photo credit D. Sharon Pruitt
When you become a parent, there’s so much information out there that it’s easy to get lost. And a lot of parenting information out there is just plain wrong, or completely unscientific. This is often the case when it comes to sleep.
Before my daughter was born I was lucky enough to read an amazing book that changed the course of my life; The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter. I read all about the healing power of tears and how babies cry for two reasons : not just to get their needs met, but also to heal from any stress and upset in their lives. It was so amazing to me that there is a way to raise children that don’t need to recover from their childhoods.
But reading a parenting book before becoming a parent, and putting that knowledge into practise as the parent of a real live baby are two completely different things! When I reread The Aware Baby later, I realised I’d forgotten half the contents.
And I’d been making a ‘mistake’ with my daughter’s sleep. One that perhaps 90% of parents make.
I had been thinking it was my job to get my daughter to fall asleep. I had been bouncing her, and pacing the room with her, or singing to her, until she closed her eyes. Because there was this time in the evening when she would start crying, and each time I fed her she wouldn’t seem to be hungry. So I would attempt to do things to stop the crying.
It was only six months later, that I began to piece together my experience as a new mother, and the book I had read. I suddenly realised that I was creating my daughter’s sleep problems, without even realising it.
Aletha Solter says that all babies naturally cry at the end of the day to release stress and tension. It could be from any overstimulation they’ve experienced during that day. It could be more extreme upsets such as stress in pregnancy or a difficult birth. This is a natural and healthy healing process.
However we don’t understand it. Nobody told us about the healing power of tears. When our babies cry we think it’s our job to get them to stop, even when they don’t have a particular need.
My daughter was naturally trying to cry at the end of the day, and I was trying to stop her by any means possible. Sometimes what I was doing was simply to stop the crying. As she got older and into more of rhythm I thought I was ‘putting her to sleep In actual fact what I was doing was stopping the crying that happened before she fell asleep. In doing so I was actually making the falling asleep process take longer. Also, when she couldn’t fully release those tears, she began waking frequently at night, a sign I later realised that she had unresolved emotional tension. In effect I was creating my daughter’s sleep problems because I wasn’t aware of when I simply needed to listen to her feelings.
I wish I’d known that we don’t have to do anything to ‘get’ our babies to fall asleep. We can simply be there and allow them to fall asleep naturally. When they are young they will cry because they need to. They need to cry, and for us to be there to listen. Being born, is an enormous life experience for babies, that takes a lot of processing. As they get older they will need to cry much less, and will fall sleep easily and sleep well.
Luckily it’s never too late to learn to listen to tears. When I began listening to my daughter’s feelings, without trying to distract her from them, or stop them then she began sleeping much better.
If you have a baby or toddler who takes a long time to fall asleep, wakes up frequently or early, then check out the links below. You can help your child to naturally regulate their emotions, and their sleep.
Hand in Hand parenting’s New Parent Podcasts
Hand in Hand’s online self study course Helping Young Children Sleep