Why won’t my baby or child sleep?
Getting a good night’s sleep while staying connected with your child
I wonder how you are going? Does it feel like you will never get a good night’s sleep? Does it take hours and hours to get your baby or child to sleep, and when they do finally go to sleep they wake a short time after? Maybe life is starting to feel like it’s becoming increasingly unmanageable. Too many sleepless nights may be making it harder and harder to function as a parent, partner, or employee. Maybe you have read a few books about how to help your child sleep or maybe you have been told, this is something you just need to accept until they are older.
For so many parents it can seem like there are only two options when it comes to helping their child sleep better. The first is simply to accept that sleepless nights are a given and to struggle through until your child is finally older. The second is to go through a process of letting your child cry it out when they are left alone at night. I want to let you know there is a third way where you can get enough sleep and remain connected with your child.
I wonder if you can remember a time when you had some big feelings. Maybe something happened during the day, a big project that had to be delivered and something went wrong, a fight with a friend or lover or something else. I wonder if you can remember what it was like when you tried to fall asleep, was it harder, did the scenario you experienced during the day go around and around in your head, or maybe you fell asleep only to wake in the early hours of the morning to begin processing what had happened during the day again and again. Or maybe it was your body, which felt agitated, and you tossed and turned all night struggling to find a comfortable position so you could sleep.
Babies and children are no different from adults. When something has upset them, they find it hard to sleep. It is only when they have released their emotions by crying, raging, or laughing are they able to fall asleep. Once released, they will become calm, peaceful, and connected and will easily be able to fall asleep when they are tired.
Many parents believe that when their baby starts to get fussy or niggly they are either tired or hungry. There is a different way of looking at this and I wonder whether this might resonate with you? When we are more tired, it becomes harder to keep our emotions in. It is therefore the tiredness that lets the emotions surface rather than the emotions being a sign of tiredness. I wonder if you can remember a calm day? Maybe you did a swim, a hike, or were on holiday and were happy and contented. Do you remember what that kind of tired was like? Was it easy and natural to fall asleep?
A baby that does not have a build-up of emotions will simply go to sleep when tired. When your baby has droopy eyes, starts to rub their eyes, or lies down on the floor you can then remove them to a quieter place to sleep. Tiredness is not seen as an uncomfortable sensation from an Aware Parenting perspective. If your baby is fussy or your child is crying or niggling, it is unlikely that they will be able to fall asleep without a control pattern such as holding a blanket, sucking their thumb, being rocked or nursed. These control patterns put a baby into a type of trance that enables them to go to sleep despite their emotions, although often they will not keep them asleep.
If you have done one of these things to get your child to sleep it is likely they will wake again shortly as their emotions bubble to the surface again. If their emotions are not heard at this point they will require what was done to them initially like rocking, singing, or breastfeeding in order to get them back to sleep.
Most children will need to cry at the end of the day and I recommend scheduling some listening time into your bedtime schedule. As your child gets older they will use this time to talk about their day.
If your child is using a control pattern to get to sleep such as a blanket, breastfeeding, dummy, or bottle I would suggest rather than taking those away you can start to increase the amount of time you connect with your child or baby during the day. When you are able to connect during the day, they will feel safe enough to cry and you can hear what needs to be heard.
Over time they will need their control pattern at night less and less. Sometimes even if your child is using a control pattern such a sucking their thumb, if they are held in the loving arms of a parent and given unconditional love they may take their thumb out and naturally begin to cry. Babies like children and adults need to feel safe and connected when they express emotions.
If your child goes to sleep and wakes soon after going to sleep it is likely your child has emotions that are making it hard to stay asleep. It is however very important to first check that your baby is not hungry, is not sick in any way or in pain, has no physical discomfort, and check to see if they may just need to feel your closeness after having a nightmare or some other kind of fright. If you are sure it is none of the above then it is likely your baby may need to release emotions.
Once you know that none of the above is causing your child to wake during the night you can be assured it is probably as a result of needing to release emotions. Night waking is also more likely if your baby’s control pattern is associated with your body as opposed to control patterns that involve a dummy or a stuffed toy. If your baby has a dummy, blanket or stuffed toy they may simply reach out for them rather than call out to you when they wake. If your baby is needing to feed to go to sleep they will need to wake you in order to be breastfed to get back to sleep.
If breastfeeding has become a control pattern you could feed them completely and then just before they fall asleep take them off the breast. When they then cry you can have greater assurance that their crying is due to emotions rather than hunger. You can then listen lovingly to your child as they release. As discussed in my blog on Why does my baby or child cry, there may be many reasons for a baby needing to cry, even if minimal stimulation has been experienced during the first few months of life.
During the first several months it is likely that your baby will wake as a result of hunger. A baby that is given ample amounts of time to release their emotions in loving arms may begin to sleep through the night after six months of age. There will however always be times when they need to feed more frequently, such as during growth spurts, when sick, teething, or during times of stress. A baby that has released their emotions will sleep soundly though not excessively.
I encourage you as a parent to notice what happens after your child or baby has cried or had a tantrum while being held in your arms and listened to. Are they more connected, able to concentrate better, and do they fall asleep more quickly and then stay asleep for longer?
Toddlers and older children, rather than crying before bedtime, may become more exuberant, wanting to leap about and play. Laughter is another way to release emotions around frustration, fears, and hurts. Children know this intuitively and often become loud and playful just before bedtime. There are certain games that can be played that may be around teeth brushing, a funny puppet, playing around and being silly, or even a power reversal game with a pillow fight. Lots of giggles and laughter bring in a grounded sense as well as a release making sleep easier.
I trust that you as the parent will know what is best for you and your child. If what I have written resonates with you, I encourage you to try some of what I have talked about and see what kind of difference it makes to your baby or child’s sleep. If you have any further questions or would like to book a session with me, you can contact me directly or go to my Facebook page where you can also find more information. You can also go to Aletha Solter’s website.