The most frustrating thing to go through when we see our child tired and needing to rest is when they struggle and fight sleep. Even more so when it’s during the day when they are more alert and refuse to sleep. We try many things to help them sleep. We tire them out, follow a schedule, watch TV, give milk or breastfeed but nothing seems to work. Our baby starts crying in protest. Then we end up frazzled and even more stressed out after being in the room for more than 30 minutes.
In my approach to sleep, when a baby or toddler struggles to fall asleep and cries or tantrums instead, this shows a need to release pent up feelings that are keeping their mind and body from calming down and invite sleep.
Clearly, all the nursing, patting, rocking, and shushing aren’t working. These are distractions from our child to express fully what they feel. What I do in this instance is to allow the tantrum to take place instead. Why? Because pent up feelings are accumulation of fear, stress and frustrations from daily activities. If these feelings are not dispersed through crying and raging, they stay under the surface and usually results in offtrack behavior such as feeding difficulties, getting up frequently in the night, lots of crying in the daytime for no apparent reason or throwing tantrums over small matters such as “I want MOMMY to open the car door, NOT daddy!“.
This happened to me just last weekend when my 4 year old was having an early day and filled with non-stop activities. She ended up throwing a tantrum in the car while we were on the way home. She went on and on, “it’s too cold“, “please hold my feet“, “touch my hand“. I stayed calm and told her, “No sayang, you don’t need me to hold on to your feed or hand, the aircond is just fine.” She started kicking the car door and the front seat in protest and when I physically stopped her legs from kicking, she cried hard. I allowed this to happen while I supported her, “I see you are not feeling very good right now but I’m going to help you feel better”.
It went on for 15 minutes. Her crying slowed down and her body began to calm. I could see she was trying to find a good position to rest. Then just like a light bulb, she was asleep. The kind of sleep where you would shift her body or have loud conversations next to her and she would still be asleep.
The best part was when she woke up, she said, “Mama that was the best sleep ever!”
I did not use any punishment or yelling. I offered lots of physical closeness (thank god hubby was driving at that time), empathy and I accepted all the bad feelings she needed to let out. This is not cry it out where you would leave or ignore your child’s tantrum. This is supporting your child with loving presence that all feelings even the “bad” ones are accepted. We all have bad days too as adults. Young children are no different than us.
I invite you to try it and see if this resonates with you. If you do it, you will probably see a happy baby when he or she wakes from a nap.