What do you do if cry it out isn’t for you? Is there another way to get more sleep without sleep training? Or do you just wait it out hoping things get better?
When it comes to infant and toddler sleep there seems to be two routes that families typically take to get more sleep. The first is the popular and well known approach involves separation based techniques that involve leaving your little one to “cry it out”. Many people are not comfortable with this and feel like their instincts are screaming at them to stop, so they then turn to option two - a no cry sleep solution. This often involves just waiting it out until things get better no matter how much you as a parent are suffering.
So what’s worse? Leaving your little one to cry and scream hoping they surrender to sleep sooner than later? Or do you suffer until you are so burnt out and struggling to be the parent you thought you would be, the parent that you desperately want to be?
We have good news for you! It does not have to be one or the other. We want to introduce you to a third option.
You CAN make changes while still being present and responsive for your child.
You CAN get more sleep without sleep training.
You CAN take care of yourself and your baby too.
At My Connected Motherhood, it is a part of our mission to support as many parents as possible to feel empowered when it comes to helping their child to go to sleep from a place of love and connection. We want you to feel confident in making changes to your child’s sleep pattern so your entire family can thrive.
We believe that between “cry it out” and “wait it out” exists a place where both mom AND baby can thrive.
This is why we support families from a place in the middle of these two extremes. We would never ask a parent to leave their child alone to cry and we do not EVER use separation based techniques. We also believe that when we take the lead and guide our children through positive changes, there may be an emotional response from our child.
The difference is that we place a high importance on making space for and validating emotion. It is important to us that parents understand tears are not manipulation, they are communication. We want parents to know that just because your child may respond to a change with tears, does not mean that your secure attachment connection with them is being threatened in any way because when we are responsive and support our children through emotions we can actually strengthen our connection even further.
Part of what makes our approach different, what makes it possible for us to exist in the middle is a true understanding of emotion, believing that our child had the right to experience emotion, and understanding our role in supporting and making space for tears from a place of unconditional love.
As parents we know what is best for our children and we need to take the lead when it comes to making changes that will help everyone to get the rest they need. You can read more on this in our blog about being a leading caregiver!
So when a change needs to be made, what we really need to be aware of is that yes, our children may respond with emotions, but that these emotions can still be met with compassion and love to protect our relationship with them. Just because our children respond with emotions, does not mean that we can’t lead through changes that will help everyone to thrive.
When it comes down to it, who are we to take away our children's right to experience emotion? In fact, shouldn't we want to protect that right? Don't we want our children to know that they hold the right to both healthy and full self-expression, and that we, the most important people in their lives, will continue to love them and show up for them unconditionally? ⠀⠀
When we rush to fix tears, or silence them with distraction, we are taking away that right to feel. If we are always rushing to silence the tears or distract them from what is upsetting them, we are suffocating their right to experience a full spectrum of emotions. ⠀⠀
What is far more important than trying to control our children's emotion is that we take responsibility for our own emotional response. It is essential that we differentiate between our child’s right to feel emotion, and how their emotional response makes US feel. We cannot control their emotions, but we can control OUR emotional response. We need to take the time to self-reflect on why their emotions lead to a certain response in ourselves. If we are struggling to support emotions that our children are expressing, it often has more to do with us than them.
Were we encouraged to express emotions as a child? Or we were taught that we should always be happy? Maybe our parents let us know we were seen as “too emotional” and we accepted the belief that emotions were wrong. Or maybe our parents weren’t comfortable with emotion and always rushed to fix or silence and that is all we know.
So as we move through parenthood with our own children, we have the opportunity to change this pattern, to show them that we love them regardless of their mood. We want them to wholeheartedly believe that our love for them is unconditional regardless of them struggling through a tantrum or crying.
Now it is certainly not alway easy to support emotion. It can be very hard! That doesn’t mean we can’t work at it. That doesn’t mean we can’t take the time to self-reflect and come to an understanding of why emotion is triggering for us.
Now let’s dig a bit deeper into why making space for emotional expression and tears from our children is so important.
Did you know that when we cry we are actually releasing toxins from our body?
As we mentioned, when we make changes, our children may respond with tears. When we set a loving limit or boundary in order to make a positive change children may need time to understand that they cannot change this. To help them move forward, we need to let them, and help them, in finding their tears. When our little ones come to understand that there is nothing that they can do to change our minds - essentially that their efforts are futile - they will have nothing left to do but cry.
When they accept that they cannot change the limit (which again is being set because we know what our children need in order to thrive) - they will have a physical response to accepting they cannot change a situation. This acceptance leads to neurotransmitters being released which signal tears to flow, these tears contain toxins that are then released from our body. Once these tears of futility have been released our children can then move forward and adapt to changes being made.
Have you ever noticed how after you have a big cry you feel better, even if nothing has actually changed? This is why. Our children need to be given the space to go through the same process to help us move forward with changes that will help everyone to get the rest they need.
We need to stop seeing tears from our children as a nuisance, something we have to deal with or roll our eyes at. Tears are therapeutic. Tears help us to accept and adapt.
If we are passionate about protecting our children’s right to experience emotion this means we need to make space for tears and get comfortable with any emotions they may express to us. But what does this really look like?
We do not have to agree with how our children are feeling in order to be able to support their emotion but if we want to help our children experience futility so that they can adapt, we need to respond to emotion in a specific way.
Supporting emotion involves sitting, listening and validating our children’s feelings. We need to be fully present, stay focused on them and really let them express themselves. Rather than telling them “it’s okay, you’re fine” we need to let them know that we understand how they are feeling, that we truly hear what they are telling us. Rather than rushing them through the emotion and distracting them, we need to demonstrate patience so they are able to come to the point of futility.
By making physical contact and eye contact in a loving way we are showing them that even though we are setting limits to keep them safe, healthy and secure, we still respect whatever response they may have to this. By tuning into what is upsetting or frustrating them we are able to demonstrate we love them unconditional of their mood or self-expression.
By allowing them to work through the process of futility and adapting, we are protecting their right to experience emotion, without letting how it makes us feel interfere with their right to experience a full spectrum of emotions, safely and securely within their relationship with us.
Listening to, validating, accepting, respecting and working to understand emotions your child has now, is an investment in the lifelong relationship you have with your child.