Q: It seems that around the age of 4 and 5, children experience many more powerful emotions. This can make getting kids to bed even more difficult. Around that age, so many kids seem to save all their talking for bedtime.
At that age, they’re processing many emotions of change, loss, learning independence, learning acceptance and how to fit in. Some are in an environment for the first time where they are seeking approval from someone other than their parents. They are learning how to make friends. They’re learning how to negotiate their wants and needs in new environments. They want to be liked and they’re trying to figure out all the rules of the game. They become full of emotions because they actually know what they feel but may be shy in expressing those feelings to others. And so for the first time in their life may be experiencing the sensation of pent up emotions and thoughts. If they feel safe at home, this is where they leak out their emotions.
This is why many children have a need to talk so much at bedtime. It’s their decompression time. It’s when they want to talk about the day, what happened, their emotions, the questions they’ve thought about, the things that are troubling them. By this time of day, parents usually just want their children quickly in bed and asleep so they may have a few quiet hours. When the parent threatens to remove this decompression time, the child may become agitated and try to delay the bedtime process because they don’t know where else during the day they can release these accumulated emotions.
Q: Where else in the day could they do this?
The answer is at any time during the day, but the answer for them is that they associate the ritual of bedtime with release. During their waking day they naturally want to be busy doing things; they don’t want to sit down and talk. At night when they begin relaxing and discharging the collection of the day’s energy they find that to be the most appropriate time. And for many reasons, it is the most appropriate time because the body is in a naturally releasing state. It desires to release stress, tension and pent up emotions so that it can sleep well for the night. Because it’s darker, with less harshness of light, there is less of a feeling of inquisition involved. With many distractions during the day, it’s harder for children to focus and be aware of their feelings. But at night with no distractions, they find it quite easy to talk and talk. Instinctively, they’re picking the easiest time of the day to do it.
A healthy ritual for all parents and children would be to make bedtime the family time. Prepare for and get into bed significantly earlier with the understanding that you’re allowing the hour or two, or whatever it takes, for your child to release from him or herself the day’s energy. This permits your child the time necessary to go to sleep as an innocent again, instead of taking worries, fears, or anxieties into the sleeping state.
Q: How about adults? How do we do it?
The same approach would be helpful for adults. Turn off the TV, get into bed and tell stories to each other about feelings, thoughts, and events that happened during the day.
Many families try to do this at the dinner hour, but it’s still a highly rushed period of the day. And as soon as the meal is over, everyone still wants to go off to their individual activities. For this to work at dinner, a family would have to make a ritual of getting together to share the day’s events and the feelings of the day. This could begin by specific ritual questions being asked and answered by everyone (including parents), such as, “What was the best part of your day?” “The most difficult part, the funniest part, the part where you learned something about another person?” etc. Of course, this is just a tool to help family members communicate on a deeper level. At first this might feel very artificial, but eventually would become a way for each in the family to get to know each other better and to stay in touch with what’s happening with each other. This tends to work better with older children who no longer want the parents’ participation at bedtime. For younger children, it is most appropriate at night towards bedtime.
Another beneficial method would be for everyone in the family to take an evening walk together, where these ritual questions could be asked and answered without distraction or interruption from electronics or cell phones.
Be as creative as you want to be in helping your children and yourselves release the day’s energy before sleep. The important thing for everyone is that you find some way to release this energy. If you do not have someone to share with, this could be fulfilled through journal keeping. Write your thoughts and have a dialog with yourself. Invite spiritual presences to communicate with you.
Q: How do we get in touch with our emotions so that we know what it is we’re really feeling?
The easiest way is to put yourself in a relaxed state through regular deep breathing, preferably lying down with all limbs uncrossed. Investigate where in your body there is tension. Go to that place of tension and ask the body what it’s storing there and the body will tell you: “This is from this event today; This is from that conversation yesterday; This is from this hurt emotion from four years ago.” When asked, the body can be quite a good communicator. Then as you are aware, you can breathe healing into each of these places in the body. You may become conscious of the stored emotions and begin speaking about them to help them become freed from captivity in the body.
Or you can just sit and talk with a trusted person, and just express whatever comes out until nothing more comes out. This is what your children do. “Mommy, I need to talk until there are no more words.” They are aware. This is how you become aware. Talk until no more words come out. Don’t worry about making sense. Simply release and allow the throat to open up and whatever comes out comes out—a giggle, a cry, a word, a sigh. Let it all just open up and come out. It doesn’t require a thought process.
For example, open your mouth right now. What wants to come out? What does the throat feel like it wants to do?
Q: I don’t know. It doesn’t talk to me.
Open your mouth again. Wide. What does your throat want to do?
Yes. It would be very healthy to do. You won’t release your sadness until you do scream. All unbearable emotions must come out with a certain kind of expelling force—screaming, yelling, crying, kicking. Because they are particularly sticky to the body’s cells. So quite a jolt is required to send them flying. That’s all. It’s not a weakness; it’s not a failing. It’s what is required to release the more intense pent up emotions. So when you can, as soon as you are able, go some place and scream until there are no more screams to come out.
So anytime you need to know what the body needs to release, simply open up your mouth and your throat will tell you a sound wants to be made: laughter, crying, screaming, yelling, whispering, breathing, singing, yawning, etc. It doesn’t have to be words. You just need to know and trust that your body knows what it wants to release.
Q: And then what happens after that?
Then you feel exhausted and limp because you now have a hole in your body that was previously filled up with sticky stuff. There is a feeling of emptiness and the human mind equates emptiness with negative things—lack of meaning, hunger, deprivation—rather than what it truly is—freedom from pain, the beginning of a healing process, cleanliness, a space opened to be full of creativity or love or other positive experiences and emotions. Because people are so afraid of emptiness, even when they release a negative emotion, once they feel the emptiness, the tendency is to fill it right back up with another negative emotion. I feel empty therefore I feel lonely, therefore I feel sad, therefore I feel misunderstood or depressed. Rather than simply saying, I feel empty therefore I am finally free.
Children know until they’re taught otherwise that emptiness means something that is full of possibility rather than something that is full of loss. If they are not taught how to think and how to express feelings in a healthy way then they too will begin experiencing emptiness as something to be feared and avoided.
Q: If a child is allowed to finish talking every night, would they feel at peace?
Yes, and then they would instantly fall asleep.
Q: And would they sleep peacefully?
You will hear them laugh in their sleep on many occasions. They will mostly sleep peacefully. But because they go through such rapid growth cycles, they may also have anxiety dreams, but much fewer than children who are not allowed to release before bedtime. These children will not need to conjure up monsters to project their feelings. They won’t have to go through severe nightmares to release stored feelings. They won’t have to resort to any displacement to release their feelings because they’ve been doing so everyday.
Q: And if we as adults did that everyday what would happen?
Initially you would become aware of how much is stored and you would feel sad for yourself, but as the process of release got under way you’d feel lighter and lighter.
Q: What is it that we’re storing?
That is for you to uncover for yourself. It’s not about an intellectual understanding of, “Oh, it is this and that. Oh, I already knew that.” Or, “Oh, I didn’t know that, isn’t that interesting.” That’s all intellectual and that’s not where it gets stored as a body memory. So do the work and you will discover for yourself.
Q: Could you explain what the process of that work is?
Open the throat and let come out whatever comes out. Lay down the body and breathe through each part of the body, identifying any blocks, stresses, strains, tensions, and communicate with the body. Do journal writing. Speak with trusted loved ones. Speak to yourself. This would be the process.