There’s an old fashioned type of rocking that I appreciate but don’t hear much about these days. It is slow, gentle, and relaxing for both parent and child. There might be quiet conversation or singing, but there is no goal or purpose other than mutual contentment in just being together. A languid journey to nowhere.
These days I’m mostly hearing about the purposeful kind of rocking some experts advise for “parenting children to sleep,” which can become habit forming (though not always), turning this potentially blissful, bonding experience into an increasingly difficult and tiresome chore.
My mentor Magda Gerber’s advice for calming unsettled babies and preparing them for sleep is unconventional. She recommended open and honest communication, like giving babies a step-by-step description of their bedtime routine in order to help them anticipate sleep and gradually unwind. Magda advised listening, asking questions, acknowledging feelings, sharing thoughts. In other words, connecting person to person with children from birth. Or, as child specialist Lisa Sunbury suggests in the title of her recent post, “entering into a conversation with your baby.”
However, communicating respectfully with our babies should not be considered a sleep “method” like rocking. Instead, it is a way of seeing and being with children that we must commit to and, thankfully, a choice we can make at any time.
Here, Kerry shares her success story about switching from rocking to talking:
Our daughter (20 months) has struggled with sleeping since a young age. Implementing your techniques has helped with bedtime, but she still wakes up sometimes wanting to be rocked to sleep. Last night during a wake-up I decided to try talking it out with her instead of rocking her, hoping that she would be able to put herself back to sleep.
We’d had a busy and unusual day – several families and their similarly aged toddlers came to our house for a playdate. It was fun, but chaotic and loud, and the kids were all playing with our daughter’s toys.
During the night-time wake-up, instead of picking my daughter up and rocking her, I mentioned the afternoon’s events and acknowledged that she was having trouble sleeping. I cuddled with her while she stood in her crib and talked with her about how upset she was when all of the other babies played with her toys, but that she eventually decided to share and play with the other babies.
She cried quite a bit at first, but as we continued talking about the afternoon and all of the things that happened, she stopped crying. She participated a little in the conversation by giggling at the funny parts and nodding when she agreed with what I was saying. We talked about standing in the doorway and waving goodbye to her friends as they left with their parents, and then she said, “All gone?!” I agreed that they were all gone, and that maybe we could play with them another time.
She gave me one last hug over the rail of the crib, then lay down. After I gave her a few pats on her back, she went to sleep. Even better, she slept right through the night, which is a very rare occurrence in our house!
Thanks again for sharing your wisdom – we can’t thank you enough.
“Enter into the conversation with your baby. Let her know that what she has to say is important to you, and that you are trying to understand. Ask her questions and wait for her response. Be with her in her experience as fully as you are able. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship, and a lifetime of conversation.” – Lisa Sunbury
For more about sleep:
The Rhythm of Sleep by Vanessa Kohlhaas, Deep Breath of Parenting
The Difference Between Toxic Stress and Normal Stress by Eileen Henry (and everything else on her wonderful website Compassionate Sleep Solutions)
RIE From the Start – 2 Simple Things You Can Do to Support Baby by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
Eileen Henry’s articles (and my own) in the sleep section on this site
(Photo by SSG Adam Mancini from the US Army Photography Contest on Flickr)
(Photo by Andrew Malone on Flickr)