Monday, 9 April 2012

toddler wrangler/whisperer

To say that my toddler has had trouble sleeping is an understatement. At 2.5, he still rarely sleeps through the night, he often wakes up screaming and yelling, he talks in his sleep, and he has trouble settling. We have read every sleep book ever written. We co- sleep in an attempt to assist him to better slumber.

 I have hauled him to the doctor on many occasions when I was at my wit's end. Because he appears to be growing normally , and meeting or exceeding expectations for developmental milestones, medical types are not concerned. They do not lack for sleep, as I do.

I have tried many approaches to help him sleep better. I refuse to allow him to "cry it out," as so many popular baby advisers suggest. The very thought of doing that goes against every fibre of my motherly being, and against many of the choices we have made as parents to follow the "Attachment" style of parenting advocated by Dr. Sears. I won't let him cry. I can't agree with that approach. My motherly instinct tells me there are better ways. Why would I want to make my otherwise very happy child cry? I don't.

I am continually disturbed by the number of parenting experts that advocate the cry it out method. It seems a rather harsh way to get a child- a baby no less- to do something. It doesn't seem respectful or kind. It also, in my opinion, doesn't seem to "teach" the child any beneficial life skills. I am big on teaching rather than disciplining or forcing. There are great articles on sleep and why one should avoid crying it out  here, here and here.
So, while I have spent many sleepless hours pondering our situation, wondering what else I could do to help him, it occurred to me that now, at the age of 2.5, his language skills are quite advanced, that I might be able to talk to him more about his sleeping and that maybe something might be gained by these conversations.

I learned that things were starting to scare him- unfamiliar noises for instances, so spending some time listening together and identifying noises in the house and outside has helped. Now he can name what he hears and it isn't scary. He had also developed a fear of monsters (thanks Toupie and Binou!). Now we talk a lot about what he is hearing, and about the relative safety of our house vis a vis monsters, how our dog would never allow monsters, even pretend monsters to come in.

It also dawned on me, in an hour of desperation, that maybe hypnosis would work.

Hypnosis has such a strange reputation. Visions of drunken nitwits standing up and doing the chicken dance everyone some says beer come to mind. I think I shall re-phrase what I have written. It dawned on me that guided deep relaxation might work.

No, I didn't rush out and take a course. I guess I could, and maybe I might, but for what I need to do, adopting a sleepy, quiet, calm, relaxed, soft voice and talking about pleasant things in an increasingly sleepy voice seems to do the trick. There is no hocus-pocus. You just help the person relax. And to those who have taken courses for therapeutic purposes, I mean no disrespect. In fact I have tremendous respect for hypno-therapy. I just don't need to go that far.

Using our recent beach holiday as a jumping off point, I began "talking him to sleep" instead of singing, as I have been doing since he was just a wee little babe.

I get him to visualize a relaxing scenario- warm sun, cool breeze, singing birds, waves lapping on the shore. It is simple, calm, even predictable. I involve many senses- visual, auditory, sensual. And I guide him to a relaxed state. We eventually count the waves until he falls asleep, and I periodically remind him that he can allow himself to have a good long sleep and wake up feeling happy and refreshed. When I first started this, it took him about 1/2 hour to fall asleep. Not bad for this kid, but not great. Now, after doing this for about 10 days, it takes him about 12 minutes. The best part is that he has now started taking ownership of it. He asked for a new story today- one about tractors. So, we counted a parade of tractors, each one guiding us to a sleepier and sleepier place as they roll by. It worked just as well as the beach scene and the waves rolling onto the shore. What I like about this approach is that he is learning how to relax himself. This is a skill that he can eventually use on his own. He is learning to do this in a relaxed, supportive and loving environment. During the process I can reassure him that there is nothing to worry about ('cause he's a worrier). The process doesn't cause him anxiety (as crying it out would). And he is learning a valuable life skill: how to relax himself and put himself to sleep in a pleasant manner.

I wonder why none of the parenting books I have read suggest this? Why do some even advocate locking the child in his room and ignoring his screams and cries when the same result could be achieved in a much less stressful way for everyone? (I can't tell you how many naps I have had as a result of guiding my son to sleep...). I guess this peaceful approach requires a lot of effort on the part of the parent and huge investment of time. It's true. But, no one ever said that being a parent was easy or effortless, or quick. I like the saying that reminds us that we are not managing an inconvenience, we are raising a human being.

xo Jo

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