Did you know… it IS possible to meet your child’s needs for closeness and connection AND get a good nights sleep for yourself too!
I’m going to share an approach that has worked for me.
Let me tell you I have ALOT of experience with sleeplessness! I know how it feels to be sleep deprived AND despite this I know how important it was to me to keep meeting my sons needs for connection and closeness in the night.
I want to tell you how I came to find a third option. Where I didn’t need to choose between my son‘s needs for closeness and connection or my needs for sleep. The relief I felt in finding another option where both our needs could be met was indescribable.
I remember back to when my eldest was 9 months old (8 years ago).
He still hadn’t slept through the night.
In fact, my son actually started waking up MORE often instead of less, waking every hour (or more!) became the norm.
Our family was going through a very stressful period and along with the sleep issues, my normally gentle son started biting me, pinching or pulling the cat’s tail.
He became more demanding, clingy and wanted to be picked up constantly, yet never seemed really settled (unless he was breast feeding which he demanded more often too!)
He was constantly agitated.
I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.
I felt completely exhausted and in a bit of a sleep deprived haze.
It was around that time that my yoga teacher introduced me to Aware Parenting.
And I’m SO grateful for profound impact it’s had on my life. Aware Parenting (founded by Aletha Solter) recognises that babies and children experience a range of real feelings too. Feelings like disappointment, frustration, stress, fear or overwhelm. Aware Parenting recognises that babies and children sometimes cry to have their immediate needs met and suggests that we meet these needs as responsively as possible.
But Aware Parenting, also recognises another reason for crying: crying to release past painful or uncomfortable feelings and to heal.
Babies and children experience feelings on a DAILY basis.
No matter how consciously we are parenting our children, we can’t protect them from ever feeling these things. So it’s likely they will have something they need to express through tears most days.
The trouble is, *most* of us have been taught or shown that it’s not safe to express with others or even feel ourselves our painful or uncomfortable feelings from a very young age. We’ve learnt to numb, avoid and push them down instead. And unconsciously, were passing these beliefs on to our babies and children too.
When we push our feelings down, they don’t just go away and what tends to happen is that we develop unhealthy attachments or ‘repression mechanisms’ to cover them up.
I wonder if you can think of something like this that you do to project yourself from painful feelings?
Our children have different versions of these.
Drinking (breastfeeding or bottle)
Clutching a teddy
Movement (bouncing, rocking, jiggling)
Can you see that although we have good intentions (that is, we don’t want our children to feel pain) we are not actually stopping them from experiencing pain. What’s happening is that we are numbing and covering up those painful or uncomfortable feelings rather than allowing them to be felt and expressed.
It’s the accumulation of these feelings that is the main cause of most of our children’s behavioural and emotional issues including taking a really long time to fall asleep or waking multiple times per night!
If you’re meeting your child’s other needs: physical (warmth, dry nappy, hunger, thirst, medical) and emotional (closeness, connection) and your child still can’t relax enough to go to sleep or is waking multiple times per night, this is most likely the reason why.
So while we have good intentions, distracting our children is actually doing them (and us!) a disservice.
Aware Parenting advocates the healing effects of both laughter and tears and encourages empathic listening to ALL feelings.
After I began practicing Aware Parenting with my son, I began to recognise my own unconscious patterns around repressing my feelings and distracting my son from his through things like breastfeeding and rocking/ jiggling.
Let’s look at how repressing our feelings can effect sleep:
Firstly, if we have feelings bubbling under the surface, the body will be more tense and we’ll find it harder to relax. You might need to use your repression mechanism to help lull the brain into a state of relaxation so you can fall asleep. (For kids this could be a dummy, bottle, clutching a blanket or teddy, thumb sucking, breast feeding, audio books etc)
But of course, those feelings don’t go away. It’s like trying to push a beach ball under the water, it will always pop back up. And it’s the same with feelings, if we push them down now, they will always pop again to be heard at a later time.
I wonder if you can think of a time you went to bed with a build up of feelings?
Perhaps you were worried or frightened or stressed about something.
Can you remember how you slept that night?
Perhaps you found it hard to fall asleep or found yourself sleeping restlessly that night? Tossing, turning, waking?
Our children are feeling beings, just like us.
And of course, they have feelings that occur everyday like disappointment, frustration, stress, fear or overwhelm.
So when our children push their feelings down to help them relax enough for sleep with something like a dummy or breastfeeding or clutching a teddy or blankie what happens when they reach the light stage of their sleep cycle is these feelings will wake them up, and they’ll either need to express those feelings (through crying) or they’ll need to push them back down again with whatever they used the first time to help them get back to sleep again (or a replacement).
The more the feelings accumulate under the surface, the more they’ll come bubbling up to be heard in the night. These feelings will continue to build up over time.
Which is why your child might start waking more and more during the night (like I experienced). They might take longer to fall asleep over time. They might show more challenging behaviours during the day too: such as biting, hitting, demanding or wanting to be picked up all the time etc.
So although distracting our children from their feelings might seem like the kindest and most helpful thing to do (because of course none of us wants our children to experience painful feelings) the truth is, no matter how consciously we parent, we can’t possibly prevent our children from feeling these things.
So a more helpful and proactive approach might be to help our children learn to deal with their feelings rather than repressing them.
What I found was that the more I could be present with my own feelings, the more I was able to consciously choose to listen to my son’s feelings instead of covering them up.
And the more I could listen and be present with his feelings during the day, the less he would wake up during the night.
Over the next couple of months, all of the challenging behaviours I’d been experiencing: his waking multiple times per night, the clingyness, demanding, agitation, aggression… magically melted away and I had my loving, gentle, carefree little boy back again.
And I’ve been on this journey of consciously peeling back the layers of emotions (both mine and my kids, now aged 8 & 4) ever since.
I hope learning about this option to meet both yours and your children’s needs at night time brings you the relief it brought me!
And this is where my work can come in to support you!
I share practical ways to start listening and being present with yours and your children’s feelings during the day, so that you can BOTH get a good night of sleep!
1) Recognising “challenging” behaviours as signs of built up feelings
2) Recognising the way our children push down or repress their feelings
3) Creating emotional safety and filling their connection cups!
4) what’s Compassionate listening and holding space for all feelings
5) Setting limits with warmth and love
6) Using play to navigate challenging behaviours
You can start learning about my approach for free on my Facebook page where I welcome any questions you might have.
Or for more in depth support you might like to join my online Mothers Circle: you can join from anywhere in the world and be deeply immersed in personalised, practical and compassionate support.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, join the conversation here.
B.Ed (Early childhood)
Certified Lightworker Practitioner