Giggle Parenting To Help Your Child Fall Asleep On Their Own

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Sleeping arrangements are individual to all families. I actually love sleeping cuddled up with my daughter, and would happily do so night after night. For others it works best for everyone to have their own separate bed.

However, I began to notice that bedtime was my daughter’s ‘broken cookie’; a moment of the day that had strong feelings for her. So I wanted to help her with these feelings, as I wrote about in my last post.

Listening to these feelings for us is not about setting a rigid routine of how she must fall asleep every night for the rest of her childhood. It’s about building her confidence and checking that she doesn’t have fear and anxiety coming up in everyday situations – like falling asleep.

Last night we focused on giggles and play. As she lay down to sleep in my bed. I put her toy banana in her bed reading one of my books. Then I said, ”hey! Excuse me banana, that’s my book!” I put myself in the less powerful role, which always makes her laugh.

You might have noticed that when children are feeling nervous to separate from us they call us back because they need something. Their covers are all wonky, or they need the toilet suddenly, or a drink of water.

I decided to play around with that neediness of children to call us back if they want something. I told my daughter I would leave soon, and I said in a very light, playful tone, ”and please don’t call me back if you want…. ten socks.” She laughed. I repeated the sentence again, telling her I was going to go, and then saying, ”and please don’t call me back if you…want to go bring a real-life elephant to bed.” I kept coming up with all sorts of crazy scenarios to get her laughing, like ‘please don’t call me back if you want to… go to the supermarket, eat an ice cream, go to a disco, use some Lego as a pillow etc. The sillier the scenario the better. She fell asleep quickly and easily after that.

If your child has fears around falling asleep alone, or being in their own bed you might want to add in some giggles. Each time we laugh together we are building a closer connection that our child internalises so even if we do go into the next room, they can still feel deeply connected to us.

Working on fears and anxieties around bedtime can help children sleep through the night, because those feelings are released they don’t wake them up later. It can help prevent waking too early in the morning too. Even if your child sleeps really well you may notice that when you help them with bedtime feelings they grow in confidence in other areas of their life.

Here’s my other post about this topic, Why I Helped My Daughter To Fall Asleep Alone

To learn more about helping our children sleep well check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online self-study course, Helping Young Children Sleep

Why I Helped My Daughter Feel Safe To Fall Asleep Alone

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When my daughter was born we started off by co-sleeping. Our bed is pretty small so by the time she was 2 years old my back was getting sore from sleeping all squashed together. So we took the side off my daughter’s cot and had it next to our bed. I introduced the idea of falling asleep in there. She was completely happy to do so from then on.

A few months ago my daughter (now 4) had to go to the doctor to get a blood test. The night before she got really upset and scared. She fell asleep clinging to me.

The blood test ended up being much more painful than either of us anticipated, and at the time she didn’t feel safe enough to express her fear or pain at the time.

For the next couple of months she would only fall asleep next to me in our bed. Later we would move her into her bed.

Now I absolutely loved falling asleep with my daughter cuddled up and close. Because she’s a night owl, and I love to go to bed early we tended to fall asleep at the same time around 930pm.

But, I also had my suspicions that this need to fall asleep close to me was a pretext that was about emotions related to the doctor and the blood test. For two years she’d been perfectly happy falling asleep in her own bed. Even before that, (around 18 months) she’d naturally turn away from me to fall asleep, as if making a little space and distance for herself.

I was also noticing some changes in my daughter’s behaviour. She started waking early, which was really out of character. Ever since I’d used the Hand in Hand parenting approach to help her sleep through the night she’d always slept really well. Now if I took a shower or came into our bedroom to get something, she’d wake up.

As well as being clingy around the house I also noticed another change when we were out in public. She became very fearful around other children she didn’t know. If we went to a playground she would avoid the slide or the roundabout if there were other children using them. If playgrounds were full of lots of children, she just wouldn’t want to play at all.

We’d always been happy sleeping in one room and it suits our family as we live in a small apartment and it’s just the three of us. And if we had a big enough bed, I would happily co-sleep as it works for us.

But I began to see that letting my daughter fall asleep close to me every single night, wasn’t actually serving her. We may have been physically close, but I wasn’t listening deeply to the emotional struggles she was having, or making the space to hear them. She wasn’t able to lead a full and happy life when she wasn’t getting enough sleep, and was having fear triggered in everyday situations like the playground.

I wanted to help her release the fear that was making her feel scared to sleep in her own bed. I started with a bit of laughter. I started saying, I was going to lift her into her own bed. So I picked up my pillow, and tucked it into her bed. Then suddenly realising my mistake, I’d say, ”oh, hang on that’s not R, that’s my pillow!” I repeated it with lots of soft toys, and got some giggles flowing.

Then I realised that there wasn’t much I could do to get my daughter to fall asleep in her own bed other than physically move her. I didn’t want to do that. I knew she’d been in situations where she’d felt physical overwhelmed and powerless, and that physically force would not be a way to help her overcome this.

So I let her stay in my bed, and I began to tell her that I was going to leave the room and let her fall asleep by herself. She started to cry. I reassured her that she would be completely safe, and that I’d just be in the next room. I reassured her that I absolutely loved falling asleep cuddled up to her, and that I was doing this because I wanted to help her with her feelings. I told her that after I’d listened to the feelings we could have lots of nights, falling asleep cuddled up together. I told her that I wouldn’t leave her if she was crying, that we would wait until she was ready. I kept gradually trying to leave, moving a few cm’s further each time, and then coming back to stay with her when she got upset. I listened to three big cries, on three different nights with lots of cuddles, gradually trying to leave.

Then I noticed the changes. Within one night, she wasn’t waking early anymore, and was sleeping deeply, getting the right amount of sleep. That first morning she woke up and wasn’t clingy anymore. She played with her Lego by herself while I took a shower saying, ”I’m 4 and a half now. I can play by myself.”

She started being more adventurous physically. When we were on some escalators one day, she started walking to the top by herself (whereas before she would have always held my hand). When we went out with her scooter, she started trying going down hills for the first time. And when we went to the park she was happy to play alongside other children, smiling and glad to have their company. When one child was in the way, she said excuse me to them in Swiss German, rather than feeling like she had to be the one to get out of the way.

I think many of us (myself included!) can worry that separating at bedtime may be upsetting for young children. I wanted to write my story to show that when we stay close and work through the feelings, we can deepen our connection to our children and build their confidence.

Children thrive on physical closeness. But they also need to have emotional closeness. To be securely attached a child needs to internalise a deep sense of connection so that they can feel safe to venture out and explore their world. It could be to play on a roundabout  by themselves, or go on a playdate.

Fears and upsets can get in the way of that sense of connection to us, in effect our child clings to us, because they need an extra big dose of connection. Sometimes setting a limit and listening, is the most helpful thing we can do to our child, to help them release the upsets  that stand in the way of internalising that sense of connection.

All families have their own sleeping arrangements that work for them. It’s always good to trust your instincts about what your child needs at any particular time in their life.

Is there an area of your child’s life where they seem stuck or fearful? For example perhaps they can only be with mummy at bedtime, or they have to fall asleep with a pacifier (dummy). These may be places where you can set a limit and listen. The next day your child might surprise you in the ways they grow and shine, and can be their most confident, adventurous selves.

You might want to read this article too, Moving Your Child To His Own Bed To Sleep and Helping Children Conquer Their Fears

Reader Question – For A Toddler That Wakes Multiple Times A Night

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Dear Kate,

I’m struggling with my 22 month old son, who has a very  busy brain and wakes between 2 and 7 times a night. At first it was colic then he had hip issues. Now it’s dreams and hunger and general wanting to chat. From ‘E’

Dear E,

I’m sorry that you’re still dealing with so many wake-ups. One of the wonderful things about Hand in Hand parenting is that there’s a lot we can do in the daytime to help our child sleep well, and we can help improve our child’s sleep without using the cry-it-out approach.

One of the most common reasons that children wake is because they are experiencing stress and tension, and they are trying to process feelings. Children experience sleep as a separation so often when upset feelings bubble to the surface they wake up seeking connection to us.

Using all the Hand in Hand parenting tools described in this post can naturally help our children to sleep better. So it’s definitely worth reading the Hand in Hand booklets and implementing them as much as you can.

Sometimes children’s sleep issues are rooted in their early life. If they had a difficult birth, or they had a difficult start or lots of medical intervention, or separation early in life, they can need an extra big dose of connection to help them recover. Toddlers may use asking for things in the night such as food, as a pretext for deeper feelings they need to heal from.

Babies are born with an inbuilt way to release stress and tension, and naturally improve their sleep – crying. However it’s really common for us to get confused about our children’s crying. Most of us were never told about this natural healing process, so we may not recognise the times our child needs to cry to heal from upsets. We may stop them by distracting or avoiding tantrums when actually our child just needs to cry.

All we need to do to help our child sleep well, is simply let go of our need to control or manage their emotions. When we make space to listen to them, they will naturally be able to relax and sleep well through the night.

Staylistening is the tool, we can use to listen to upsets whenever they arise. If we can stay close and listen to our child, when there is nothing to fix, then they can naturally release the feelings that get in the way of their sleep.

Using special time (1-1 time spent with our children doing what they love) can help deepen your connection with your child, so that they internalise a sense of having you ‘there.’ This can mean they are less likely to wake, because it deepens their sense of safety and security. You might want to try some special time first thing in the morning, or as part of your child’s bedtime routine.

Laughter is the second way we naturally release stress and tension from our bodies. Playlistening means any kind of laughter play where our child is in the powerful role. This builds their confidence and sense of security. Lots of laughter throughout the day, can help them to release any tension that may come up at night if it’s not released in the day.

Hand in Hand parenting is based on the idea that our children are naturally good, loving and co-operative. Where does your child struggle? Where are they not co-operative? If you can find those moments and add some laughter, you are not only helping their ability to co-operate, you are also building the connection they need to sleep well. Take a look at this list of ten typical challenging moments for parents of toddlers, and try out some of the playlistening suggestions.

Allow lots of time and space for your children’s feelings in the day. So if for example your child throws a tantrum when you need to leave the house to meet a friend, see if you can send apologies to them and listen to the feelings rather than rushing out. This means the feelings are less likely to arise at night.

And if you try all this and your son is still waking. Have a read of the following sleep related articles, and see if they help too.

5 Sleep Secrets For Peaceful Nights 

Helping Young Children Sleep 

Still need some sleep help? Check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online self study course, Helping Young Children Sleep 

Would you like a Hand in Hand parenting solution to your parenting challenge? Leave me a comment or use the contact form here

Sleeping Through The Night Without Using Cry-it-out

Closeup of a baby girl sleeping in her mother's arms
Closeup of a baby girl sleeping in her mother’s arms

On Wednesday I co-hosted my second #SnoozeChat with @SnoozeShade and my interviewer @GreatNorthMum. This week’s topic was sleeping through the night without crying it out.

Firstly one of the things that motivates me to teach and write about Hand in Hand parenting is that there is a lot of the parenting advice out there is just wrong, and completely unscientific. Never has this been so true as with crying-it-out. Even the Doctor who invented crying it out, now admits that he made a mistake!

Crying-it-out is a really short term solution, that can worsen your child’s sleep in the long run. In the short term, a baby gives up on being responded to and may fall asleep from exhaustion, with a high level of stress hormones in their body. But as they get older they may start expressing all that stress through nightmares, or other challenging behaviour.

I think it’s really sad that so many parents are lacking good information on children and sleep. We often think our only two solutions are to ‘cry-it-out’ or ‘wait-it-out.’ That we can either wait until our child miraculously starts sleeping through the night, or that we have to resort to crying it out because sleep deprivation is making our lives really hard.

In the SnoozeChat I talked about the third way of helping older babies and toddler’s sleep through the night. It’s based on the fact that one of the most common reasons that older babies (who are not hungry) wake in the night is because of emotional reasons. Just like adults babies, and children often wake because of stress and tension.

Babies are actually born with a completely natural way to regulate their sleep, and sleep through the night when they are ready; that is crying.

When we first become parents we’re on a steep learning curve. Trying to decipher our babies cries, making sure we meet all their needs, and figuring out how to be the best expert on our baby.

One of the areas in which most new parents (including me!) get confused is with our baby’s crying. Nobody ever taught us that babies don’t just cry to get their needs met. They also cry to heal and recover from stress and upset.

So when we’ve triple checked we’ve met all our babies needs, and they’re still crying, then it’s possible they are crying to heal. For me the tell-tale signs were that this crying happened regularly, often in the evening. I kept assuming my daughter was hungry, but she just didn’t seem to want to breastfeed. I would bounce her around, trying to pace the room and use movement to quieten her, until I realised that what she actually needed was for me to sit with her and be comfortable with tears.

Babies actually need to cry a lot to recover from their arrival into the world, and to release stress and overstimulation. The psychotherapist Matthew Appleton, talks about the ‘cultural blind-spot,’ we have around birth and how it can be painful and traumatic for babies, as well as mothers.

Listening to tears is how we can help our babies recover, and when they can natural regulate their emotions they will sleep better.

We most notice times of the day when we’re avoiding our baby’s emotions by ‘shhhing’ them, feeding them when they aren’t hungry, or waving a toy in front of their face to distract them from the upset. When we stop their feelings, what we are actually doing, is stopping the natural process they have for sleeping well.

If we simply stay and listen, our babies will naturally be able to regulate their sleep, and they will sleep through the night, when they no longer need to wake to be fed (at least most of the time!.

Crying is an important signal our babies give us. We should always trust our instincts about what our baby needs at any moment, as we are the best experts on our children. We should also seek medical advice if we are concerned in any way.

As we get to know our baby, we may get an idea of when they are fine and well, and simply need to be held and cry to heal. That’s one of the most powerful gifts we can give them, our presence and acceptance of how they feel.

It was a great pleasure to share these wonderful ideas with @SnoozeShade. You can read the whole #SnoozeChat here.

And if this post resonates with you, please share it with the sleep deprived parents in our lives! Crying it out is never necessary. And the whole family will benefit from a good night’s sleep.

For more information about the healing power of tears check out my post in the Elephant Journal hereYou can also read my other sleep posts here

How Listening To Feelings Improves Sleep

Closeup of a baby girl sleeping in her mother's arms
Closeup of a baby girl sleeping in her mother’s arms

Yesterday I took part in my first ever twitter chat, talking about one of my favourite subjects; the emotional reasons for sleep challenges. I got interviewed for @SnoozeShade weekly #SnoozeChat.

It was really fun, and I loved the thoughtful questions that my interviewer, @JennyHicken asked me, as they were really a wonderful opportunity to share everything I learnt through Hand in Hand parenting.

And as Tweets are so brief, I decided I’d write a blog post here to expand on what we chatted about. You can check out the full twitter chat here.

So, one of the reasons I love chatting about sleep, is that the Hand in Hand parenting philosophy takes a really different approach – one that actually works! It’s because with Hand in Hand we look a bit deeper into what might be causing your child’s sleep problems.

So rather than focus solely on having a regular routine, we focus on the major reason babies and children have trouble falling asleep, wake early, or wake in the night – stress and emotional causes.

When I talk about stress, and children, parents often laugh at me. What could possible be making their child stressed? They don’t have jobs, they might not even go to preschool!

Well, stress can actually start in pregnancy. In the beginning our baby’s emotional life is intertwined with ours. If we experience stress, or emotional turmoil during pregnancy, that effects our baby too. Birth can also be a cause of stress for our baby, especially if it was a long or difficult process.

Our culture has a long history of not thinking too much about the emotional lives of babies. Because babies cry to communicate needs, we often think of our baby only in terms of needs, rather than emotions. For instance, they must be hungry, tired, cold etc. Especially as new parents, we’re so busy figuring out how to do our job, and meet our baby’s needs that it often doesn’t cross our minds that they can also cry for emotional reasons.

There will be times when our baby’s cry and they don’t have a need, and we can help them by simply holding them in our arms and being there. Hand in Hand parenting calls this Staylistening, it’s based on the research that crying is a healing process, and that when we cry, we actually release the stress hormone, cortisol from our body.  Allowing babies and children to process their emotions, and not trying to stop this healing process, is part of how they can naturally regulate their sleep.

With older toddlers, the emotional causes of their sleep issues may become much more obvious. Perhaps they get a new sibling and start school and then suddenly their sleep gets disrupted.

During the snoozechat I talked about the some of the things that can help. I explained the importance of listening to feelings, rather than trying to distract our child. I explained that if our child has a meltdown at bedtime, it’s always good to listen rather than try to distract and get on with the routine. I always notice with my daughter, that if she gets a chance to release her emotions, she’s in a much better mood the next day – even if it means a few minutes less sleep than normal.

And children who get their feelings listened to on a regular basis may not even wake up so early! As waking early can be a sign of emotional tension -listening helps with that too.

So that’s a brief summary of our chat. You can read it in full on twitter here.

And next week I’ll be co-hosting again, when we’ll be talking about sleeping through the night without using cry it out. Wednesday 30th March 11am GMT (12pm Central European time). Join us if you’d like to your questions answered.

Are you looking for more help for sleep? Read Sleeping Through The Night  and Five Sleep Secrets For Peaceful Nights. Hand in Hand Parenting also offers an online self study course. You can sign up to the mailing list here for more information. 

Giggle Parenting Inspiration – The benefits of laughter at bedtime

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When it comes to bedtime, most advice centres on getting children to wind down and relax. It’s all about slowing everything down. No screen-time, having a relaxing warm bath, a lavender candle or a meditation CD.

This can be helpful but one of the problems with most sleep advice out there is it doesn’t focus on the major cause of sleep issues : the emotional struggles that our children go through. Upset feelings often bubble up to the surface in the evening or in the middle of the night. Feelings are often what makes it hard for babies, children (and adults too!) to fall asleep, wake in the night or wake too early in the morning.

Listening to children’s upsets whenever they occur while giving lots of warmth and connection, can help them to release the feelings that cause sleep problems. Laughter can also help too.

Contrary to popular belief we should actually wind our children up before sleep! Roughhousing, and lots of giggles, can help children release any stress or remaining tension from the day. It also helps to build the connection that children need to feel safe to separate from us and fall asleep.

So bring on the laughter! If your child runs a mile when you suggest it’s bedtime, then perhaps have a fun game of chase, letting them escape so they take on the more powerful role. Or try to dress them in their pyjamas but ‘dress’ the pillow. Read their bedtime stories in a silly language, or have the book upside down, and wonder why the words are coming out all wrong. Put yourself to bed instead of your child. Each time you make a ‘mistake’ exclaim to your child about your confusion at how you just can’t seem to get it right. Repeat as long as you have the time, (or energy!) Laughter has been clinically proven to induce melatonin, the sleep hormone, so with every giggle your child will be closer to sleep.

Don’t be afraid for things to get a little wild! Connection breeds co-operation so play and laughter can actually help to dissolve the power struggles we may get into at bedtime. The best kind of laughter at bedtime is where children are in the more powerful role (what Hand in Hand Parenting calls Playlistening) so no tickling is allowed! Tickling can make children feel powerless, and causes involuntarily laughter, rather than the natural- tension releasing laughter that helps sleep. You can read more about why we don’t recommend tickling here.

So add a little laughter into your bedroom routine, and see the difference it makes!

Need more help?
Check out Hand in Hand Parenting’s online course Helping Young Children Sleep

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Sleeping Through the Night

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When my 6 month old daughter didn’t sleep through the night, I wasn’t really looking for a solution, I didn’t like the concept of sleep training. We co-slept so when she woke it was easy simply to just feed her and then fall back to sleep. I was still getting my full eight hours with a few short interruptions. I assumed that she would sleep through the night eventually.

But after eight months, nothing was changing. I started to wonder why she was waking more than she did as a newborn. When I fed her she didn’t seem that hungry, and just sucked for a minute or two before falling asleep again. I read about sleep cycles, and how a baby needed a way to soothe herself back to sleep. It made sense that other babies were self-soothing back to sleep with their thumbs or a dummy, whereas I was my daughter’s comfort mechanism. But I thought that this couldn’t be the full story. My daughter had on occasion slept in four hour stretches. She also always woke half an hour after falling asleep; I knew that had nothing to do with being hungry, or transitioning through sleep cycles.

Before my daughter was born, I’d read a book called The Aware Baby. The author Aletha Solter explains that in the first three months of life, all babies spend some time each day crying ‘for no apparent reason.’ She explains that this kind of crying has a healing function. In a study conducted by Dr. William Frey, he compared real ‘emotional’ tears with those caused by chopping onions. He found that emotional tears contained stress hormones such as cortisol and other toxins. Crying is a way that we can literally release stress and tension out of the body.

All babies inevitably experience stressful events, such as a difficult birth, medical interventions, or just the daily stress of getting to know their new stimulating world. The understanding that crying was healing made sense to me. I’d gone through a difficult period in my life in my mid-twenties, when I’d felt depressed and physically exhausted. I’d written for therapy, done yoga, meditation, and also deep tissue massage. I often found that these modalities took me deeper into my sadness, and I would release my feelings through crying. I always felt much better afterwards, and eventually my depression lifted, and I felt a renewed sense of self and happiness.

Knowing about the healing function of crying helped me through the early colicy days of my daughter’s life. There were times when I didn’t bounce my daughter, pace the room or feed her. There were times, when nothing much worked but to listen. And what I found were those were the times when I’d had the deepest connection with her. By witnessing this pain that she felt, I felt connected to her deepest self. It was heartbreaking that she needed to cry so much, that she had so much suffering inside of her. But it also felt wonderful that she had this way to heal. Her birth had been difficult, but now I was able to cuddle her close to me, and tell her she was safe now as she expressed these strong feelings.

During the first few months of my daughter’s life, I fed her whenever she cried. As I didn’t use a dummy or, put her to sleep by herself, it seemed natural that eating and sleeping became intertwined. I fed her to sleep, but after a couple of months, that stopped working easily, so I would pace the room until she was more sleepy, and then try to feed her to sleep again. It took me a while to realise that these were what Aletha Solter, calls ‘control patterns;’ things to stop the crying that become habits that the baby comes to rely upon. I had thought I was helping her to sleep, but then I began to think, maybe what I was actually doing was repressing the feelings that she wanted to let out before she slept.

So next time my daughter needed to take a nap, I sat on the bed, and held her. She made some slow tired cries, and I watched her face look visibly more and more relaxed.

She looked so peaceful, as if she had been doing some baby yoga or meditation! She fell asleep much more easily than if I was pacing the room. I did this a few times, but I still felt some confusion about whether it was really okay just to let her cry. Sometimes she would ask to breastfeed, and then I would feed her. It wasn’t long before the habit of feeding to sleep had crept back. Yet occasionally I thought to myself, that she probably wasn’t hungry, and was just asking out of habit, because if we were out, then she would just fall asleep in her buggy without needing milk.

When my daughter was eight months old, I realised she was hardly crying at all. I still believed in the idea that crying was healing. And I missed that deep connection that I had with her when she cried. I noticed that when I fed her to sleep at night, she seemed to wriggle around a lot and have a lot of tension in her body. Feeding her to sleep wasn’t helping her relax. I reread The Aware Baby and realised that I’d forgotten most of its contents since my daughter had been born! My daughter was feeding every two hours, which I had always been puzzled by. All of the other babies I knew went 3 or 4 hours between feeds. Aletha Solter, explains that breastfeeding every two hours can be a sign that it has become a ‘control pattern.’ Other babies might have been using pacifiers or movement as their control patterns, but for us it was breastfeeding. I also realised that because breastfeeding was a control pattern, then she would ask for the breast out of habit even when she wasn’t hungry.

Aletha Solter also says that all healthy babies over six months of age are able to sleep through the night. She explains that babies above this age wake because of emotional tension. Just like adults, babies who have stress and tension, have trouble with sleep. I decided to try again, and let my daughter fall asleep without breastfeeding. This time the cries were powerful. I sometimes doubted whether I was doing the right thing, but then I’d look at her face, when she’d just fallen asleep after a big cry. She would smile and even giggle sometimes as she fell into dreams. It was clear that she’d cried away her upset and felt peaceful again.

I felt more certain that listening to her cry was the most loving thing I could do, and started looking for more resources to support me. The idea seemed so different to what I read and heard everywhere that I needed to know there were other parent educators and thinkers out there who understood the healing nature of crying. I returned to a website I’d looked at before called Hand in Hand parenting. I read some articles, and was relieved to hear Patty Wipfler’s compassionate advice, that it’s natural that in the close breastfeeding relationship children often come to depend on the breast for comfort. I downloaded a podcast from Hand in Hand, called ‘Helping your child sleep.’ These ideas, along with Aletha Solter’s, helped me to figure out what I needed to do to help my daughter sleep.

I started with the first time she woke up, at 9pm. Instead of feeding her I held her instead. She cried for just a few minutes and then fell back to sleep. I fed her as normal for the rest of the night. The next night, she slept right through the time of her first waking the night before, and didn’t wake up till 11pm. When she woke I repeated the process of holding her instead of feeding her. The next night she slept right the way through till 1am!

Sometimes when she woke, I could just hug her, and that would be enough for her to fall asleep. Other times she would have a big cry. Within a couple weeks she was sleeping through the night, and she now sleeps through the night, all of the time, apart from the occasional illness or emotional upset. She has become more relaxed and confident, as a result of being able to release her feelings through crying. And I feel so much closer to her, now that I’ve learnt how to listen to her more closely, rather than simply trying to stop her from crying.

In all the debate about baby’s sleep the experts divide into two factions. On the one side, there are those that think we should leave a baby to cry it out, so that they learn to sleep on their own. On the other side are the ones that think we should do whatever we need to do to stop our children from crying. But there is a third way that involves a deeper understanding about the nature of crying. That we don’t have to leave our children alone when they cry, that we can hold them and support them, and help them heal, so that they naturally sleep better.

We as parents often seem compelled to stop our children from crying. We think of this as parental instinct. But what feels like an instinct is actually a learnt behaviour that comes from our own childhoods. As psychiatrist Dan Siegal says, ‘we learn to parent, when we ourselves are being parented.’ Very few of us were listened to fully when we had upsets. Our parents might have thought it kindest to just stop the crying as quickly as possible. They may have told us to stop crying, ignored us, or said things such as ‘don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.’

When we take the time to listen to our own children it can trigger the strong feelings of not being listened to as children. This and the common cultural idea that crying is a negative behaviour we must stop as quickly as possible makes it hard for us to listen to our children cry.

Now when my daughter cries, I don’t actually think of it as a ‘bad’ thing. Of course I’d rather she was happy and smiling, but when she cries, I know she’s doing the most intelligent thing she can, healing from her hurts and upsets. When we listen to our children when they have upset feelings, they can heal from the stress and tension that cause off-track behaviour such as aggression. Our children use ‘misbehaviour’ as a red flag to tell us they’re not feeling good. Listening allows our children to express their feelings through crying so they don’t have to resort to more indirect ways to tell us how they’re feeling.

Listening to our children cry is not easy, particularly if we weren’t listened to as children. In order to listen to our children well, we need to be listened to ourselves. Hand in Hand parenting has a wonderful (and completely free!) listening partnership scheme where parents can get together and exchange listening time with each other. This helps us to work through some of our difficulties, and to find our sense of well-being again. I’m always amazed at how spending ten minutes talking about my feelings after an exhausting day with my daughter, gives me such a sense of renewed energy that I can delight in being with her again.

Adults do not cry as easily as children, and this is partly because our feelings were suppressed when we were young. Through my listening partnerships I’m rediscovering my ability to cry easily, and learning first hand about just how healing crying can be. What I’ve learnt is that it’s never too late to find ways to heal, and change and develop as a person. Throughout my life I’ve met many people like me, looking for ways to shed that baggage they have carried throughout their lives. What a wonderful gift it is to give our children, to help them heal while they are still young, before the baggage gets too heavy. They can grow up retaining the lightness they have as children.

Are sleep struggles with your child leaving you exhausted? Hand in Hand Parenting offers an online self study course. Click here for more details. 

This article was previously published in Juno Magazine, issue 34.

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