Parents and mom’s especially are naturally programmed to hate crying. It makes our hearts race, literally, and is really hard to sit and listen to without doing anything, especially when we are tired and worn out from our day. Getting kids to sleep is often the “witching hour” for many families, where the children are also worn out, and need the cartharsis of a good cry to expend that last remaining energy and prepare for sleep. Although we’d love to avoid our kids crying at all, it’s actually a healthy, natural release for them and a form of communication of their feelings. Remember, kids aren’t born talkers, they are born cryers. And crying for kids is communicating.
Attachment Parenting experts have always said that crying is a behavior that is natural to humans from birth. As an infant, babies learn that crying will result in comforting, which creates a relationship bond. This behaviour is continued to create attachments in life. In fact, humans are the only species that is capable of crying, indicating that it is actually a highly evolved function. And when tears themselves are examined, they are found to be highly toxic. Crying is our way of cleansing our bodies. Research has also shown that after a crying episode, you will generally feel better than you did before. This is increasingly true when there is someone else there to comfort you. So what does this mean from a parenting perspective? This means that being there for your child while crying is critical to reinforcing your bond with them.
Child development experts like Gordon Neufeld feel strongly that crying also plays an important role in cementing memories (both good and bad) in our kids. In fact, connecting a learning experience with a strong emotion, be it fear, anxiety or elation – makes that behaviour far more likely to be remembered than anything else. Parents can understand this, by thinking back to any vivid childhood memory (e.g. pants pull down from behind while on stage).
OK, so how does this relate to sleep then? Well, the top selling book on Amazon.com under parenting happens to be “The No Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley, with a foreward by Dr. William Sears MD. Firstly, most attachment parents already know that the best so called “sleep solution” is simply co-sleeping, it’s that simple. But of course, many of us don’t always enjoy sleeping next to a wriggling sack of knees and elbows. That said, there are many variations, such as a “side-car” bed, or “musical beds” (our family’s favourite) depending on the needs of your kids.
Personally, I always hesitate to take advice from a medical doctor on behavioural issues with children. They simply are not experts in the field of child development. I also caution anyone looking for a single “solution”, since in parenting, that almost never exists. Sure, there are short-cut tricks provided by some “experts” to get your kids to appear to do what you want in the short term, but in the long term, you need to go back to your attachment parenting roots, and place the needs of your child first. With sleep, that is connection. Did you know that when you are next to your child, their vocal chords vibrate along with yours? You are literally connected by your voice vibrations which echo through their body and yours.
Taking a 3 year-old and placing them alone in a dark bedroom and telling them to “go to sleep!”, from their perspective, is like placing an adult in a solitary confinment prison cell and telling them to “enjoy their stay”. Children need to be feel safe and secure as they go off to sleep. This is often a time when they are most vulnerable, and need their parents most. We need to keep in mind other good staples of parenting, such as setting up a good pre-sleep routine (e.g. bath, story), creating a comforting and safe quiet environment. But at the end of the day, your child will want you close by as they drift off. No ultimatums, no raised voices or commands to “get to sleep”, just the soothing sound of your breath next to theirs.