By the time we contemplate seeking help to get our beloved little ones the sleep they so desperately need to thrive, we are so extremely sleep deprived that we are struggling to function and our ability to think has all but diminished.
This often leads us to copious hours desperately researching for answers; how much sleep should my little one be having? What is normal? How long will this last? When will my little one start sleeping? When and how can I start sleep training? Which sleep training method is best for me and my child?
We start reading books, asking friends and family, ask Doctor Google–and the next thing we know we are so bombarded by the plethora of information and contradicting advice that we feel even more confused and overwhelmed (sigh!)
Even once you have made the decision to seek help and get the support you need, it is then down to making the choice of who to employ. This decision is one of utmost importance, and I believe it is one that comes down to the choosing to engage a consultant aligned with your parenting style and beliefs–as contrary to what many may think, not all are the same.
And this is where I choose Connection over Cry It Out (CIO).
‘Sleep is a biological and emotional process, not a behavioural one. Behavioural sleep issues develop when a child’s emotional needs remain unmet. therefore, if parents desire sustainable changes to sleep patterns, they must focus on connection as the priority”– Sophie Acott, Sleep Play Love.
Children thrive on a close relationship with their parents; this enables them to successfully handle stress, upset, and conflict in their everyday lives. Children actively seek out connection from their parents throughout the day – and often overnight – in order to feel safe and secure. When a child feels safe and connected, all parts of their brain are able to work together i.e. the prefrontal cortex (responsible for thinking, impulse control, memory, logic and reasoning), the brain stem (manages reflexes, heart rate, breathing and other basic bodily functions), and the limbic system (governs all aspects of social and emotional functioning, coordinates the communication between all parts of the brain and signals to the body that ‘all is well’ – i.e. there is no threat to one’s safety). When a child is connected, they have the ability to learn, think and remember. They can be flexible about their needs and demands, demonstrate empathy toward others, and can be their inherently easy-going, cooperative and joyous self. Connection literally builds a child’s intelligence, and enables them to access the innate intelligence they already possess. The result? An increased sense of wellbeing, a harmonious parent-child relationship, the ability for a child to reach age-appropriate milestones (physical and cognitive) and sleep well.
Leaving a child to cry alone in his or her own room/bed defies our natural parenting instincts to provide a safe, loving and nurturing environment for our children. It is our role to be present to listen, and connect with our children, building on their trust and knowledge that we will be there to support them, especially when they are experiencing fear and uncertainty–the very feelings associated with any change to a child’s (sleep) routine.
Crying is an effective medium for babies to communicate and is essential for emotional regulation. Because feelings of fear, stress, and overwhelm are often inextricable with (developmental and routine) change, it is important to acknowledge our child’s need to cry to release such feelings during these times – without us attempting to stop them by means of distraction, shushing, rocking, or feeding. Unless our children can release—and heal—their fears and insecurities through crying in the supportive presence of their parents, rather than being left alone to do so behind a closed door, these feelings will continue to be repressed. It is only a matter of time before the accumulated feelings resurface, manifesting in sleep regression, behavioural difficulties, and sometimes even physical ailments. Such challenges commonly arise during life transitions, a change to routine, or in the midst of developmental milestones, which often trigger feelings of separation/abandonment, fear/insecurity, and disempowerment (similar feelings associated with being left to cry alone). The degree to which this impacts a child’s emotional well-being throughout childhood and well into adolescence is unknown.
If a child is experiencing a sleep difficulty, we must first rule out any health or developmental issues as the cause. If there are no immediate concerns, then often the reason is emotional–that is; tension or stress carried over from the child’s day or past events. The most effective medium to heal a child’s upsets is to counter such uncomfortable feelings with our warmth and closeness, accepting, listening–or validating– the child’s feelings as they cry and/or tantrum.
By listening and supporting our children with their sleep troubles, we can effectively help them to dissolve the tension that wakes them–allowing them to recover emotionally, and sleep peacefully in the long-term–without the cry it out.
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