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

When Your Child Pushes You – Giggle Parenting Inspiration

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Has this ever happened to you? Your child walks up to you, looks you right in the eye, and then completely out of the blue, pushes you?

Sometimes children ask for connection in the most challenging of ways. And it’s not their fault. In this article here, Patty Wipfler explains why children act aggressive when they are feeling disconnected, and how this can trigger fear and upset that causes them to lash out. Sometimes this disconnection can happen because of difficult experiences where they felt scared.

We probably don’t even need to tell our children that pushing or hitting is wrong (no child really wants to hurt others). What they do need us to is help them to process whatever stress or upset is behind their behaviour. Listening to tears can help. Laughter also plays a part.

It can take a lot of patience and understanding to save the lectures and act in a connecting way when your child lashes out. If you can manage the following game, it’s a great way to prevent aggressive behaviour from recurring. So when your child pushes you you might want to say in a playful way, ”hey!” and then actually encourage the behaviour. Tell your child that you hope they don’t push you into the living room/bathroom etc. And then stand waiting for them to push you. I’m sure they’ll take you up on your offer to play!l When you get there act all surprised about what you’re doing there. Repeat as long as they are laughing. Try pushing back (as long as it’s not to hard!) and walk backwards if that gets your child giggling.

Read here why getting giggles out in the moment actually reduces off-track behaviour.

For further reading Larry Cohen’s Playful Parenting is packed full of Giggle Parenting ideas.

Are you looking for some giggle parenting inspiration? Sign up to follow my blog for weekly ‘giggle games’ for all your family challenges. You’ll find a button to sign up in the top right hand corner of this page. Click here for the giggle parenting archives

Do you have a family challenge you’d like a laughter cure for? Just leave me a comment or connect with me via facebook and I can find a giggle answer for you!

Aeroplane Games

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When my daughter was about 12 months old we went on a long summer trip and took quite a few plane flights. If I was lucky my daughter would sleep, but if not, she would be restless and frustrated because she couldn’t get down and crawl. I had a big bag of toys to try and keep her entertained but she never seemed that interested in them.

On this occasion, she was sitting on my lap. I pulled my cardigan over me to keep warm, and she grabbed it, threw it onto the floor and laughed. It became a game. I would make a big deal out of trying to put my cardigan over me, then she would pull it away, and delightedly throw it onto the floor. We played it over and over again, as she laughed and laughed. Then we enjoyed the rest of the flights as she sat contently on my lap, playing with a plastic cup.

When we travelled a lot by public transport, and when I saw her looking a bit bored and listless in her buggy I try to initiate a quick playlistening session with her. It could be tossing around her socks, and being surprised where they land, or begging her not to throw her toy onto the floor. The laughter helped us both to relax, and gave me more patience, so I wasn’t just focused on getting to our destination, but also enjoying these little moments of connection along the way.

Playlistening is any kind of play where are child laughs while we are in the less powerful role. It can help our child to release stress and frustration that can be common while travelling.

When we go on a journey we may focus on the ‘things’ we need to entertain our baby or toddler but often what they actually need most is a warm relaxed connection with us. If you are travelling this summer be sure to pack some playlistening games in your suitcase!

To find out more about playlistening read my post Giggle Parenting: The Best ‘Discipline’ Tool Out There!

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.

What’s laughter got to do with it?

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I started this blog to share the message that listening to tears helps our children to fully express their feelings, so that they are free of the upsets that cause all those off-track kinds of behaviour, such as aggression, whining and all the other challenging behaviours we have to deal with as parents! But I should also mention laughter. Laughter is also part of the way we naturally release stress and tension from our bodies, and there are many physical and emotional health benefits too.

When my daughter was 16 months old, we had a busy time travelling back to the UK for Christmas. We ended up all being ill and the travel combined with the illness meant I didn’t spend much time connecting with her.

When we arrived back home she started fighting me over everything; getting dressed, nappy changing, and going in her buggy. I assumed it was because she was getting older, and I was nervous about how things would become more difficult and challenging as we neared the ‘terrible two’s.’

But I’d also learnt through Hand in Hand parenting, that ‘off-track’ behaviour is a sign that a child is feeling disconnected from us. it is their way of telling us, ‘’I need connection!’’ From this perspective our children are  naturally, good, loving and co-operative, it’s just that sometimes upset feelings, can get in the way of their feeling our warmth and love.

I knew that reconnecting with my daughter would help improve things, but I was still feeling exhausted and recovering from being ill. The first thing I did was call my listening partner. A listening partnership is a scheme where two parents exchange listening time with each other, without offering advice, telling their own stories, or trying to fix things. The idea is, that when someone truly listens to us in a warm and supportive way, without interrupting to ‘help,’ then we can release our negative feelings. Anger, stress, and exhaustion all evaporate when we can really talk to someone about how we are feeling. I’m always amazed that often just five or ten minutes of listening can restore my energy, enthusiasm, and patience for being with my daughter.

Now I was all set to try some playlistening. This is play where we take on a less powerful role, and try to get our children laughing (not the involuntary laughter of tickling). Laughter releases some of the stress, tension and frustration that can accumulate when children feel powerless. It’s ideal for dissolving toddler power struggles. Children often laugh when we try and fail to do the things they’re trying to learn, or when we make ‘mistakes.’

That morning while I was putting on my sock, I pretended to struggle with it, and then ‘pinged’ it across the room and acted surprised. My daughter laughed a lot at this so I repeated it. I kept struggling to put on various items of clothing and she kept laughing. Then I started to walk and fell over again and again over. My daughter found this hilarious. I tried to hang some washing up, and kept saying ‘’oh no!’’ as it repeatedly fell down. Then we were playing on my bed, and my daughter would laugh gleefully, as she threw some clothes off the bed, and I would keep trying to retrieve them, only to have her throw them off again. At naptime, I chased her around the house, and she kept laughing as she managed to ‘escape’ me!

Understanding what makes our children laugh is a hit and miss thing, and sometimes my attempts would fall flat, but I kept trying, using my intuition, to see what would work. We had a really laughter packed morning, as if we were making up for all the playlistening missed while we were on holiday. When she took her nap, she fell asleep much more easily than normal. I was also feeling much more relaxed.

After this morning my connection with my daughter was much better. She stopped fighting me about everyday things. She happily went in her buggy, and let me change her nappy without a fuss. This is something that’s happened many times, that what I think is her getting older, more difficult and ‘toddler-like’ is actually just a period of disconnection that we can overcome by using the Hand in Hand parenting tools. And I’m happy to say that the ‘terrible twos’ never did arrive! Instead thanks to Hand in Hand parenting, they are actually quite terrific!

Check out my Giggle Parenting Archives for laughter based solutions for all your family challenges. And if your struggling with something that’s not on the list, leave me a comment, or send me a message via this contact form and your challenge can be the subject of my next blog post!  

Are you looking for more playlistening inspiration? Playful Parenting By Dr. Lawrence Cohen, is packed full of playlistening ideas.