Since sleep specialist Eileen Henry volunteered to answer parents’ questions here, I’ve received many. Sleep is undoubtedly the number one issue. I could easily turn this blog over to Eileen and your questions, if she had the time. I’m trying not to overwhelm her!
Below is a note from a parent (Masha) that I had forwarded to Eileen. As it turned out, Eileen’s private response to me as she considered the question was the perfect answer. She agreed to let me post it …
We’re looking for ways to gradually stop nursing and/or rocking our ten month-old to sleep. In the past we’ve tried to wean her off these habits, but she’s had difficulty falling asleep on her own, and we felt that her getting rest made her more happy and refreshed during the day (and it has). But now we’re at a point where she’s happy and refreshed, but we’re less and less so, having to work really hard to help her fall asleep. It also complicates things when we have a sitter or a relative who doesn’t have our “touch,” so we’re looking for ways to help her fall asleep and stay asleep on her own that don’t involve “crying it out” for prolonged periods. What would you recommend?
I will try to get to this one soon. It feels like the answer is in some I have already sent, but this could be because it is the most common question, asked by most parents, every day. You would think by now I would have a short answer.
I remember our pre-school teacher saying she had a short answer for almost all of parents’ questions around that age. It was, “Say it, mean it, then do it”.
The problem is the word gradual. That can be a confusing concept for a young child. At every age I say a 24 hour preparation is sufficient. Tell the child…this isn’t working. Show them the new way that will. Literally show them. Walk them through the new way of sleep. Have one last time of the old way and then get on with it.
I assume that “had difficulty falling asleep on her own” might mean that she cried and mom went back to nursing her to sleep. So I think my answer would have to be about coping with the crying around removing the condition that the child has come to believe she needs in order to fall asleep. And that is the child’s experience of loss. It is all about the crying in the end. I spend 90 percent of my time talking parents off the ledge that the cry hurls us onto.
Next week I start with a family of a 14 month old. Mom has been crawling into the crib to nurse the child to sleep. She is now pregnant and it just dawned on her that she will no longer be able to do this with a big belly.
We are so dear, us mommies. We will go to any lengths. With the best intentions (coupled with some obsolete instinctual drives) we will do just about anything to keep our babies from crying.
I have attached two articles from a website I like called Hand In Hand (Helping Young Children Sleep and Listening To Nursing Children). The “listening until you fall asleep” can be a good first step.
I think you will like how these articles address listening to the cry. The practice of compassion is very intense. We sit and listen without fixing it. We sit and witness with an open heart as a human who also knows loss. It is all we bring. And it is plenty. It is enough.
“Yes. I see you crying (acknowledge.) I know this is hard (empathy.) I am here (reassure.)”
Here is what I find astonishing about my RIE- raised children. They truly have a sense of what developmental specialists call “agency”. They understand that they have an effect on their world. They understand that what they do matters. They can and do make a difference.
I guess Magda would say these are the very elements of self-confidence. So at some stage of development, I forget when, but it seemed around first grade, they rarely looked to me for reassurance. They have that. It is now internal and theirs. And sometimes if I offer it up to quickly they shut me down. They are so clear in what they need from me.
If I just listen, I can hear their clarity. Thanks to RIE, Magda’s teachings and Liz and Hari’s guidance. Because left to my own devices I would still be crawling into the crib, well after my children had moved on.
Eileen Henry, RIETM Associate
Compassionate Sleep SolutionsTM
(Photo by edenpictures on Flickr)