4 year old's secret nocturnal activities - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 08:41 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Here's a little background:  Dd co-slept with us from birth and was never left to CIO.  I always attended to her every need at night despite her frequent nightwakings- seriously sometimes every 30-60 minutes, though usually every 2 hours.  I initiated night-weaning at 18 months b/c of severe sleep deprivation.  She eventually night-weaned and started sleeping from bedtime until morning when she was 2.  We transitioned her without any issues to her own room at 2.5.  This is also about the age she dropped her nap entirely.  At 3, her baby brother was born and since we were hanging around the house a lot more, she started taking naps again off and on.  At 3.5 she started pre-school and naps became a daily occurrence- much to my happiness!  Dd naps for 1-2.5 hours every afternoon and goes to bed around 7:30 or 8pm every night.  She goes down like clockwork, telling us she's tired.  We figured she was tired from school, growing, etc. and really needed all this sleep.  At bedtime, dh or I will lay down next to her for a few minutes and then say goodnight.  She happily wishes us goodnight, tells us bye, and rolls over with her eyes closed.  Occasionally, we'll hear her get up to get a drink of water or use the bathroom (she's been night potty trained since 2.5 years old).  Now dd is nearly 4 (in one month) and we just discovered something, well, surprising.

 

A few nights ago, dh went past her room and heard her running around, moving her step stool, banging toys, etc.  As he opened the door, she ran back to her bed and pretended to be asleep.  Dh asked her what she had been doing and this is where it gets interesting. 

 

She burst into tears, appearing afraid that she was going to get into trouble if she revealed what she had been doing.  Dh calmed her down and reassured her that we are always there for her to talk to, that she can always come get us if she needs something.  She tells him tearfully she spilled water in her bed.   He tells her it's okay, he can cover it with a blanket and she can sleep on the other side of the bed.  She exclaims that she can't sleep on the other side of the bed b/c when she wakes up in the night she can see herself in the mirror from that side and it scares her.  She has never mentioned this before.  She's been sleeping with that mirror for a year and a half.  She further explains to him that she is afraid of her whole room.  It's too dark (despite a nightlight and blinds that don't block the outside lights) so she gets up every night, moves her step stool up to her windows and opens her blinds.  On she goes...  the toy bins along the wall look like animals and they scare her.  Her dress up clothes hanging on hooks have to be rearranged every night so that the color of the clothing item matches the color of the hook.  All the toys have to be put back in specific locations.  Mr. Potato Head has to be standing vigil from her dresser.  The list goes on.  She has never uttered a word about these things to us before.  Apparently, every night for who knows how long, she has been getting out of bed, playing with her toys and rearranging things until she gets tired enough to fall asleep.  She even said that if she doesn't get tired she just sits there until it's light outside.  OMG!

 

Well, we immediately covered her mirror with a sheet and I helped her rearrange anything else in her room that was upsetting her.  But, last night, I heard her again.  So I went upstairs to see what she would say to me instead of dh.  She told me pretty much the same things.  I tried to get out of her how long this has been going on, but it's so easy to lead on a 4 year old based on how you phrase things.  She also is quite adept at saying what she thinks she should say, has been known to make things up and at times, outright lie.  So it is difficult to figure out the exact truth.  It is possible she has been doing this since her brother was born.  Perhaps it started when her naps started again.  I asked her if she does this on days that she has skipped her nap and she said yes.  Who knows if that's true or not, but I do know that she doesn't do this when we're on vacation and sleeping in other people's houses.

 

You can imagine my surprise and my sadness at finding all this out.  We have always been so careful to make her feel safe in sleep.  Why couldn't she come to us with her fears?  Are they legitimate fears or was she saying she was afraid to avoid us getting upset at her for being out of bed?  If the latter is the case, where did this fear of our anger come from when we've always been so attentive to her nighttime needs?  And I'm not sure what to make of her sleep pattern and the needs she expressed regarding the arrangement of her toys in her room.  Does this sound a little OCD?  Or just normal 4 year old imagination at work?  Is it okay to let her play in her room for hours, alone until she falls asleep?  Or should we eliminate her naps so that she's more tired at night or have her come out of her room and be part of the family as long as she's awake? 

 

Has anyone else BTDT?  Thanks in advance for any insight you can give me!


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#2 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 08:58 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Jaimee View Post

  Does this sound a little OCD?  Or just normal 4 year old imagination at work?  


It does sound as if your daughter works out both obsessions and compulsions every night.  She was very detailed in what she told your husband, and then told you essentially the same thing regarding her nighttime rituals.  If you doubt that she truly accomplishes these rituals every single night, you could always install a nanny cam to understand just what her nighttime experience is.  You are right to worry if this indeed is an ongoing issue.  It's surprising that none of her obsessions have shown up during the daytime.  Is she exceptionally bright-- to the point that she could/would hide behaviors that she feels might disturb you or recognizes as socially unacceptable?  

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#3 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 09:38 AM
 
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I have very clear memories of my bedtime rituals when I was four: my hordes of stuffed animals had to be arranged just so, and I had a hiding place in the closet, behind the dresser all picked out in case some big mean person came to get me. And I shared a room with my sister, so I wasn't even alone. I would think this is normal 4yo imagination at work.

 

I understand how saddening it must be that she didn't share all this with you from the beginning. Did she seem really scared when explaining herself, or more just matter of fact, like, okay, I've just got to rearrange my stuff and then hit the sack? I think her emotions while talking about it will tell you how drastic the changes are that need to be made. I know I would have loved to sleep with my parents a couple nights a week, or have them at least check on my a few more times nightly.

 

She's lucky that you guys figured this out and are working with her. It might be normal imagination, but in my situation it had lingering effects. I still hate to sleep in the house w/o dh (really don't sleep at all); this is a big part of why we chose to co-sleep.

 


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#4 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 10:37 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by bluebackpacks View Post
It's surprising that none of her obsessions have shown up during the daytime.  Is she exceptionally bright-- to the point that she could/would hide behaviors that she feels might disturb you or recognizes as socially unacceptable?  


She is quite bright.  It would no longer surprise me if that is what she is doing.  Though there are some things she does during the day that would fall into this category as well.  Things like how she eats her food so that she doesn't get her hands dirty.



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I have very clear memories of my bedtime rituals when I was four: my hordes of stuffed animals had to be arranged just so, and I had a hiding place in the closet, behind the dresser all picked out in case some big mean person came to get me. And I shared a room with my sister, so I wasn't even alone. I would think this is normal 4yo imagination at work.

 

It might be normal imagination, but in my situation it had lingering effects. I still hate to sleep in the house w/o dh (really don't sleep at all)...

 



Well, this is my fear...  it was normal for you, but then you say it had lingering effects.  How could the situation have been handled better for you do you think?  What could your parents have done to help you through your emotions?


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#5 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 10:54 AM
 
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My son is the same age as your daughter, and I have to say that if I discovered he was obsessing over the placement of his toys at bedtime and was scared of his room at night then I would definitely be alarmed.  It sounds like she doesn't feel emotionally safe, which is why she didn't communicate this when it first started happening.  It does sound like, however, that the more you and your DH initiate conversations like this the more she'll open up and not feel the need to hide what she's doing/feeling.  From my observations, a lot of the time it has very little to do with what the parents are/are not directly doing...it simply comes from what she sees and perceives.  Are emotions something that are kept in private in your relationship with your DH or do you openly express/talk about them? 

 

Also, I personally feel this age is typically too young for sleeping on their own in a separate room (especially a room that's on a different floor from the parent's bedroom)...every child is different, of course, but in order to feel safe, I feel they need to be close by.  Maybe a set up her bed somewhere in your room?  Or have her sleep on the same floor somewhere?  I think either of those changes will really help.

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#6 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 11:52 AM
 
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I would be concerned at the level she is taking it too.  I mean I think it I normal for kids to line up their stuff animals to protect themselves in bed, but her rituals seems a bit extreme. I would install some kind of nanny cam to see how long and how excessive the ritual is every night.   If it was just  few things bugging her I would let it go, but this seems to be really affecting her sleep cycle, and that would make me concerned.


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#7 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 11:52 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by rainbow_mandala View Post

It sounds like she doesn't feel emotionally safe, which is why she didn't communicate this when it first started happening...From my observations, a lot of the time it has very little to do with what the parents are/are not directly doing...it simply comes from what she sees and perceives.  Are emotions something that are kept in private in your relationship with your DH or do you openly express/talk about them? 

 

Also, I personally feel this age is typically too young for sleeping on their own in a separate room (especially a room that's on a different floor from the parent's bedroom)...every child is different, of course, but in order to feel safe, I feel they need to be close by.  Maybe a set up her bed somewhere in your room?  Or have her sleep on the same floor somewhere? 

 

We have worked hard for her to feel emotionally safe and we often talk about feelings- our feelings, the feelings of others.  She seems quite fine talking to us about her feelings during the day.  It's just so strange to me how she got it into her head that she couldn't talk to us about this.  But I'm not entirely convinced it's that she felt she couldn't or if she simply didn't want to.  She seemed more upset about us finding out about what she had been doing than what she was doing.  She didn't cry when she talked about her fears at all.  She cried when she was "discovered."  I'm not sure if that's a significant difference or not....

 

It's not really realistic for her to sleep anywhere but in her room.  Our house has a strange layout with only the master bedroom on the main floor and the two other bedrooms on the upper floor.  When we first looked at the house I vetoed it for this reason, but it ended up being the only house that made sense for us in other ways.  At the time I told dh that we would sleep upstairs across from her room and the master bedroom would just a guest room/office.  This ended up not making sense for a lot of other reasons.  Anyway, when we decided to have her in her room upstairs and we would be downstairs we went to great efforts to make sure that she knew how to get down the stairs and come get us if she needed us, we put a nightlight in the hallway, etc..  I can also hear her clearly through the ceiling, so I know if she's crying or calling out for us (which has only happened once or twice when she's sick).  The times that she has come to get us, we never dismissed her needs, but always helped her with whatever the issue was and sat with her in her room until she felt comfortable.  So that's why I'm wondering if she actually wants us to help her change her behavior or if we should simply keep the lines of communication open by bringing it up every now and then, but otherwise let her do her thing?  Is that emotionally healthy?
 


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#8 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 01:26 PM
 
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If it helps, both my kids have very active imaginations, and age 4 was when we began to see a sharp increase in night time anxiety. Before then they weren't really able to think ahead enough. At 4, they can, but they have no sense of reality (another bump comes along at age 7, just to warn you). Dd is 6 and is terrified of her closet. She actually switched the end of the bed that she slept on so she didn't have to look at it. Both my kids are a bit particular about how the room has to be (blinds down, certain stuffed animals in place, radio on for dd, etc.)

 

Things we've done that seem to help:

1. Our kids are allowed to read in bed until they fall asleep. When dd wasn't really reading yet (age 4), she'd look at books.

2. Music as they fall asleep, if they want it. That really helps dd. (Ds HATES it, which is why we had to separate their rooms.)

3. They fall asleep with a light on, and then we turn it off before we got to bed. Not environmentally friendly (though we do use compact flourescents in their lamps), but it's a lot better than terror. We also keep the light in the hall on.

4. If, after our kids are done reading, they can't fall asleep, they get up and tell us this. We usually have them set the timer for 20 minutes. If they've been quiet and still in their beds for 20 minutes, they can get up for 20-30 minutes and play quietly. Then they try again.

5. At times, we've had a routine where we check on the kids in bed so they feel safe. We put them to bed, then set the timer for 5 minutes and check on them. then 10, then 15, then 20 etc. It helps them feel connected (we haven't abandoned them, they can hear the timer, so they know we're coming back). I don't think we ever got up to more than 30 minutes more than once. After about 6 months of that, we didn't need to any more.

6. Our kids, if they wake and are scared, are free to come into our room and sleep on our floor. Ds went through a period from 7-8 where he was on our floor every night. He comes in every 2 weeks or so now. Dd is 6 and has been on our floor every night for the last year. I'm expecting it to last another year or two. She's never been a great sleeper, she's got a tremendous imagination, and she needs physical closeness. Yes, I step on her when I get out of bed. (Dh gets to step on ds). Our room isn't that large, but there is space next to each side of the bed for them to sleep. If they REALLY prefer to sleep on the floor rather than in their beds, it's their body!

 

 

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My son is the same age as your daughter, and I have to say that if I discovered he was obsessing over the placement of his toys at bedtime and was scared of his room at night then I would definitely be alarmed.  It sounds like she doesn't feel emotionally safe, which is why she didn't communicate this when it first started happening.  It does sound like, however, that the more you and your DH initiate conversations like this the more she'll open up and not feel the need to hide what she's doing/feeling.  From my observations, a lot of the time it has very little to do with what the parents are/are not directly doing...it simply comes from what she sees and perceives.  Are emotions something that are kept in private in your relationship with your DH or do you openly express/talk about them?


I think that's quite a leap to make and not necessarily warranted. It sounds to me like she wasn't all that tired (time to give up the nap again?) and that she then was lying in bed imagining things. It's kind of fun to get out and rearrange things and she might be feeling a bit guilty about being out of bed when she knows she 'should' be sleeping. It's quite a leap from her afraid at night (which is developmentally very appropriate) to her not feeling emotionally safe.

 

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  I can also hear her clearly through the ceiling, so I know if she's crying or calling out for us (which has only happened once or twice when she's sick).  The times that she has come to get us, we never dismissed her needs, but always helped her with whatever the issue was and sat with her in her room until she felt comfortable.  So that's why I'm wondering if she actually wants us to help her change her behavior or if we should simply keep the lines of communication open by bringing it up every now and then, but otherwise let her do her thing?  Is that emotionally healthy?

 

My gut reaction is that I'd try to get a new 'routine' started -- maybe checking on her. Maybe setting the timer. Maybe YOU can help her open the blinds and make sure Mr. Potato head is in the right spot. (We have to make sure that Mr. King (the 32" stuffed penguin) is carefully guarding the door.) Maybe she can brainstorm with you (that's where the leaving the lights on, bedroom doors open and the hall light on came in our house). If she can't change the behavior, then I'd worry. If she starts to get a more and more elaborate routine, I'd worry. Otherwise, I'd chalk it up to a developmental quirk.
 


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#9 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 03:21 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I think that's quite a leap to make and not necessarily warranted. It sounds to me like she wasn't all that tired (time to give up the nap again?) and that she then was lying in bed imagining things. It's kind of fun to get out and rearrange things and she might be feeling a bit guilty about being out of bed when she knows she 'should' be sleeping. It's quite a leap from her afraid at night (which is developmentally very appropriate) to her not feeling emotionally safe.

 

 

Thank you for saying this.  I'm starting to think that I need to re-frame this situation in a more positive light.  It really caught me off guard and I immediately went to worry and parent-guilt.  But, it IS really normal to be afraid of the dark and come up with ways to feel safer be rearranging things.  She's demonstrating that she can problem solve and take care of her own needs by getting the step stool and opening her blinds.  She's also demonstrating real independence by entertaining herself in her room for hours.  Pretending to be asleep would probably have been my own reaction if my parents had caught me up and out of bed after lights out!  I think we just need to continue brainstorming solutions to address her fears (special monster spray?) and set some limits (like was mentioned above) to curb any all night playing. 
 


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#10 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 03:40 PM
 
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My guess is that unless you've noticed her being tired for a while, that this started recently and is a normal 4 year old phase.

 

Looking forward to seeing how it works to do an extra check in on her at night!

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#11 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 04:22 PM
 
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I just wanted to say that I think worrying about OCD or serious issues might be jumping the gun.

 

Kids go through phases where different things bother them.  And then they move onto something else.  Sleep is one of those areas where lots of people have "issues."  I would approach it very matter of factly.  If she isn't coming to you then she isn't *that* scared.  (Since I felt like other posters were assuming things I guess I need to point out that I too am making some assumptions.  I'm going to assume there's no abuse, etc and she feels comfortable and safe with you and typically comes to you with other fears, concerns, etc.)  She sounds very independent and is working thorugh whatever the issue is and seems okay with that.  I'd try not to interefere too much and let her do what she wants/needs to do if it isn't interefering with the quality/quantity of sleep she and the family get.

 

She may end up needing to change her sleeping arrangement but I'd wait until it is something she needs.


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#12 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 04:40 PM
 
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I too think that while she says that sometimes she stays awake until it gets light out, I think that's actually unlikely. My daughter sometimes tells us she hasn't slept at all and watched the sun come up. Only I've seen her during the night several times tending to her brother, and she was really and truly asleep. She might have woken up for 2 minutes as the sun started coming in the window, and dreamed the rest of the sunrise. Unless she has been seeming really, insanely tired, I just don't think it's likely. 

 

For a different idea, I wonder if she might be going to bed too late? On the rare times that I don't get mine into bed before they get a second wind, they are overtired and whiny, crying, insisting while crying that "I'M NOT TIRED AT ALLL!!!!" They are, they're way overtired. At that point, they also are too tired to let themselves fall asleep and doing so is a battle. If she's possibly getting to the bedroom once she's overtired, it may be a battle with herself to fall asleep even though she's tired. 

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#13 of 16 Old 12-14-2010, 05:06 PM
 
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I'm having a problem with quoting people, so I'll just write a few thoughts I've had since reading some of the responses:

 

It doesn't sound like what she's experiencing is fun to me.  It sounds to me like she feels out of control of her environment since everything has to be just so.  It's not just a matter of rearranging things, in other words, there is an actual need to have things be in a certain place.  I remember doing this some when I was a kid and I didn't find it to be healthy...I had anxiety and this helped quell it a bit.  Other children I've known and heard about who had to have things just so were also reacting to a feeling of being out of control...they're not just playing, in other words.  This doesn't necessarily mean she has serious problems or anything, but it does mean that there's something very real going on here, and it doesn't sound positive.  I didn't mean to sound so gloomy & doomy with my last post, I've just heard about young children acting this way and it's almost never because they're in a good state of being...they're typically reacting against feeling out of control, for whatever reason.  No one, especially little kids, needs to feel that much stress over their environment.  Then again, like the OP said, she didn't come to her parents with her fears, she dealt with them on her own and since it's been made clear that they have an emotionally-open home, this might not be as scary as it seems on the surface.  It sounds like she might be hiding it because she's exerting her independence...it could also mean that she wants this to be "her's" and "her's" alone.  She was more upset by her parents finding out than what the actions actually are, which shows that she was definitely exerting her independence...but why?  At this age, it could be simply part of their natural development...but it could also point to underlying anxiety/feeling out of control.  I realize I'm not being clear...I really have no idea what's going on with her, of course, but I thought I'd put the different possibilities I've come up with out there to give the OP things to think about. 

 

Being a little afraid of the dark at this age is normal, yes, but compulsively putting all her toys in the same place is not (one or two toys, yes, but not the dress up clothes having to be hung on the same color hook, Mr. Potato Head standing vigil in the same spot, all the toys having to be put back in specific locations, opening the blinds, and the list goes on).  I like what a PP said about helping her brainstorm different solutions...that will help her feel more in control with it, I bet.  If the routine stays the same or gets worse, then there's definitely something to be concerned about. 

 

Also, if it was only a matter of not being tired enough to sleep then she would more than likely be playing with her toys instead of rearranging them in the same order every night. 

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#14 of 16 Old 12-15-2010, 04:00 PM
 
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It might be normal imagination, but in my situation it had lingering effects. I still hate to sleep in the house w/o dh (really don't sleep at all)...

 


Well, this is my fear...  it was normal for you, but then you say it had lingering effects.  How could the situation have been handled better for you do you think?  What could your parents have done to help you through your emotions?

 

 I should have been more clear...I meant to say it could be normal OR it could be a situation that needs attention to avoid harm; that's why I thought her attitude in explaining the situation to you might give you a clue as to how to interpret this. Like I mentioned, sleeping with my parents a few nights a week or just knowing they were checking on me more often would have helped; after reading the other posts, it rings true with me that maybe I just needed more emotional availability from them (that's my case - I know you said you discuss feelings/fears/emotions openly in your home).
 


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#15 of 16 Old 12-19-2010, 10:27 AM
 
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Is this rearranging toys thing happening in the *middle* of the night (after she had already been asleep for awhile) or before she falls asleep at the beginning of the night?  I'm a bit unclear from your post.  What time was it when you discovered it?

 

If it's in the middle of the night, yes I would be concerned.  If it's in the beginning, well I wouldn't worry as much, and I would sorta doubt that it's been going on for a long time, since  I can't imagine that you woulnd't have heard her before this.


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#16 of 16 Old 12-21-2010, 09:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ameliabedelia View Post

Is this rearranging toys thing happening in the *middle* of the night (after she had already been asleep for awhile) or before she falls asleep at the beginning of the night?  I'm a bit unclear from your post.  What time was it when you discovered it?

 

If it's in the middle of the night, yes I would be concerned.  If it's in the beginning, well I wouldn't worry as much, and I would sorta doubt that it's been going on for a long time, since  I can't imagine that you woulnd't have heard her before this.

 

It's happening after we  put her to bed and before we go to bed (so not in the middle of the night).  We've done a lot of things to try and help her since I wrote this post.  We bought her a little reading light that she keeps with her by her bed and this has really helped.  We also whipped up some "magick spray" for her to use on things she's afraid of, but since having her light she hasn't had to use it.  We also skipped naps a few days to see what would happen.  She got very tired by the end of the day (very poor behavior) and each night we vowed we would have her nap the next day, but she also went right to sleep at night and didn't wake up.  So, I guess she's right at the edge of giving up her nap again.  I'm going to try and get her down for a nap earlier in the day and wake her up after an hour.  Perhaps we can strike just the right balance of sleep.
 


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