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3 Things I Learned From My Baby’s Sleep

I always say that our children can be our BEST teachers if we are open to seeing all of the gifts of introspection and reflection they carry with them. Here are a few of the learnings I had as a result of living with two challenging sleepers. I hope you can enjoy, or at the least, relate.

1. Baby sleep is not linear

While it is true that baby sleep does improve in a linear trend over the first 5 years of a child’s life, that first 18 months is incredibly variable. I remember thinking.. Okay! I will work on my baby’s sleep when they are 6 months old, and then I will have a good sleeper for LIFE! This is not true. Our babies are firing more neurons per second in their brains at any given moment than there exists websites on the internet. We are talking millions of neurons per second. That is a lot of tabs to have open at once! As a result, their sleep is disrupted. Developmental changes present our babies with advanced gross motor skills, advanced cognitive skills. They have to work through this stuff! 

How this knowledge can help you: Know that your baby’s sleep pattern worsening is likely not a reflection you have done anything wrong. If your child was previously sleeping pretty well, in a developmentally appropriate way for their age, then their most recent sleep slide likely means something is happening for them. We can greet this sleep regression with patience and empathy, knowing seeing them is normal.  

2. Sleep time is not the only place parenting happens 

When my children were not sleeping well, I was 100% lazer focused on their sleep. I became so obsessed with tracking night wakings, and analyzing nap timing that I sort of lost sight of the big picture. We are in a relationship with our children for a lifetime. There is so much parenting that happens outside of those hours at night. I remember beating myself up over whether or not my nighttime responses were empathic enough, loving enough, engaged enough…. But what I forgot about was all the loving, empathic, engaged, awesome stuff that was happening during the day. That stuff counts too! The time where your child does not sleep well will be but a tiny blip on the timeline that is their life. We are talking about these kiddos growing to be 80 – 100 years old! You’ve got a lifetime to imprint what you’re hoping to. It’s not all about the sleep. 

How this knowledge can help: My hope is that you will give yourself some grace in knowing that you are showing your kiddo BIG love around the clock, and this counts for something! 

3. Learning to validate big feelings at sleep times has helped my parenting 

I used to be scared of my children’s cries… I’m not going to lie. I used to want to quite literally be as far away as possible from them! It made me feel so uncomfortable to hear them upset, and if I couldn’t “fix it” right away, I felt like a totally incapable caregiver. Shouldn’t I know what my baby needs? But the truth is; we cannot possibly know what our kids need 100% of the time and sleep times can be met with big feelings and unpredictability. But being there as their rock, being a reliable and predictable caregiver, that is super important! Responsive and respectful caregiving means that we accept our children’s emotions (no matter how ugly), we get curious about what is going on for them, and then we offer them empathy. The more that I learned to sit with my kiddo’s big emotions, the better I got at it! The more I offered myself empathy in knowing it was okay to just BE with them rather than FIX it for them, the more comfortable and confident I became as a mother. 

How this knowledge can help: Being with our kids through their big emotions is something that is likely to happen all of their lives! When you can be with your child through their feelings, you will increase your threshold for it. 

XO 

Lara 

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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