Three weeks or so ago, Sly had his first real nightmare. He woke up in the middle of the night (which is extremely rare for him), crying uncontrollably. We both tried to calm him down and get him to lay back in his bed, but he refused. He sobbed and screamed, insisting on sleeping in our bed with us. I told Tom we needed to resist, because I didn't want it to become a habit. But it became clear that he was simply too terrified to stay in his own bed. We finally relented, and let Sly come in the bed with us, where Tom held him close until he gradually fell asleep.
The next morning, I didn't mention it to Sly at all (not wanting to remind him lest the "sleeping in Mommy and Daddy's bed" thing become regular). But after breakfast, as Sly was following me into a room, he kinda flew sputtering and crying around the corner, saying worriedly, "no, he didn't get Sly!" "What, Sly?" I asked, "Who didn't get you?" He replied, "The Poking Guy."
We had a conversation where I got him to explain, and here's some of what he said: "The Poking Guy poked Daddy. He poked Sly. Sly cried. The Poking Guy has claws. He pokes people. He doesn't have a beard. He doesn't have a mustache." And he confirmed that this is what had scared him the night before.
I thought the whole thing was a little bit creepy, but also somehow sweet and endearing. He talked about it so earnestly. I told him that we would make sure to ask his guardian angel to keep him safe (a good tip I got from Maria Von Trapp). I decided the best approach would be to treat his concerns seriously, but also not exacerbate them by bringing it up myself. I assured him that he would be safe, and the Poking Guy wouldn't hurt him. Maybe I should have told him the Poking Guy didn't exist. But...well, this will sound weird, but I felt unqualified to say that. At least to Sly, he very much does exist.
I told Tom and the grandparents about the Poking Guy. Everyone expressed surprise that a child so young (two and a half) was having nightmares - as well as daytime fears - about such a specific creature like that. Sly had a few more incidents where he'd get nervous during the daytime, telling me that the Poking Guy almost got him. But no more nightmares. We gave him a holy card with a guardian angel picture, and Tom added some prayers to Sly's angel into their bedtime routine.
Tom had an amusing thought that perhaps our cat Lancelot was really the Poking Guy. "Come on, " he said quoting Sly, "'The Poking Guy have claws? He pokes people?' You know how Lance always pokes our faces in the middle of the night!" We both laughed about it, because it does kind of make sense. But, as I reminded Tom, Lancelot really dislikes our kids (and you would too, if you got your tail and ears pulled by them all the time), so I doubt he'd be trying to sleep in Sly's bed with him.
Sly began telling me things during the daytime like, "Sly's guardian angel keep Poking Guy away." I was glad that he felt safer. But after a few days, something occurred to me. When I had talked to Sly about praying to his angel, I was only saying it to make him feel safe. In other words, I was only pretending to pray with him to make him stop worrying - just going through the motions. I suddenly realized that - whether the Poking Guy was real or not - Sly's guardian angel actually could help to keep him safe, and feeling safe. I needed to actually intend to ask for help for him.
A friend of ours, who is also Sly's godfather, was visiting last week. I told him the story about the Poking Guy, expecting him to find it cute or at least interesting. Instead, he said - quite seriously - that perhaps the Poking Guy is actually a demon. Ugh. Are you kidding me? Don't tell a mother than her two year old might be getting harassed by a demon! I tried to put it out of my mind.
Sly hadn't mentioned the Poking Guy for a little while, so I thought maybe he was "over it." But Tom told me that tonight, Sly was very insistent about praying to Mary and to his guardian angel to keep him safe from the Poking Guy. He also filled Daddy in on some more details about him. One thing Sly said was that the Poking Guy poked him on the cheek and gave him a boo-boo. When Tom told me that, I got a chill. "Tom! You know how Sly's had that mysterious bruise on his cheek for, like, two or three weeks now? The one that's not fading at all? Oh my gosh! It's the exact size to have been made by a finger!"
[fyi - I'm not freaking out about this. It's most likely just a coincidence, but it is creepy in a "sometimes it can be fun and exciting to be scared" kind of way.]
But hey, if anyone has tips about helping kids deal with fears like this, or similar stories, I'd love to heard them!