(Prefer to listen? I have a podcast on this same topic here)
Towards the end of my first year of motherhood I felt like things were starting to unravel.
I was drowning in a sea of exhaustion, hazy sleep deprivation and neglecting my self as my life was taken over by breastfeeding, cooking, cleaning, laundry, nappies, toilet training and a relentless toddler who seemed to need more and more of me to be happy.
The transition into motherhood can be hard. And it doesn’t just take a month or two (as society seems to expect!). Every day and every phase is something new to be navigated. For both mother and child.
Eight years ago my eldest son was almost 1. I loved him more than anything and loved being a mother too. That’s the contradiction of early motherhood. We feel all the emotions in one day. Intense love. Resentment. Bliss. Frustration. Overwhelm. Wonder. Despair.
I was pushing myself more and more but felt like I was falling further and further behind.
I was chasing a story in my head of how motherhood ‘should’ be… I was trying to do everything ‘right’… I was playing out all the patterns passed down from the generations before me… but not really listening to my soul… and I was missing a crucial piece of the puzzle.
Through attachment theory, we understand that when our toddlers and babies cry it’s to communicate a need. And that we need to meet that need as promptly as possible to foster secure attachment. Once we meet that need therefore, the crying will stop…
“It’s not our job to keep our children happy at all times, it’s to meet their needs – including the need to release feelings through tears and tantrums.” Aletha Solter
The little known truth is that there is another reason babies and children cry. This reason comes from Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting theory.
Babies and children also cry to heal.
So, with this theory in mind, if we are always aiming to stop our children from crying, they won’t get to meet their need to release feelings.
You might be wondering why a baby or toddler would have so many feelings to express?
The world is still brand new to them. Their senses are completely open. They are wired to be highly sensitive and they absorb everything.
Every day, our children experience lots of different feelings!
Once I discovered this piece of the puzzle my life changed. Everything clicked into place.
I could clearly see how I had unknowingly trained my son to suppress his feelings. Whenever he was crying to release feelings I would do things like carrying him, rocking him and breastfeeding all through the night. Although it seemed like the kindest and most helpful thing to do, I was actually distracting him from the feelings he was trying to express!
And I was unconsciously setting up patterns (which originated in my own childhood) where every time he had some painful or uncomfortable feelings he would want to be breastfed or picked up. The more the feelings built up the more he seemed to need these things until he was waking at least every hour, all through the night.
What happens when our children have all these feelings building up in the body with no outlet?
There’s a lot of tension and agitation simmering away in the body. It’s very difficult for them to feel relaxed, connected, calm or cooperative.
This tension or agitation will show up in lots of ways:
Hitting or Biting
Multiple night wakings
Crying over seemingly insignificant things
It makes sense that if we attempt to meet our child’s need and they are still not content, they are actually needing to cry.
Let’s look at an example.
Say your toddler keeps clinging on to your pants or demanding to be picked up while you’re making dinner. It takes ten times as long but you continue to pick them up intermittently, believing that you are meeting their need in the moment (closeness or affection). And once you meet this need your toddler should be happy… right?
So why doesn’t it work this way?
If the real need was closeness or affection your child would feel content that their need had been met the first time you picked them up, right?
Instead, you pick your toddler up and they soon become restless again wanting to climb down. Yet five minutes later they are back whining, clinging, tugging on your pants again.
Clearly, they still have an unmet need here.
You might start feeling angry, resentful, exhausted, frustrated and confused about why your best efforts to meet your child’s needs are not working. They seem to need and want more and more!
The truth is, there’s something else bubbling under the surface here and we are trying SO hard, but missing it.
Your child needs to release feelings through tears or tantrum.
A key principle of this theory is listening empathically to tears or tantrums. I never encourage you to leave your children to cry alone, because that can cause more stress and painful feelings. This approach is all about staying with your child and welcoming their feelings.
The most helpful thing we can do in this case is set a limit around the behaviour eg “mummy can’t pick you up just now.” And then listen to the tears or tantrum with empathy.
Obviously it’s harder to do this at busy times like getting out the door in the morning or preparing dinner, especially if you have more than one child!
In my program Connect we talk a lot about how to create opportunities to connect and listen to our children throughout the day, so the need to release and heal feelings at these busy times will be less (so we can avoid the morning rush, witching hour and bedtime struggles!).
Practice at Home
You can start practising this approach at home by simply getting down to your child’s level and being present with their feelings. Resist the urge to distract them for as long as possible. This will feel uncomfortable at first because it’s different to what you’ve been taught. Undoing this conditioning will take time. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. We are working with generations upon generations of patterning here. Know that even a small amount of listening to your child’s feelings is helping.
Try these phrases to welcome your child’s feelings. (Save it to your phone for a quick reference later.)
Afterwards, notice and reflect on your child’s behaviour. What positive effects do you notice?
- More eye contact
- More settled
- More cooperative
- Less clingy
- Less whiny
- Less demanding
- Better sleep 🙌
As you get to see the positive effects for yourself you will feel more comfortable using this approach.
Reflect on with your findings. I’d love to hear how you go!
Back to my story at the beginning, remember I was drowning in a sea of exhaustion, hazy sleep deprivation and neglecting myself?
My toddler was waking more often during the night, becoming more clingy, demanding, wanting to breastfeed more often, wanting to be picked up all the time, biting me and hurting our cat and dog! Within weeks of beginning to practice this theory these behaviours that had been masking his real underlying need to cry were magically melting away! And I felt SO much clearer, more connected, happier and self loved.
Since then, I’ve seen so many mothers struggling with this same sense of exhaustion, hazy sleep deprivation and neglecting their self. They think they’re not doing a good enough job. They think what they’re doing is not enough to keep their child happy so they keep trying to do more and be more.
And I see so many children suppressing their feelings, bottled up with agitation, tension and showing all the challenging behaviours I’ve spoken about so far.
I imagine a world where we all remain connected to our real feelings and self and the positive ripple of change this could bring.
I highly recommended Aletha Solter’s first book “the Aware Baby” to support you. On my journey I found her books to be an invaluable introduction. However once I started implementing this approach I found that I had many questions and challenges come up where I needed more personalised support.
That’s why I’ve combined my two decades of education and experience as an Early Childhood Teacher, Mother and Lightworker Practitioner and poured my heart and soul into creating an online program called ‘Connect.’
Connect is a powerful, self paced 4 module program that will guide you to connect to yourself, connect to your children and create balance.
I also offer 1:1 consults!
I’m so excited to share this transformational journey with you.
PS I’d really love to hear how you go as you start practising this approach at home! Get in touch via email below or Facebook.