Jake: A Scary Movie Story
I’ve recently been seeing a lot of children in my practice, all around the age of 11 or 12, who tell me their sleep issues started because of one particular movie:
In most cases the children have never even seen the film. Some have accidentally caught a glimpse of the movie trailer while they’ve been on social media. Or they’ve seen the posters showing Pennywise, or have been told gruesome details about the more gory scenes by older brothers and sisters who have seen the film.
It seems just the image of Pennywise the clown is enough to terrorise younger children (and some adults I know) and start off a downward cycle of fear of the dark and disrupted sleep.
This was definitely true of Jake, who had accidentally seen a trailer for the film while innocently watching YouTube videos. From that point on he downright refused to go upstairs to bed by himself and insisted on Mum sitting on the bed with him until he went to sleep, which could often take hours.
Poor Mum – what should have been evenings spent relaxing and chatting with her husband after a day at work, were now spent in a dark room, trying to get Jake to sleep. Even when she did go to bed, Jake would wake up most nights and call for her. Not knowing what else to do, and worrying he would be too tired for school the next day, she would go to his room and once again sit with him till he fell asleep.
Mum came to see me after this had been going on for nearly a year.
My hypnotherapy session with Jake involved helping desensitise the trigger (Pennywise’s face) but most importantly “re-installing” the brain’s original “sleep software” and the absolute belief that he could go to sleep all by himself without Mum’s help,. The emphasis was on building confidence that sleep would come naturally, easily and effortlessly.
I also worked with Mum, giving her key techniques, including suggestions she could use to help embed the belief in sleep in Jake’s mind.
After just one session of RTT, Jake started to go up to bed by himself. Mum changed her usual habit of sitting on the bed, and began just popping in to his bedroom to say Goodnight. Jake felt comfortable letting her leave the room and falling asleep by himself, which Mum said he started doing in minutes instead of hours.
Jake continues to make huge progress and bedtime now feels normal and under control. Mum and Dad are back to enjoying their evenings, something they had given up hope of ever happening.
Crucially, Jake’s progress was about allowing him to take his own time, and for any changes to come from him. This is true of all the RTT work I do with children and teenagers. The pace of change is dictated by the child – not the parent, no matter how much the parent wants (or desperately needs) change to happen as soon as possible.
Things to try before you seek help for your child’s sleep issue
If you’re not doing these already, the following steps are a good place to start to help get your child’s sleep back on track.
Good Sleep Hygiene and Sleep Routines:
- Make bedtime a set time every night – no matter what time your child eventually falls asleep.
- Try to get into the routine of waking your child every morning at the same time, regardless of what time they got to sleep the night before
- Limit screen time before bed – no screens at least one hour before bedtime and keep devices out of the bedroom (no tablets or phones on charge).
- It seems obvious, but limit sugar and caffeinated drinks and also strenuous exercise or activities before bedtime.
The Power of Suggestion:
When our children struggle to sleep they will often use words and phrases like:
I can’t get to sleep,
I’ll never get to sleep, or
I’m trying to get to sleep but I can’t…
As a parent or caregiver, your words can have a powerful effect on your child’s belief in their ability to sleep, and their own sleep confidence.
By using and repeating key phrases and suggestions consistently throughout the day you can help build your child’s belief in their own ability to get to sleep by themselves.
One phrase I hear parents say a lot (and I was guilty of using it myself when my children were younger), is:
“Try and get to sleep”
There are three words in this phrase which will be a barrier to your child’s belief in being able to sleep: “try” and “get to:
The word “try” implies that something is hard. We don’t want our children believing that going to sleep is hard.
Similarly, the words “get to” implies that sleep is something your child needs to work at rather than something that will come naturally of its own accord.
A better, more powerful suggestion is:
“Sleep will come really easily”.
This takes all the hard work out of going to sleep. Sleep will come all on its own. It’s about allowing it, not working at it.
For my free Cheat Sheet of powerful phrases and suggestions to Help Your Child Get to Sleep, please fill in the form at the bottom of the page.