The Cry It Out Debate Has Ended: Here’s Why

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This week I came across a debate on facebook about ‘cry it out’. Someone had posted this article,  in which one mum honestly describes her version of cry-it-out and why she did it. The mum also questions some of the research about cry-it-out, because they have an obviously anti-cry-it-out bias, and that articles presenting the science don’t talk about the studies’ limitations.

I’m not writing this post to assess the validity of the research. But I always feel a little sad and frustrated by the fact that we are still having a debate about whether cry-it-out is okay.

See, what the majority of parents don’t know is that the cry-it-out debate has ended. It actually ended over 30 years ago when psychologist Aletha Solter, and parent educator Patty Wipfler started sharing about the importance of listening to tears.

What they found, and what thousands of parents have since found is that babies cry for two reasons; one to get their needs met and also to release stress and upset. The stress hormone cortisol is released through tears. When a baby cries for a need we should of course meet that need as quickly as possible, but when they cry to heal and recover from stress and upset, we shouldn’t try to stop those tears. Dr. Deborah Macnamara says it best, ”crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt.” If all our baby’s needs are met, and we are sure they are in good health, and not in pain, then we don’t need to do anything to ‘fix’ the crying, we can simply listen. When we go through this process of listening, holding our babies and staying close, then they  naturally sleep well.

This week a parent asked me if there was any science to show that babies who are listened to sleep better. There isn’t any direct science. And for good reason. Until recently the healing power of tears has been almost hidden in our society. When we were young there was almost no awareness of it at all. And so when we cried, our parents had no idea that there were times we simply needed to be listened to. We would have been rocked or ‘shhhed’ or bounced, or fed when we weren’t hungry, or pretty much anything our parents could think to do to stop the crying.

Our entire society is built upon not listening to feelings. The message to just stop the crying is deeply ingrained in every parent, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to begin to see it. That’s why scientists haven’t yet researched what happens when we listen to tears in babies. Until now the message has only been heard on the periphery of our society.

And this is why we are still stuck in a debate about cry-it-out. Society as a whole has been missing this vital piece of information that babies need to cry in the loving arms of a caregiver to sleep well. We have been trying to get our children to sleep by going against their nature to cry to heal. It’s no wonder that so many of us have struggled!

It’s testament to how distorted our society’s attitude to feelings is that leaving a baby alone to cry-it-out is considered a necessary option, because the idea of staying with a baby’s feelings, is not.

It was really hard for me to process this information when I first heard it. Was it really okay just to stay listen to my daughter cry without doing anything to stop the tears? It took me a long time to untangle my natural instinct to love and nurture my daughter from my ‘instinct’ to stop her from crying, when she didn’t have a need. Each step of the way I talked, and read and thought about what I was doing, so I was sure I was making the right choice.

The reason it’s hard to listen to tears is because it activates our own memories of hurt from our childhood. Memories, often unconscious of how our parents didn’t want to listen, they just wanted to stop us from expressing how we felt.

Through Hand in Hand Parenting, I’ve heard so many stories from parents who have helped their baby’s and children sleep better by listening to tears, play, connection, and giggles. Listening really does work.

We need to move on from the debate about ‘cry-it-out,’ and instead focus on listening. We need to tell our own childhood stories, and heal from them, so that we can then look honestly at our own reactions and impulses to stop tears. Not only will we as a society then have more sleep, we’ll be an emotionally healthier society too.

Further Resources

My story of how I helped my daughter sleep through the night

The Hand in Hand Parenting website has articles and anecdotes about helping with sleep.

Hand in Hand Parenting’s online self-study course, Helping Young Children Sleep.

My book Tears Heal How to listen to our children : has everything you need to know about listening to tears, and it includes a chapter on sleep.

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The Time To Listen To Tears

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A few days ago my daughter fell down hard on her knees outside our apartment. Afterwards she walked a few steps, and then was crying so much that I picked her up and carried her home. She kept crying for a long time, and then after that she didn’t want to walk. I wanted to take her leggings off to spray some antiseptic on them and it took a long, long time and lots of staylistening for her to feel comfortable for me to even do this.

It didn’t occur to me that anything was broken. Although the crying was initially about the pain, it also seemed to be emotional, about the shock of what happened and the fear of seeing blood.

When the next day she still didn’t want to walk I put her in her buggy and took her to the doctor. When the doctor started touching her legs,  she screamed and started crying and crying. I listened to her, and tried to explain that the doctor needed to look at her legs. She kept crying and crying, holding out her arms to me.

I tried to explain to the doctor, that she ‘just need some time.’ I knew that if she had time to express her fear, she would then feel okay about being examined. The doctor immediately snapped back, ”I don’t have time, I’ve got patients to see.”

This was why I hadn’t immediately rushed out to the doctor’s the day before. Doctor’s don’t have time. They are busy, hardworking people, and the average GP (general doctor in British English) doesn’t have the time to consider feelings as part of their patient care.

However, I think this is a mistake. Crying is an important part of our physical health. Dr. Deanna Minich says, ‘crying is a form of detox in which we let go of our stored emotions and inner pain. It also literally eliminates inflammatory compounds, cytokines and chemokines. People who cry easily in response to emotion might even have fewer symptoms and better health than those who restrain their tears.’

The doctor was thinking about the physical well-being of my daughter but what he didn’t understand was that her crying was part of her body’s natural healing ability. If we interrupted her crying we were actually interrupting  the healing work she needed as part of her recovery process.

I wanted to be my daughter’s advocate, I wanted to be able to let her cry for as long as she needed without anyone distracting her or trying to fix, and without anyone forcibly removing her leggings and examining her before she was ready. However I also knew that unfortunately most people don’t have time to listen to children.

Luckily the doctor decided that since she was crying so much we were better off going to the children’s hospital. On the way my daughter was able to cry some more, while I reassured her. By the time we got there she was calm. We had a wonderful doctor who used humour and connection with my daughter. He talked to her and asked her questions rather than me and my husband. The respect he gave her helped her to feel safe. She didn’t cry at all as he pressed the different parts of her legs to check them.

There were no broken bones, and she simply needed to rest until the swelling went down.

The next day she had much more movement in her legs. At one point we had to go out, and she got very agitated about her blanket not being in the right position on her buggy. I sensed she had some more feelings under the surface, so I set a limit with her and I told her I would help to fix it. She cried, and as she cried, and kicked and moved her legs much more than she had the day before. She told me, ”I’m never going to get back to normal.”

I was glad I noticed this ‘broken cookie’ moment and realised that the upset went much deeper than the position of her blanket. I was able to reassure her that she was healing, and already doing much better. At one point she ran across the room in anger,  cried some more and then asked me to come and hug her. It was amazing to watch this natural healing process in action, and how expressing her feelings, helped her feel more confident and find the movement again in her legs.

This is why the greatest gift we can give our children is to find the time to listen to their tears. Doctor’s don’t have the time, with packed schedules and many patients to see. Teachers rarely have the time, with the needs of 20 or 30 children to consider. Everyone does their best, but we are living in a world where the majority of people just don’t understand the importance of listening to tears. I hope one day they do. What a happier and healthier world that would be.

Would you like help to prepare your child for doctor visits? Check out Hand in Hand parenting’s free podcast here

Learn more about how setting limits helps children heal with Hand in Hand parenting’s free setting limits e-book or the online self-study course, Setting Limits And Building Co-operation

Life with Baby Kicks

The Parenting Revolution You Might Not Have Heard About

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I started this blog and wrote my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children because I wanted to share the amazing life-changing information that crying is a healing process, that it is part of the natural  way we recover from stress and upset. And that when we can listen to our children’s tears, without trying to distract or stop them from expressing emotions, we can help them to heal the hurts that cause their ‘misbehaviour.’

I wanted to share that aggression, or whining, or sleep struggles, or having trouble sharing, are not an inevitable part of parenting young children, and that listening, play and connection, can allow them to be their natural, co-operative selves.

I wanted to share this message with as many parents as possible that because of our own childhood we have this unconscious urge to try and stop our children from crying, to distract or fix, because deep down, we aren’t comfortable with our children’s tears.

I wanted to share the amazing resources available from Hand in Hand parenting, for giving us the strength and patience to deal with our children’s emotional moments, and to grow and heal along with them too.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you probably do know about this parenting revolution.

A while back I read this fantastic article by Heidi Stevens, To Stop A Tantrum You Just Have To Go With It And then this week I read Dr. Shefali’s 3 Mistakes Every Parent Makes During A Meltdown, with wonderful advice, (even if it’s a slightly inaccurate title!) about how to stay present and calm in our child’s stormy moments.

These were both great articles, but they both came from the assumption that they were the first person to discover these ‘tantrum managing’ tricks. This vital parenting information is still relatively unknown. For example I noticed a blog about how to stop tantrums had been shared 75,000 times on Facebook.

We are in the minority of parents, but we are a strong minority  who are passionate about sharing what we’ve learnt, and changing the lives of not just our own children, but other children as well.

So I wanted to open up my blog to anyone else who would like to write about their journey to discover the healing power of tears.

I’m looking for stories from parents about how they first discovered that crying was a healing process. I’d love to hear about the thought process you went through, and how your parenting, your child’s behaviour, and your family life was transformed. I’d love to hear about the doubts and confusion you might have felt at first, about learning something that is completely different to the way our culture deals with children’s upsets. And I’d love to hear about how you build support for yourself to deal with your child’s challenging emotions, and behaviour.

I’m looking for anything between 400-1500 words. Here’s my story here .

Lets share our parenting revolution with the world!

And if you’d like to discover more about listening to tears and Hand in Hand parenting, here are few useful posts to get started.

Why this isn’t another article about how to stop tantrums

The secret to transforming tantrums

The secret weapon every parent needs to know about

10 Ways That Laughter Can Transform Your Day

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In our lives with a young child there may be many challenging moments, that make us feel stressed out, serious and frustrated, getting locked in a power struggle with our kids. A lot of these occur when we want our child to do something that they don’t want to do. The more we try to force the issue the more our child resists.

Hand in Hand parenting, is all about redistributing the power balance, being flexible with our kids, and then seeing their own flexibility and natural co-operation shining through.

Playlistening is what we call it, when we put ourselves in the less powerful role, to get the giggles going. Laughter releases the tension our child feels and builds connection between ourselves and our child. After a bit of laughter our child is often much more likely to co-operate with us. It’s a powerful effective way to get out of a power struggle and on with the day.

Here are ten awkward moments where laughter can save the day. Repeat as necessary until the giggles (or you!) are exhausted.

  1. Getting Dressed – If you’re toddler’s refusing to get dressed it can leave you feeling irritated and impatient, but luckily there’s plenty of fuel for giggles in the dressing process. Try putting on a ‘serious,’ voice and say, ”come on now lets put these trousers on’ and end up putting them on their arms. Put their socks on their hands, or their pants on their head. Put their cardigan on back to front, or their feet in the arm holes. Children absolutely love it when we make mistakes. It helps to build their confidence when they can be the competent one, telling us that we are getting it all wrong. And then they’ll be sure to tell us the right way to put on their clothes, and maybe even co-operate!
  2. Brushing Hair – When my daughter refused to let me brush her hair she would instantly change her mind if a teddy or doll wanted to do it. Somehow the teddy was always much more gentle than me, and never accidentally pulled too hard. If a bit of laughter is needed try brushing your child’s hair with other household objects like a spoon or a sock, and then exclaim, ”Oh dear! That’s not a hairbrush, I keep getting it wrong.”
  3. Getting Out of The House – Grab a teddy or doll, and try to put your child’s coat and shoes on. Take them to do the door, and say ”come on (child’s name) it’s time to go,” then suddenly realise your mistake, and exclaim, ‘oh dear, that’s not the right person! Let me try again.”
  4. During Mealtimes – Toddler’s can be fussy, and often their fears and anxieties can be projected onto food. Put yourself in the less powerful role, by being playfully afraid of your food. Pick up a fork of food, scrunch up your nose and ”oooh I don’t know what this strange food is.” Or try picking food up with your fork, and keep dropping it by ‘mistake.’ Or try feeding your ears or nose, and then exclaim with mock frustration that you keep getting it wrong. After a few giggles your toddler may forget all about being cautious and get on with the meal.
  5. If your toddler is having trouble sharing – then grab an object and say invitingly, this is my car/doll/toy, and I don’t want anyone to take it off me. Let your child creep up to you, grab the object and run away. Chase them but always let them win, so they are the powerful role. Repeat with another object or the same one if they put it down. This and similar games help your child to release competitive feelings and be more generous with friends.
  6. When your toddler’s being clingy – Say, ”oh there’s a baby stuck to me, how did she get there? ” Try to unstick yourself but always let them win. As you shower them in playful affection, they can release their clingyness with giggles.
  7. If your toddler is aggressive – then turn the tables around, and let them fight you. Playfully catch their kicks, or punches, have a pillow fight, or try some roughousing which has been shown to reduce aggression in children. Giving children an outlet for their feelings in play with you, means they don’t need to bring them up with other children.
  8. When your toddler is whiny or moaning, or complaining abut being bored – Have a clothes fight! Grab some clothes, and divide family members into teams. Have one team on a bed trying to throw clothes onto the floor, and another team on the floor trying to throw the clothes onto the bed. This is a great mood shifter. Let the fun and giggles commence!
  9. Cleaning Teeth – Pretend to clean your kids ears, or nose, and keep exclaiming that you are getting it wrong. Or try to brush your kid’s teeth and end up with a flying toothbrush that keeps landing in surprising places like the bath, sink, or even another room instead of your child’s mouth.
  10. Bedtime – When there’s still time to play in the evening, put your child into their bed, and then say invitingly, ”I hope you don’t get out of bed ” and leave the door open, as you leave. Let them run out of the room and appear. Act all surprised and then say, ”oh dear, I better get you back to bed again.” Repeat until any excess energy or tension has disappeared, and your child is happy to go to sleep for real. Laughter induces melatonin the sleep hormone, so this is the perfect way to end the day.

I hope this list makes your day go more smoothly. Are there any other scenarios that you’d like a ‘laughter cure’ for? Leave me a comment, and I’ll try to think up some games!

For more info about the Hand in Hand approach to aggression check out their online self-study course, Help Your Child With Aggression

Diary of an imperfect mum

10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day

 

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Special time is a simple yet powerful tool that can transform family life. Simply tell your child they have 10-15 minutes to do whatever they like with you there to shower them with warmth love and attention.

Set a timer so you and your child has a clear idea of how long it will last. Don’t skip this step! There’s something magical that happens when we put the timer on, and set the intention to really give our child our complete  attention. No mobile phone checking or dinner preparing allowed!

Here are ten ways that you can use short bursts of special time to transform your day, and make things go more smoothly. Even 5-10 minutes can make a difference.

  1. First thing in the morning – If we have to rush out of the house to go to daycare and school then our focus can be on results rather than connection. But before trying to persuade our child to get dressed, brush hair and clean teeth, it can be really powerful to start the day on their terms instead. Connection builds co-operation with our children. It’s been scientifically proven. So if we spend 5-10 minutes doing special time, we’ll often find that it’s an investment of time that makes our kids more likely to co-operate when we tell them to get dressed etc. I love this story of how just 5 minutes can make a difference.
  2. Before doing household chores – When we do special time with our children something magical happens. They begin to internalise that close connection with us, so that after special time is finished they’ll be more likely to be happy to continue to play independently while we get on with a bit of cooking and tidying up. You can read more in  this story. This isn’t 100% guaranteed to happen all of the time. Sometimes our kids might be upset that special time has finished. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After soaking up our warm attention often children’s feelings of upset bubble up to the surface, and crying can be a healing process to let them go so they feel better connected to us. Staylistening through the upset can help us stay calm until we get to the other side.
  3. Coming home at the end of the day After a busy day out of the house, whether or not that involves being separated from us, our children may hunger for some warm 1-1 time with us. Special time can act as a bridge between the outside world and home life, helping our child to relax, and get connected to us again.
  4. When your child is whiney, moany or acting off-track – The brain science behind children’s ‘misbehaviour’ points to the fact that they don’t want to act in ways that drive us crazy. It’s just that when children feel disconnected from us, they literally can’t think. The emotional part of their brain, the limbic system senses a kind of ’emotional emergency’ so the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for rationalising and reasoning can’t function well. When children act off-track it’s like they’re sending a red flag saying, ”hey I can’t think I need some connection!” Giving special time during these moments is the ultimate unconditional connection, so our children know we will be there for them no matter how off-track they are. They can soak up our connection, and that along with the other Hand in Hand parenting listening tools is how their behaviour gets back on track.
  5. When you are feeling slightly off-track If you are not having a good day, and are feeling a bit low yourself, but still have a bit of attention to give, then special time can help the parent too! Just like our children long for deep, quality attention with us, we also of course long for those deep, connections with our children. It’s just that sometimes our own responsibilities, and stress can make it hard to give. If we take a leap, and offer a short 1o minute special time, then we get to soak up that warm sense of connection too. If even a short special time feels like too much, then we have a tool that can help!
  6. Before a playdate or when company are coming over Does your child have trouble sharing when their friends come over? Or do they struggle to let you have an adult conversation when extended family or your friends are round? Special time can help to give your child the warm sense of connection they need to be able to share you with others. Also when children are well-connected they can think well, they’ll be more likely to be able to share their toys naturally without us having to persuade them to do so.
  7. Before bed – Children experience sleep as a separation, and often it’s late at night that feelings bubble up that they need our help to deal with. Adding 5 or 10 minutes of special time to our evening routine can be really helpful for children who take a long time to fall asleep, or wake in the night. They internalise a close connection with us, so don’t wake in the night feeling disconnected and needing us.
  8. When you need your child to do something and they aren’t co-operating – If you need to leave the house, or brush your child’s hair and they just aren’t co-operating then special time can help you both take a breather from a frustrating power struggle. After a short special time, they may be feeling more connected and be more able to co-operate with you.
  9. If your child has been watching TV or using electronics – Sometimes the lure of a screen can make our children feel disconnected from us. They don’t seem to ask or need our connection as much while they’re having screen time, but later they may need an extra dose of connection with us. If I’m worried my daughter’s been glued to the screen a lot. I’ll offer her special time, and she often prefers this to TV! I just need enough energy myself to be able to give attention rather than rely on an ‘electronic babysitter.’ Listening time is essential!
  10. If you need to go out – So if you’re lucky enough to have the time and energy for a date night, or night out with friends, then special time can be the perfect way to say goodbye. A 5-10 minute dose of quality attention, can help your child to internalise that deep sense of connection with you, so even if you’re away for an evening or a night, they feel safe and secure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of ways to make special time a part of your daily life.  Feel free to comment if you have any stories or questions. I’d love to hear how you get on with this wonderful tool!

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Feeling and Thinking

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A few weeks ago my daughter R started at a German speaking forest playgroup. It’s a lovely group where they walk into the forest, build a fire, sing songs, and make crafts out of clay and natural materials. She looked happy setting off on the adventure for the first time without me, and returned happy and excited to see me again.

A few days later, my English friend told me she would be visiting the playgroup with her daughter K, (R’s best friend). They were thinking of starting in the next school year in August. A few days after that R said she didn’t want to go back to the playgroup. I wondered why as she’d seemed so happy with the whole experience. For a few days I talked about it with her from time to time, and she seemed adamant she didn’t want to go back, that she didn’t like the things they do there.

Although I was loving the time to myself, I didn’t want to go against my daughter’s wishes, so I sent a message to cancel her place. She had tried one forest playgroup before, that she hadn’t liked. It had been very different and much longer, but I became resigned to the fact that she just didn’t like forest playgroups!

I didn’t want to cancel the place entirely, as it really is a lovely group. So I asked R if she wanted to start in August instead when her friend K was starting, and she said yes. I then sent a message to the playgroup leader.

An hour later my daughter was swinging on the swing in our garden. I was pushing her really high, and she was having fun. Suddenly she said, ‘’I do want to go to the forest playgroup on Thursday!’’ I told her that I’d cancelled the place, that I wasn’t sure if she still could. She started to cry.

I’m so glad to have discovered the Parenting by Connection approach, and to know that when she does get upset, it’s a natural healing process, that releases stress and upset, and that it helps so much just to listen rather than fixing things immediately. So I hugged her and allowed her to finish crying, and said I was sorry I cancelled the place, I just thought she didn’t want to go. I didn’t rush off to sort out the issue immediately. In that moment I just concentrated on listening to her, as I felt that would help release whatever feelings were tied up in her indecisiveness about the playgroup. My mind was focused on listening rather than ‘’fixing’’ so it took me a few minutes to think about the fact that since I’d only just sent the message I could probably ask for the place back and it wouldn’t be too late, and Ruby was happy with that.

She finished crying, and as we walked back inside, she said to me, ‘’I think I should listen really carefully to what M says.’’ M is a German speaking girl she knows well from her dance class, and another playgroup they go to together. They seem to like each other a lot even though they can’t communicate verbally.

It always amazes me just how the brain works. That when we can release our emotions, in the natural process of crying, then we can often come up with new solutions to the problems we face. This was a perfect example of this. That the root of my daughter’s indecisiveness, was her feelings about being in an environment where she didn’t speak the language. The disapointment about the playgroup was like a trigger which seemed to release some of those feelings, so she could think more clearly and come up with a new plan – to listen carefully to her German friend, and start learning German.

Our children are amazing! They can often figure things out for themselves and come up with their own solutions, provided we are there, to help them through their emotional upsets.

After that my daughter was completely sure that she definitely wanted to go back. She enjoyed her second week at forest playgroup, and I’m so glad to have these tools, to help her overcome her anxieties, and worries, so that she can build confidence and resilience as she explores the big wide world.

The Wrong Way

 

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I went to the supermarket with my daughter, and it was so frustrating! She was constantly picking up things from the shelves, and running away from me, which she found hilarious. I was not so amused, although I tried to let her have a good laugh about pulling some toilet rolls off the shelves, because I know that she needed to release some emotions. But my self-consciousness was getting the better of me, and I quickly rushed us away to pay.

We hadn’t been laughing much together recently, and I was wondering when my ‘laughter inspiration’ was going to strike. It seemed like I just couldn’t seem to think of anything to get her laughing, and it was showing in her behaviour. I felt like I was constantly being serious, and setting limits, which wasn’t making us feel very well connected. I was feeling stressed by her whining, and other off-track behaviour, such as shouting ‘bum bum’ and ‘poo poo’ very loudly when we were in public!

On the way to catch the train home, my daughter started complaining that I was going the wrong way, because I’d chosen to go a slightly shadier route to stay out of the sun. Suddenly I had an idea, I saw a flight of steps, and turned her buggy, so we suddenly stopped in front of them. ”Whoops! We went the wrong way.” I said, and she started giggling. We carried on walking for a bit, and I saw an alleyway, so I turned down there, ”oh no, the wrong way!” I said, and she was giggling again. We carried on the game for the whole journey, bumping into lampposts and fences, spinning the buggy round in a circle, or tipping it up as we made a sudden turning and went the wrong way. My daughter joined in pointing out ways, and saying ‘lets try this way,” and every time I exclaimed, ‘whoops, it’s the wrong way!” she laughed and laughed. When we got home, we were still going the wrong way, bumping into the wall in the basement, and stopping suddenly in front of a doorway instead of the elevator.  We felt much more happy and connected.

Laughter is such a vital connection tool, and I’ve seen time and time again, that after my daughter laughs a lot, tears will come later. Like the rain after the sunshine, it’s all part of our innate natural healing process, to get rid of all the yucky feelings we can get filled up with. I’m not always filled with laughter inspiration, and it can sometimes be emotionally exhausting listening to my daughter’s upsets. But it’s a million times more rewarding than having to deal with the kind of behaviours that drive me crazy, and leave me feeling stressed and exhausted anyway! Listening partnerships help a lot, we need to release stress, with laughter and tears too.

If you have a toddler, and want to brighten up your day a bit, why not try going the wrong way? I’d love to hear how it goes. A variation of this game is if you are walking on a shopping street, holding hands with your child, you could try going into the wrong shop, turning and then stopping outside different shops. It’s even more amusing and a bit naughty if the shop has automatic doors, and the benefit in a bit of ‘prescribed naughtiness,’ is that it improves our child’s co-operation the rest of the time. So maybe next time that trip to the supermarket won’t be so frustrating after all.

And if you’re stuck for laughter inspiration too, then check out this list of laughter games, which is fantastic for young children.