Fearful Fantasy Land (a toddler’s dream)

The stove was covered in hot pots and pans, bubbling and boiling away with the contents of what would soon turn into two meals for my sister-in-law (now a mother of two! Yay!) Glass of wine in hand I had just settled into the grove of a cooking marathon.

Then the peace was broken.  Through the monitor came the heart-broken cry of my boy.  This happens pretty rarely now (and as I type this I worry I am disturbing the gods of baby sleep by admitting how often I get to sleep right through the night).  When it does it is usually a sign that illness is creeping in, if we are lucky its just the call of a sweaty baby who needs the gentle breeze of his ceiling fan.  This cry most certainly didn’t sound like a sweaty baby cry.

On this night he was crying and screaming as if in pain.  He seemed to be grasping at straws hoping to find a way to get out of his room.

Our dialogue went a little something like this (my internal dialogue is in green):

“Iiiicieeee, ICY!” he cried.  Daddy, upon hearing this runs one up the stairs. Maybe he is hurting? Does he have a fever? An ear infection..oh great..could he have just scratched himself or something?

“Nooooo, MY get it!!” thwack the icy hits Daddy in the foot. “Sorry Bubs” I reply “We can’t go to the kitchen right now, it’s sleepy time.” He obviously doesn’t really hurt or he’d take the darn icy…or does he? Maybe it hurts so much he can’t think? Or he needs something else….what does he really need?

“Medicine!!” “Is something hurting Bubba?” I ask gently.  “Med. uh. sin. Mammaaaa!” Daddy brings in some meds.  Well if his ear is hurting maybe this will help? He’s never been like this befo-“No MY get it!” He screams at Daddy. He wants to get is own medicine? and go downstairs and..“Water, my fill it up!” and get his own water from the bathroom.  It seems like he just want to get out of his room.  

“Maybe he had a bad dream?” My husband proposes.  A bad dream? How could I know if he had? And how could I make it better…oh great, is this a new thing? My pasta is probably boiling over.  I have no idea how to fix this, much less quickly.  WAIT…its not my job to fix it.  I need to get back to what he needs.  Maybe he needs to just cry.  I’ll just listen.  

I held him for a few minutes as he sobbed, gurgled and occasionally struggled to get down and run for the door. I can’t change his feelings, I need to just be with him now, in this moment.  I can be his calm.  

As he continued I replayed what happened.  He really wants out of here.  He seems mad or frightened.  Maybe he did have a bad dream? 

Just say it out loud, it couldn’t make it worse.  Come on…You had a bad dream, you feel upset.  What if he never wants to sleep in his bed again…what if he just won’t sleep there tonight?!? What if speaking the truth allows him to recognize how scary dreams are and he never sleeps alone again!? (oh, inner dialouge…)

It usually helps him.  You know him.  He wants to connect, he needs your support, your calmness, your clarity.  He already KNOWS he’s scared and upset silly!! 

“Bubba? I whisper.  “Bubs did you see something scary in your dreams? While you were sleeping?” His crying instantly lessens and he snuggles a little deeper into me.  “Mamma and Dada are right here, we are always here to keep you safe.” I hold him tight.  “Dreams are pretend even though they make you feel lots of feelings. Mamma and Dada will always be here to help you.” By this point he had stopped crying completley .  He softly murrmured “yeah, yeah” as he fell back to sleep.  He barely opened his eyes, pointed to his bed and asked to be put back in his crib.  It was amazing.

What is amazing isn’t that my husband (though I’ll take the credit) figured out he was having a bad dream. It was that what he needed was to feel, to be with me and have me be calm for him while he was not.  Essentially what he was asking for was for us not to fix it.  Holding him, feeling him and listening to him I didn’t take on any of his emotion.  I was his rock in that moment.  I let him feel what he needed even though I didn’t understand it.  I was able to manage my own confusion and emotion calmly.  Then finally I was able to put words to what he was going through.  Finally he was able to offload it all and fall peacefully back to sleep.

Three cheers for recognizing your child’s truth, staying calm and speaking it out loud (even if your inner voice is unsure).

Thanks for reading!

Melissa

Naps in Toy Land

There is a time of the day that is slowly becoming more and more difficult for me. Naptime. This is not your normal “toddler resisting nap” story. This is the story of one woman, six toddlers and some new challenges.
In the past I have always been somewhat proud of my ability to gently calm a group of toddlers to sleep and keep them asleep for 2+ hours. That was before my son was in the mix.
Now most days I struggle to get him down around noon when the others sleep and am lucky if he gets a good hour and a half sleep.
This struggle is two fold. My boy is a great sleeper at home. Through gentle sleep techniques we have helped guide him to a place where he puts himself to sleep and sleeps comfortably. We read books, give cuddles and say night night. He talks himself to sleep most days saying good night to the experiences and people he has come in contact with through the day. School days consist of a totally different routine. It is eat, lay down on your mat, go to sleep. For a child who hasn’t slept while out ‘n about since about four months this is a most difficult task! It is quite a struggle for me to stay calm and consistent with the message that it’s time to lay down, calm our body, rest our voice.
I also feel an internal struggle as I pat his back everyday. I love that he knows his body so well and is able to get himself comfortable, I hate feeling like I am interfering in this process. Somedays (like today) he needs more help to calm his body down and that means I take some of this control away from him. I also know he would love more of a calming routine prior to nap but how can I fairly read to him while telling others to lie down? Personally I couldn’t sleep in a room full of light and exciting toys so I am empathetic to the difficulty he has. In a perfect world we would have more control of our napping situation.
In many ways we are an anomaly. He and I in the classroom together in center based care. Having to be responsive to many children’s and teacher’s needs. Without the freedom to change much. The burden is on me to stay consistent and calm. To model appropriate behavior and do what’s best for all of us. Here’s hoping…

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The most primal cry

A Baby’s Urge to Be Heard | Psychology Today.

I came across this article today thanks to Janet Lansbury and her wonderful blog.  I felt it was worth sharing.

1-This is Psycology today.  Meaning unbiased truth about how our brains develop from birth.

2-There is a long standing debate in the world of ‘parenting education’ regarding ‘Cry-it-out’ that, in my humble opinion, deserves more than just a passing mention.

Now, a little editorializing…

Decade after decade there have been new and ‘proper’ ways to raise your chlid.  There will always be well meaning friends, relatives or strangers who deeply believe that what they tell you about child rearing is the best.  This is most likely because it is how they were raised or how they raised their children.  I understand these paradigms are hard to escape.

However, there is a reality to how our brains develop. The more we learn about how to build cars, the better the cars are.  As time goes on we have gone from room sized computers to idevices in every pocket.  Why then wouldn’t we use that same growing wealth of knowledge to help guide our precious little humans into the most secure, healthy and loved people they can be?

As the article states crying isn’t brought on by cognitively based manipulative thoughts.  To the contrary hormones within your baby’s brain cause them to cry out of a need for YOU.  For your comfort, your food, your touch and the reassurance that they are not being left, quite literally, for the wolves.  Being left in a dark room crying doesn’t teach a baby anything except to give up on you.

This article is not meant to anger anyone. Though I am sure it will. I understand deeply how confusing and painful it can be to try to do the right thing for your family and child when your little baby just will not sleep. I offer no judgement. I also do not propose a completly cry-less life for your child.  To the contrary I believe that emotional expression should be allowed to develop fully along the broad spectrum of human feeling.

What I hope for is a broader debate.  Freedom from guilt ridden ‘sleep training’.  What if as parents we grew to understand more developmentally appropriate sleep patterens? What if we talked more openly about how hard it can be to stay calm, gentle and helpful to our darling babes at 3am?

What do you think? This article serves as just a beginning to what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue.