"Drowsy But Awake Is a Vicious Myth Designed to Make Parents Feel Bad About Themselves"
A parent told me this recently and I had to laugh. And agree.
Every sleep book out there will tell you to put your child down in the crib “drowsy but awake.”
And parents the world over strive for this goal and then wonder what they are doing wrong when they carefully rock or feed their baby to a state of drowsy calm, gently place said baby in the crib… and the baby erupts in angry howls of protest.
Parents, it’s not your fault.
It’s bad advice.
Forget you ever heard “drowsy but awake.” It doesn’t work.
You have two choices. You either feed/rock/bounce/walk your child fully to sleep, or you put them down fully awake.
If you do the former, your child will more than likely wake up at some point, wonder where your loving arms -- the last thing they remember -- went, and start to cry for you to come back and repeat the process. It’s not your child’s fault. He or she just doesn’t know how to put themself back to sleep.
Imagine if you went to sleep in your cozy bed, surrounded by fluffy pillows and your soft comforter, and woke up on the hard living floor. You wouldn’t know how to go back to sleep either.
The same is true for your child. If she went to sleep in your warm embrace, she doesn’t know how to go back to sleep without the same conditions.
This is why I always recommend putting your child in his bed fully awake. If this is new to him, yep, he’s probably going to cry.
But not because he’s afraid, or feeling abandoned (pro tip: children can’t even understand the concept of abandonment before late toddlerhood), or in pain, never mind traumatized.
He’s crying because he’s tired and he doesn’t know what to do, becuase you’ve always helped before, and he’s probably angry that you’ve changed up the routine that he liked so much.
Imagine if someone told you, “from now on, you will no longer be having coffee in the morning. Good luck.” You’d be pissed as hell. And so is your confused kiddo. And being that he’s so little, you can’t explain.
Don’t feel guilty. He’ll get over it. The best thing you can do to help him is to be strong and consistent. Don’t cave. Ever. Well, at least not two weeks. Otherwise, all that crying will be for naught. After two weeks, once the new habit is strong, you can make the occasional exception.
I promise that if you stay strong, he’ll get it, and not only that, he’ll be happier than ever!
Of course, if you are able to rock/feed/bounce/walk your child to sleep and she stays asleep, rock on. (No pun intended.) But if that was working for you, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
This is not an easy transition. Be kind to yourself. Know that it's supposed to be hard. Remember when you started a new exercising or organizing or flossing habit? It was super hard at first, right? But then you started to get used to it and little by little, it got easier and easier until it was second nature, at least most of the time.
The same is true for your child. She'll get there. She just needs time and your loving consistency.
You don't have to make the change alone. Let me help. Set up a free discovery call and let's get your family the sleep you deserve. You got this!
Five-year-old Amelie got into my makeup and thus, her "Doggy" got an unfortunate makeover. Luckily a trip through the washing machine returned "him" to normal.
If you are wondering why Doggy looks like a monkey and not at all like a dog... Well, Amelie named Doggy when she was a young toddler and ALL animals were “doggies.” Amelie is nearly six now but her monkey remains a “doggie.” Only “he” got named Jack a while back… but in moments of stress, he is called Doggy again.
Doggy has special significance for us because my mother gave him to me before Calliope was born. Calliope never needed a transitional object because she twiddled her ear for comfort (along with sucking her thumb). So when Amelie was born, Amelie inherited the love object, and unlike Calliope, Amelie quickly grew attached.
My mother died just before I successfully conceived Amelie. I had been trying to get pregnant with frozen embryos as my mother was dying of cancer and so I was able to tell my mother that her future grandchild, if a girl, would be named after her. (My mother's name was Amy, and she was named for her grandfather, Emil,)
Doggy is Amelie's one gift from her grandmother.
What are transitional objects and how do they help?
A “transitional object” is a physical item, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, that represents an extension of a young child’s primary caregiver. It reminds the child of the warmth, love, and security he or she feels in the presence of the primary caregiver. It allows the child to separate from a parent with less distress.
Transitional objects can be a huge help for children who resist separation, particularly at bedtime. It's normal for children to fear separation from their beloved grown ups, and it's also normal that their grown ups need that separation to function.
Particularly if your child is dependent on your physical touch to fall asleep, consider introducing a transition object. If your child is mobile, you can let them choose which they would like to sleep with. For a younger child, you may have to choose for them -- ask your pediatrician when it is safe to introduce one. The American Academy of Pediatrics says nothing in the crib before 12 months but your healthcare provider may say earlier is acceptable. It should be large enough to not be a choking risk and small enough to not be a smothering risk.
You may wish to slide the love object between you during bedtime snuggles, or even put it inside your shirt to acquire your scent. You can tell your child, "Lovey will keep you safe all night long." Don't be afraid to create a dependence on the love object. It's much healthier for a child to be dependent on a transitional object than on you for the small stresses of daily life. It's not a substitute for you, it's in addition to you. This is one sleep crutch that you actually want to have.
Most loveys are adopted during infancy but don't be afraid to try to create one into the preschool years.
Also, if you are afraid your child will never outgrow their dependency on the love object, don't be. Some children outgrow it gradually and others reject the love object seemingly overnight. All children outgrow their dependence sooner or later. One piece of advice though: acquire duplicates as soon as your child has identified a favorite love object! Rotate them regularly so the child doesn't have a preference. And keep the beloved love object safe at home and use a back-up for daycare and outings.
I actually threw away Doggy's duplicate before Amelie was born, since Calliope wasn't interested in it. And now I can't find an identical lovey. I live in fear of the day that Doggie gets lost -- he gets misplaced occasionally and we all feel terror as we search! Don't make my mistake.
Also, some children adopt "lovies" that are nontraditional. If your child loves bringing a favorite truck to bed, not a problem! Other children like carrying a cloth diaper around, or an item of a parent's clothing. Whatever creates a feeling of security in your child is perfect.
If your child is resisting separation at bedtime, set up a free chat to discuss how we can get your family the sleep you deserve.
Learning to Love Tantrums
We’ve been dealing with a lot of temper tantrums in my house. As my youngest gets older, she gets more skillful at being hurtful.
“You’re the WORST! I hate you! You’re not the best mommy in the history of mommies!”
Followed by a more pitiful, “Why does no one love me? Why do you hate me?”
It all feels really unfair. Obviously, I’ve never said that I hated her. I adore her… most of the time. Occasionally, I don’t like her behavior and I tell her so.
She can’t see the distinction.
And so I remind her that I love her, always, and that I also need her to clean up her mess.
I’m starting work this week with the family of a three-and-a-half year old boy. They successfully sleep trained him as a baby but now he won’t go to sleep unless his father lies down with him. The boy -- let’s call him Oliver -- is clearly exhausted. He tends to throw massive tantrums. His mother said to me, “clearly we can’t do Cry It Out with a three year old.”
Sometimes children need to cry. Sometimes we all need to cry.
Crying is not a problem. Screaming is not a problem. Having a tantrum is not a problem.
Oliver is crying because he’s exhausted and he doesn’t know how to get the sleep he needs. He’s rightfully frustrated. But he’ll tell his parents that he’s mad because Mommy wants to do the bedtime routine, or he’s hungry (after skipping dinner because he was too tired to eat) or he wants to play one more game.
Oliver doesn’t know that sleep is what he needs to feel better.
Maintain the limit -- that it’s time for bed and he can’t have one more game/a cookie/Daddy when it’s Mommy’s turn to do bedtime. Let him get upset.
He also doesn’t know that he needs to empty his emotional backpack. Both he and his parents are a little scared of it. He may be carrying big emotions about quarantine, or about Daddy working from home and not being available to him, or Big Sister taking his toy in the sandbox.
Whatever it is, welcome the tantrum. It’s not dangerous. Embrace the storm. Sit quietly and wait for it to pass. Don’t try to explain to him why his feelings are wrong -- that never feels good. Sit on the floor next to him and make comforting noises if he allows it. He may not. He might not want you to even look at him.
Just wait. When the storm has passed, he will crawl into your arms and feel so much better. He will know that his emotions aren’t a problem for you, that you can handle them, no matter how big. That you are still his fearless leader. No matter what. You are the adult and you’ve got him.
So if I'm being honest, no, I don't love tantrums. They are really unpleasant. But I am practicing embracing them and letting them wash over both of us. I can see that things in our house are getting easier, gradually, as a result.
Ready to embrace some tantrums and get your family the sleep you deserve? Set up a free consult and find out how you can all be sleeping peacefully in two weeks or less. Schedule a Free Consult
During the haze of the newborn days, we all do what we have to do to survive. I remember standing in front of my stove, exhaust fan roaring, jiggling little Amelie in my arms for what felt like hours. I thought the exhaustion would never end.
Those habits that develop in the early days can sometimes go on far too long, though, and can end up costing our children and ourselves great sleep later on.
Typically what happens is parents feel like they’ve finally figured out a way to get a few solid hours of sleep with a small infant, perhaps nursing them to sleep. But then that little baby grows and those nighttime habits stop working as well. Often around four months old, your baby starts waking up more often instead of less. In a frantic attempt to get some desperately needed shut-eye, you up the ante. You find yourself nursing and rocking every two hours all night long, even as your baby shouldn’t need to eat so frequently (or at all) during the night. As your baby grows, you are both more and more tired.
This exhaustion has real consequences. Your baby is unable to focus on her play as well when she is overtired. She may be hyperactive, or cranky. Your ability to enjoy parenting is diminished Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for depression, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. Your domestic partnership will suffer. And worst of all, as a sleepy driver, you are a mortal danger to yourself and others. Sleep deprivation is a very big deal.
We know that sleep training results in some short-term protesting, aka crying. No parent wants to hear her child cry. It’s hard for everyone. And some parents, who may identify with the “attachment parenting” philosophy, fear that allowing their children to cry can cause real psychological or physical damage. But studies have shown that the short-term crying associated with sleep training is not dangerous to health and does not prevent a strong, healthy attachment. Fostering a strong attachment is not the same as an attached-at-the-hip approach to parenting.
Imagine a parent swooping in to lift her child each time he attempts to pull to stand. We would call her a helicopter parent, and think that she is blocking her child’s biological drive to walk. In the same vein, rushing in to soothe children back to sleep at night is helicopter parenting, and is impeding their development. We can trust that children have the same biological drive to sleep as they do to walk. We need to get out of the way and let them practice and learn.
As good, non-helicoptering parents, we provide safe and supportive ways for our children to grow, even knowing it can hurt them or us. We let our children squirm and roll and eventually crawl, clearing the floor of dangerous objects, knowing a bumped head will still probably happen at some point. We let him practice climbing at the playground, even knowing he may fall someday. And far too soon, we will go on lots of practice drives before finally handing over the keys to the car, even while we fear for our children’s lives.
In the same vein, we must also provide safe opportunities for our children to learn to self-soothe. This ability allows our children to not only sleep independently but also to weather hardship when we are not there to comfort them. We can’t always be there to take away every hurt, much as we would like to. The path to self-soothing will look different for different families, but all children can to self-soothe learn in a safe and supportive environment.
A fascinating article on childhood anxiety in the Atlantic found that while parents don’t create childhood anxiety, when parents stop changing their own behavior to accommodate the anxiety -- be it lying down with the child at night or bringing the child into the parental bed -- the child’s anxiety improves. And the entire family’s well-being improves as a result. “It sets in motion a virtuous cycle: As parent behavior changes, kids will start coping for themselves. As they cope, they’ll come to feel more capable, and they will be treated as such by their parents, who will further reduce accommodation. In turn, the entire family’s well-being will improve.”
Childhood is an 18+ year journey to independence. Much as we might wish to, we can’t keep our children dependent. What we can do is provide them with a strong, nurturing connection that sends them confidently out into the world… and welcomes them back with loving arms when they need support and comfort again. It is not our job to prevent them from ever feeling pain, because that would be impossible. Instead, we teach them courage and resilience and a belief in themselves by providing them with ever-increasing, age-appropriate, challenges.
Many parents fear that sleep training can hurt their child’s attachment or psychological health but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sleep training and teaching self-soothing actually strengthen the entire family’s connection. As The Happy Sleeper says, “Warm, supportive parenting and a full night of independent sleep are not mutually exclusive… they work together naturally and seamlessly.”
If you are ready to create strong family bonds by guiding your child to stronger self-soothing skills but aren't sure where to start, set up a free chat with me and enjoy great sleep in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
June 03rd, 2020
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.