When it was time to transition my 3 year old son, Monroe, from his comfortable, familiar crib into a new big boy bed, we needed new tools and new words. It’s interesting how a child’s brain works. Monroe’s new bed was actually the exact same bed frame as his crib, it just converted it into a toddler bed. But in Monroe’s young mind, his security was compromised. His reality was that because the bed looked different, it indeed felt different. And because it felt different, he felt fear, confusion, anger, abandonment and sadness. So many real and new emotions, all at one time.
We sat on the floor together, next to his bed.
“Monroe, touch your bed. This is your same bed. It just looks a little different. It has your same teddy bear and soft puppy. It has your bedtime bin of toys. And your blanket is here, too.”
He had calmed down but he was still eyeing the “new” bed with extreme skepticism. Reluctantly, he climbed in and laid down.
I knew he didn’t know all of the words to describe what he was feeling, so I put them in his tool box. “Tonight, you are going to sleep in your bed, like you do every night. And mommy will come and get you in the morning, like I do every day. And we will have breakfast together, like we do every day. You might be feeling scared, Monroe because this bed feels new. But you are safe. And you might feel alone because mommy and daddy and baby Yuna have to sleep in our own beds, just like you. But you are not alone. You are very loved. And you are very brave. And you can do this. Repeat after me, Monroe:
I am STRONG (I am strong)
I am SAFE (I am safe)
I am LOVED (I am loved)
We repeated this 5 or 6 times until he could remember it on his own. By the time I reached the door, he was crying again but it was time to go. I closed his door and listened on the other side. He was still crying. But through his tears, I heard, “I am strong, okay? I am safe, okay? I am loved, okay? And mommy will come back in the morning and we will have breakfast.”
This continued until the tears slowed and eventually he stopped crying. The mantras got quieter. And after a few minutes, he was asleep.
Day after day, this was our routine. Each day, he cried a little less and he repeated his mantras with a little more confidence. Every morning, we celebrated with cheers and BIG words like courageous and adaptable and inspiring. After a week, the tears had stopped and we only needed to say the mantras one time together. It took a month before we had found our new normal. But the mantras lived on. They have now become our starting point for transitions and new experiences or new emotions. From starting school to potty training or even “fun” things like riding the carousel by himself for the first time, mantras are an important resource in his toolbox. The words may change but the message is the same: Your emotions are real and validated, Monroe. And you, my son, are capable of feeling and handling every single one.