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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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Why is my child waking up at night?

Why is my child waking up at night?

How come my baby can sleep 2 hours uninterrupted some nights? And 5 hours the next?

I have seen her sleep better than she is!!! Why isn’t she doing this every night?

Pretty much the million dollar questions, I know! And ones I am still answering daily, even after I have started working with a family, and we are problem solving to find out what exactly makes their baby “tick”.

The truth of the matter is, babies do not sleep like adults.

As adults we sleep in 3 – 4 hour stretches at nighttime. Typically we connect two sleep cycles such as these and form our 6 – 8 hour night. Sometimes this is with little to no disruption. Other nights, we are wide awake middle of the night and wondering if we should get up and be productive! 

All of us wake up at night. Me. You. The nextdoor neighbour. The guy who walks the dog. Yes! We all wake up at night. We might nudge our spouse over. We might wake up to pee (one can only hope..).  Or we might get a glass of water.

Babies also wake up at night. However, their sleep cycles are much shorter than adults. These range from 30 – 45 minutes during the day, and are more like 90 minutes to 4 hours at night.

Since we know that the transition from “awake to asleep” is a vulnerable change of state for most humans, with infants being no exception – it is natural and normal that a baby might need some assistance to connect from one sleep cycle to the next.

Inconvenient for us. Yes.

Inconvenient for baby. Probably much less so.

Of course there are other factors at play beyond a baby’s sleep cycle being shorter on average than an adults, that can contribute to night wakings.

What time you are putting your child to bed, and what their daily rhythm looks like will play a part in this process.

I certainly do see children have more trouble sleeping when they are put to bed for the night overtired. I also see them struggle to sleep when their day has been super busy, or full of events that are out of the norm. 

When we get behind the child’s eye, and think through what a busy day might mean for that child.. some of their night waking behaviour sometimes becomes more clear.

For example; baby is taken to a large family dinner.

These are all hypothetical, and by no means am I saying you shouldn’t take your baby out to a family dinner once in a while. Your baby will certainly benefit from going out to a large family dinner once in a while!

But, I am using this as an example of how the repercussions of this might actually present themselves in your child’s sleep.

  • Baby’s nap is cut short so that the family can ensure they are on time for the start of supper.
  • Baby’s post-nap snack of fruit, veggie, and dairy is cut, and a granola bar is offered in the car instead.
  • Baby spends time in arms at the gathering; going from person to person who oodles at their cuteness.
  • Baby does not spend any time on the ground crawling around, because the family has a large dog, and parents are nervous about this.
  • Baby spends very little time crawling, furniture cruising, and maximising energy output.  
  • Baby is fed a food item for dinner that they have never had before.
  • Mom is nervous about breastfeeding babe in front of her cousin, and therefore skips a regular feeding time without even noticing this.
  • Baby falls asleep for a minute or two in the car seat on the way home, and then has difficulty transferring to the crib.
  • Baby wakes frequently overnight as a result of x, y, z.

When our days follow a regular rhythm and predictability, baby does get used to this. And it also makes it easier to troubleshoot on those difficult nights what exactly might have gone wrong, if anything.

Night wakings are for many reasons. We know this.

Thirst. Hunger. Milk. Extra touch-time. Cuddles. Comfort. Checking you are still there.. just to name a few!

Now what I will say is this;

Many babies do seek to recreate the way they fell asleep at bedtime, to transition from one sleep cycle to the next.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is natural. It is normal.

But, if the “thing” you are finding your child “needs” in the middle of the night is the same thing they required to fall asleep at bedtime, you may want to help them learn to fall asleep in a few different ways, and see what comes of this exploration?!

And as always, I am here if you prefer to make the line a little straighter, and journey to sleep in a way that is a little more concrete. 

XO

Lara