minute, then three, then five, then 10 and 10 and 10 until she drifted off. Every night, we’d have the same conversation:

Sophie: “How many minutes?”

Us: “10 minutes.”

Sophie: “Is that long? Or short?”

Us: “Not long.”

Sophie: “Not 10 minutes. One minute.”

Us: “Let’s try 10 minutes to start with this time. Just see how it goes. It’s not long, promise.”

Sophie: “No! One minute!” (The panic look begins to blanket her face.)

Us: “OK, OK, one minute.”

Sophie: “One minute.”

Us: “One minute.”

Sophie: “Promise you’ll be back?”

Us: “We promise.”

Sophie: “Promise you’ll be back?” (Her voice is higher pitched this time, concerned.”

Us: “We promise!”

We never got rid of the minutes completely, but we did manage to stop her from waking up in the middle of the night and convincing us (bleary-eyed and willing to say yes to anything just so we could go back to sleep) that she should sleep with us. And we did this by pure bribery.

After sleeping through the night in her own bed for a week, she earned her first Build-A-Bear.


(We let her pick out everything and oh, what a bear it was—neon hearts, glittery ballerina outfit, sparkly pink plastic shoes, multiple hair bows and a voice saying “I love you I love you I love you” every time you squeeze its hand.)


Or so we thought.

After a long vacation, the stories are back. The pig one and the giraffe one, both hell-bent on eating her and taking up our evenings, night after night.

If we were having bedtime issues because she simply didn’t want to go to bed, I’d let her cry. I’d let her scream. She’s 3. And I don’t have much patience for that. But our daughter is absolutely terrified of these stories. In her mind, they’re real. And the look of terror that crosses her face when they “come out of the floor” scares me so much that sometimes I wonder if I’m trapped in some horror movie and they really are there and I just can’t see them—that’s how panicked she gets.

We decided we can’t let her sleep in our bed anymore—when she’s in our bed, none of us get a good night’s sleep.

So now Andy curls up under a blanket on the floor, right where the stories come out. And he stays there, while I put the boys to bed. And he stays there until she falls asleep, while I do the downstairs clean-up alone—a chore that used to go much faster when both of us were doing it. Sophie is slow to fall asleep—she plays with her doll, sings to herself, flips through books and usually only nods off a good hour after being put to bed.

I would be so ever-grateful for help with this. Advice. Solutions that worked for you. Yes, it’s frustrating because our nights—the one time we have to read, watch a show, game, clean, be together—are being eaten up with this whole going-to-sleep process. But what’s even more frustrating to me is that my daughter truly believes a giraffe or pig “story” is going to eat her up, literally. I would do most anything to never again see that look of sheer terror on her face. She’s 3. Her life should be void of such panic and worry and concern. As someone who is always battling stress I don’t wish that type of intense stress on her—not now and honestly, not ever.

So thanks in advance. And hopefully, soon, bedtime at the Uhl household will be filled with silly, thoughtful, funny, serious and beautiful stories only—stories children look forward to, not fear.

“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” —Andre Gide