Nine years ago my eldest son was 1 and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of exhaustion, hazy sleep deprivation and neglecting my self. My life seemed to have been 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.
I was pushing myself to do more, be more, give more but I was missing a crucial piece of the puzzle 🧩
When your baby cries you’re probably aware that they are trying to communicate a need with you. And if you’re like me, you’re probably trying really hard to met those needs as quickly as possible to nurture a secure attachment and loving relationship with your little one. Once you meet that need, the crying should stop…
Only… it doesn’t always work that way, does it?
Sometimes, no matter what you do, or how hard you try your baby or toddler will keep crying.
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 ever get to meet their need to express their emotions and heal from past experiences.
You might be wondering why a baby or toddler would have past experiences to heal from?
Your baby is wired to be highly sensitive and absorb everything around them. Every day, your child is experiencing lots of different emotions!
FEAR What was that loud noise?
FRUSTRATION trying SO hard to crawl and can’t
SADNESS Daddy left to go to work
RAGE Mummy’s changing my nappy and I DONT WANT HER TO!
If children don’t have the opportunity to release this emotional energy it will remain in the body. Think of the standard responses to tears, anger, frustration such as ‘shhh don’t cry,’ a dummy, milk, rocking, bouncing etc. These types of responses suppress emotions and cause the energy to build up in the body causing tension, agitation and discomfort. (Just think of how you feel when you’re holding onto rage and frustration!)
When I discovered this piece of the puzzle nine years ago, 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/ express his emotions 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 emotions 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 emotions he would want to be breastfed or picked up.
The more the emotions 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 you attempt to meet your child’s need and they are still not content, they may actually be 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.
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 you are trying SO hard, but missing it.
Your child needs to express emotions 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 you 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!
When I work with clients we talk a lot about how to create opportunities to connect and listen to children throughout the day, so the need to express 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. You 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.
“I see you’re feeling upset right now”
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 your findings. I’d love to hear how you go!
And 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!
Well, within weeks of beginning to practice this theory these behaviours that had been masking his real underlying need to cry and express his emotions 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.
As an early childhood teacher 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 feedback and this is where my online programs can support you.