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Falling Peacefully to Sleep – A Learned Skill

It’s 7:00 pm. Bedtime. You and your child go through a nightly ritual in properly preparing for sleep. It has been a long day and both of you are looking forward to getting some soothing and much deserved rest. You place your child in the crib, kiss her goodnight, turn off the lights, and your baby peacefully falls asleep. You and hubby enjoy a few hours of adult time before going to sleep yourselves!

Isn’t this how sleep happens in every home?

The one thing a child must learn to become a skilled sleeper is the one thing that ALL children can and will learn.

How to fall!falling child

Sleep is a developmental skill that requires a sensation of falling to fall asleep. Until a child learns through the repetition of falling what falling feels like, they start out with a bit of distress/stress when they go to fall. Parents have a tendency to alleviate this by fixing the falling. They do this by nursing, rocking, picking up the child, etc. It is common to experience the distress or discomfort of our children as suffering and something more traumatic than it actually is. It is also common to fix this falling for our newborn infants. This fine, it is kind, it is O.K. Between 3-4 months of age. But quite often even the newborn can start to learn how to fall, with our help.

Infants and young children express their disturbances in their cry.

Learning the skill of falling peacefully to sleep won’t be learned if we always rescue our child from the struggle of learning!

The parent is programmed, hard wired if you will, to stop the crying. I imagine at one time a crying baby could be the difference between living another day and becoming some prehistoric creature’s lunchmeat. Although there are no dire wolves in the parlor our babies don’t know that. Therefore, we respond to their cries. This is how we insure another basic need – the healthy attachment and secure bond.

I encourage parents to remain responsive, connected and trustworthy without fixing their child’s sleep.

A compassionate and respectful approach means that the whole family is able to get the sleep they need. If everybody in the house has learned the skill of falling peacefully to sleep, everyone will rest easier as a result. As much as we are caring for our children we are also modeling self-care. Teach your children well! Being present physically, mentally and emotionally for our children is enough.

Five Practices to Help Your Child Fall Peacefully To Sleep

These five practices of remaining present have a profound effect on your child’s sleep. Infants, even newborn infants, are attuned to the emotions of the parent. To soothe we must be soothed.

  1. Self-soothing – Self-soothing is mostly referred to in the child learning how to self soothe. However, the starting point is the parent being emotionally regulated and soothing the self before we show up to soothe our children. Stop for one minute, take some deep breaths and proceed calmly. Your tranquility will help reduce your child’s agitation. This step could be the most important part of the process as well as the most challenging.
  2. Empathy and Compassion – We feel especially vulnerable at night. We are animals. All animals are vulnerable at night. In our case, feelings are not facts. We are safe, your child is safe and in a familiar environment. Inviting in the depths of empathy and compassion go a long way in soothing these natural and instinctual feelings of fear and uncertainty in the self.
  3. Consistency – Consistency is continually mentioned in parenting. Your baby’s brain is very scientific. From birth they are collecting data on their environment and on us. They come to know who we are because they saw what we did. However you decide to do sleep, even if you decide to fix the falling (I don’t recommend this) by nursing, rocking or holding, do it consistently. Therefore, if you decide to change later your child will understand consistency. This means your child will be able to learn a new consistency, if you respond consistently.
  4. Reassurance – Our loving reassurance, responsiveness and respect is enough. We can reassure our children with our presence, our touch, and our voice. Every time we are in the presence of our children oxytocin, the bonding hormone is released in the brain. It is released in the parent’s brain as well (women have double the receptors for this hormone in the brain). It creates a loop between parent and child. We don’t have to fix sleep or rescue the child out of sleep for this soothing chemical to do it’s reassuring magic.
  5. Emotional blocks – What are the feelings that get in the way of families achieving restful and dependable? A big one is fear. We are afraid of change. And we are most afraid of change that will cause upset and crying in our children. This is very human. We fear the unknown and therefore we stick with the devil we know. In the case of sleep, we stick with dysfunctional methods of getting our child to sleep. We are not weak. We are not bad. We are not wrong. We are human.

Having a vision of how you want sleep to look in your home is key. A plan of action to realize this vision is essential for sleep success. My specialty is in creating a plan of action for the best sleep.

The greatest gift of sleep you can give to your child is to be a well-rested parent!

It’s 7:00 pm. Bedtime. You and your child go through a nightly ritual. That ritual ends in peaceful and consistent sleep. 

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