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Difficult Separations at Bedtime

Why can’t my child go to sleep without me? 

A common question I hear often. In our North American culture the desire is certainly to have independent children, and we see kiddos who can go to sleep on their own as more “independent” than their peers. 

But, what you must know is that forced independence actually does not breed independence in our children. It can actually make them more needy for relationships, as they seek you as their best bet to keep them safe. 

Dependence breeds independence. 

When we invite children to rest in the comfort of our love, and show them that they can relationship is the bottom line in all transitional times, this is where their independence begins to grow and develop. 

Separating from parents at bedtime is difficult for most infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Our children are hardwired for connection – for their safety, for their survival, for relationship. They are NOT hardwired for separation. They need to know that the relationship endures times away from one another, and that it can be relied upon in those future hours. 

When we ask our children to go to sleep at bedtime, they are entering a vulnerable, semi-permanent separation. This is hard for them. They know they go into sleep, you go into sleep often in another space, and they aren’t quite sure when and where they will see you again. 

It is important to first understand that this is difficult for them. They are not trying to give you a hard time. Their little brains are dysregulated and they are having a hard time. 

Secondly, we can help bridge the separation. We want our children to look into the future and focus on the time where we are going to be together again. This might be the next morning, but I often find it is helpful to communicate that you do check on your child while they are sleeping before you go to bed. 

A few suggestions that have worked for my own family, and other families I have worked with through this bedtime separation anxiety that exists… 

  • Cut out some paper hearts, or kisses. When you check on your child at the beginning of the night, leave a paper kiss on their nightstand or next to them on their pillow to show you have been there while they are sleeping. When you go to bed, leave a big stack showing just how many times you checked on them while they were sleeping overnight.
  • Place a special stuffy in their bed. A different one each night as a surprise visitor, so that they can see in the morning who joined them for bed.
  • Give their favourite stuffy MANY hugs and kisses from you during your bedtime routine. Tell your child that if they miss you at night, they can hug or kiss their stuffy and have a hug or kiss from you.
  • Place a think book under your child’s pillow while they are sleeping that you will read the next morning. This is something to look forward to when you reconnect the next day.

Any other ideas that have helped you bridge this physical and emotional separation between parent and child? I love when families share their ideas, so I can add to my list! 

Working on all the parenting things is a passion of mine, and I hope one day to add a toddler specific sleep course alongside Sleep from the Heart and my Night Weaning course. 

Thanks for being here, and for the support. 

XO

Lara 

 

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Can you give me an example, Lara?

Tonight I got asked a question.. And it really sparked a little something in me.

I’m not sure why.

Maybe because this is my passion. Maybe because this is my life’s work.

Maybe it is because every day I seek to refine my skills to ensure every family who comes under my wing has a slightly easier transition from “no sleep” to “sleep” than those who walked before them. (I literally try to get better at my job every.single.day because.. This is me. I like my work. I’m a self proclaimed “people pleaser”, a “perfectionist”, and all around “sleep wizard”). And I don’t want to just walk around calling myself a sleep wizard. I literally want to BE ONE.  

But I keep getting asked for free advice. I know. You’re not shocked. And neither am I.. but here is the thing. I can’t give it to you.. I really wish I could.. But I just can’t. And here’s why..

I don’t know you yet.

^^ Yup. That is pretty much the only reason why.

I’m not trying to be greedy. I’m not trying to hold every ounce of sleep knowledge inside my brain only to be shared with the parents who can afford to hire me.

It is literally because I don’t know you from Adam. I don’t know what good advice is for your family. What advice will help you, and not send your anxiety spiralling, and what advice is healthy for you or your child.

People often ask me.. Can you give me an example of something we might do if we worked together? Sure.. I can give you an example. That is no problem. How about I put them all here for you in a blog post? Which.. I am about to do a few minutes from now.

But funny story.. There are literally 924 combinations of things I “might” tell you to do to get your child sleeping. Want to know how I know this? Let me explain.. It is a bit of a story. Probably not highest on my priority management list this week, but one I feel like telling tonight after a long day with my children, and a couple of glasses of wine.

So here is the confession.

I hate writing sleep plans.

I know, probably not what you really want to hear from a business owner who gets babies to sleep for a living. But, I just can’t sit down, know exactly what it is I want to say for that particular family, and hammer it out with great ambition. And trust me – you other sleep coaches out there.. I know a lot of ya’ll are hitting copy paste like nobody’s business when you write your sleep plans.. And you are probably wondering how on earth I get babies sleeping without them (the answer – technology.. But I will save that for another blog post.. Or.. my future training program.. Wink wink.. Nudge nudge).

But for me, until I see a baby in action. Until I really know the family from the inside out. I can’t really write a sleep plan.

And even then, I find myself reorganizing and rejigging the plan leftways, backward, and sideways.. And before you know it, we are on a completely different plan than we started with because I now know YOUR baby. I now know the strategies that are going to work BEST for your family.

Earlier this year I set out to try and solve this problem of not really loving writing sleep plans. I poured over my options..

Maybe someone could write these for me? Maybe a robot could do it? Is there an app I could plug the information into and bada bing bada boom, a new sleep plan would be created? And in anticipation of finding just that.. I started to write.

Off the top of my head one night I wrote out all of the different approaches I *might* tell a family to use at bedtime. Everything from nursing their baby to sleep, to sitting beside the crib holding their baby’s hand, and everything in-between.

And guess what – there were 12 different ways I might suggest a family helps their baby go to bed at bedtime. This didn’t include the videos I send showing you how to actually succeed at rocking a 6 month old to sleep in your arms, or the one that shows how I would pat and shush a 10 month old on the bum to go to sleep. Those also all exist, and they are sent to my clients’ inboxes every day as they are needed. So yeah – if you consider the weird way I might tell you to blink your eyes, or hold your elbow.. There are probably more than 12 combinations here.  

Then I started to write out the middle of the night responses.. To which there were 11. Sure I might say, dreamfeed your baby at such and such a time, and then 4 hours later we are going to feed them again.. At every night waking in between you are going to do x, y, z in the soothing department.. But the thing is, until I have really worked with your baby – I don’t know where the best time in the night is for them to be fed. I don’t know if “dreamfeeding” your baby is the best option, or if the latching struggles you have experienced in breastfeeding might actually be aggravated by such a sleepy feed.

We have to talk it out. You tell me what you are comfortable with – what you think you can be successful with – and then I go in my brain and open the tab that I think might work and say, “how about tonight you try this…”. There are a lot of tabs in my brain, and it is likely that I have one I can open that will help you feel successful.

I believe when it comes to families and sleep, that they will be the MOST successful in making sleep changes, when they use the strategies that they feel calm, cool, and collected in. Which is why I create our action steps DURING our consultation, and every day thereafter in custom emails to your inbox.

Okay Lara so… 12 x 11.. That is 132 different combinations. We get it. But where do the other 792 different combinations come from?

Well friends.. That is timing. Scheduling. Based on your baby’s developmental age and stage, their unique sleep totals day-to-day, and what I have observed of them in the app you are using to track their sleep.. there are 7 different timelines I am most likely to use for the babies in my care.

These are starting off points, and they tend to change and shift ever so slightly after..

You guessed it..

Me getting to know your baby! Ha.

So the next time you ask me… is there any advice you can share with us right now? Or, do you know the reason why my 15 month old is waking up so much in the night? Or, can you give me an example of some of the methods we might use in working together?

You now know why these are hard questions for me to answer.

I know you probably think I am holding back advice because I want you to hire me.

I do want you to hire me. That is kind of not a secret..

But, when you do hire me I want to assure you I am giving you the best of the best of me. The solutions that are TRULY customized to you, and more than you can google. I want them to be safe for you, and your baby. I want them to honour your breastfeeding relationship, your attachment, your fears and anxiety, your unique experiences with parenti