Jul. ’18 Q&A – Sleep Training, Common Frustrations, and Finding the Best Direction

Sleep Training

Q. I’m wondering if you have any advice on “sleep training”. My baby is almost 8 months and breastfed to sleep for naps and bed time. We also co-sleep. But my husband is ready for him to move to his room and everyone is trying to give me advice about how to achieve this. I do NOT want to do the cry it out method. I’m having a hard time accepting the entire idea. Plus he’s never slept in his crib. I have tried the pacifier several times throughout the months, but he never has accepted it. It’s so hard because I hate to hear him cry, it will be torture not to pick him up or nurse him when he is resisting sleep without nursing. I’m thinking I’ll put a mattress in his room so I can be near while he adjusts to his crib. But I definitely need to mentally prepare myself for this entire process or I know I will give in.

A. You are at a good point to start sleep training (altho I hate that term). I think the first place to start is putting him in his crib for naps so he gets used to that. Keep nursing him to sleep so he goes easily and wakes up in his crib. Once that is accomplished the next step is to gradually put him down awake – without nursing him to sleep. This is the hard part but so important. When he associates going to sleep with nursing, that’s what he will expect when he wakes up at night. He no longer needs a feeding at night – that doesn’t mean you are going to stop – but just know that. When he will not stop crying at night until you nurse, that means he has made the association strongly. This is a hard time because you will of course go back and forth for awhile — nothing ever needs to be cold turkey. But the best thing you can do for both of you is to get him to go to sleep without nursing.

So nurse, then gently get him to a wakeful state or take him off your breast just before he goes to sleep. Rock him — maybe rock him to sleep — then put him down and stay with him rubbing his tummy, singing, whatever until he goes to sleep. He will likely cry because he wants the familiarity of your breast. When you say you don’t want to do the cry-it-out method (You don’t ever need to do that), what you probably mean is that you don’t want him to feel abandoned. His cries do not mean he is feeling abandoned. He cries because he doesn’t have words. Crying is his only option. So whenever he doesn’t get what he wants/what he’s used to, he will cry. Just stay with him and comfort him.

The mistake I see together with the resentment I hear from parents on down the road comes from not making this transition early on and feeling trapped long after the child should be going to sleep on his own. Even years later, I will hear “I have to stay with him/sleep with him or he won’t stay in bed.” Have to is the key phrase for feeling trapped.

Common Frustrations

Q. I keep struggling with the same thing again and again, and it seems to me that the techniques of connective parenting just don’t seem to work. I pick my kids up from school and my almost 4 yr. old son doesn’t cooperate getting into the car. He is stubborn, he walks slowly, moaning etc. I talk calmly, telling him I understand but that I’m also tired, and could he please help me by getting in the car. Eventually he does. At home he bothers his sister even when I say nicely that his sister would like to have her peace. He gets annoyed by a toy car falling down and kicks me and calls me “kaka”. I tell him nicely that I don’t like to be called that. But all this “theatre” just continues. I am working really hard to stay calm and not to shout, I am really devoting time to spend with him, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. Then I get desperate and question this method of being understanding and compassionate, because he just doesn’t get the message that his behavior is not pleasant for me. My husband is saying that he should feel the consequences of his inappropriate behaviour, because he just can’t kick me when he is frustrated. Then I seriously consider punishing him because he just doesn’t seem to care that he is hurting me and that his behaviour is not ok. What could I do?

A. Your frustration is common. You have a misunderstanding about connective parenting that I hope I can clear up. Having a connective approach is for your benefit—to model the respectful, responsible person you hope your child to become. It is not to get your child to do and be who you want especially when that is inappropriate for his temperament and developmental stage. And CP creates a balance, meaning you must say what you want and don’t want—to create that balance.

As you say, you get desperate. I think because you see your son as being a problem rather than having a problem. His problem might be that he can’t do what you expect because he is 4 or because he has a hard time with transitions. His problem might be that your desperation/exhaustion is causing you react by blaming or threatening him (If you don’t get in the car, we won’t be able to do…), so he feels bad and fights back because he feels unaccepted. When his behavior is unacceptable, that is your clear signal that he is having a problem. He shows you his problem the only way he can—with his behavior.

He’s 4 so he doesn’t understand how to tell you what he is feeling. He is likely excited to see his older sister after school and cannot be expected to understand that she wants her space and to be left alone. That is a mature understanding of what someone else is experiencing that likely won’t be possible for his brain for a number of years. When his frustration (absolutely typical and normal for his stage of development) over a toy falling or anything not going his way leads him to act out physically and kick you, staying calm and being nice only allows him to treat you like his punching bag. A big misunderstanding of connective parenting is that the parent should be sweet and accommodating all the time. Absolutely not. But when we think the only other alternative is to yell and punish, we don’t find a middle ground.

Stand away from him and say very firmly, “I will not allow you to kick/hit me. I certainly hope you will never allow anyone to kick or hit you.” Then hold a pillow for him and say, “Here, you are so mad that you need to get your mad out. Not at me, but kick this pillow as hard as you can.” Same with name calling. “I will not allow anyone to call me names, just as you hate it when anyone calls you names.” When he is doing something you don’t like, Say very firmly, “That doesn’t work for me….I don’t like it when that happens…. That is not okay with me.” This is your issue, not his. So own it. You are the one that doesn’t want toys all over the floor, not him. Then say, “Let’s find a way that works for both of us. You want A, I want B. How do we make it work so we both get what we want?” This is problem solving — the best skill you can teach your child, bar none.

It takes self-confidence to stand absolutely firm about what you like and don’t like; what you will allow and what you won’t. You do not need to use any blame, threats or punishments. In fact they will lead to the opposite results you want. But you must be strong in yourself. As well as understanding of what your child is capable of at his age.

Connective parenting is NOT about getting your child to change. It is about being the parent he needs, who understands him—his temperament, development, any emotional problems he might be dealing with—and offers him both compassion and the firm boundaries he needs.

Finding the Best Direction

Q. What do you suggest to say to my 11 yr. old son regarding his performance in sports? He has played basketball for 7 years. He loves the game. But has never been aggressive and naturally shies away from risks or getting hurt. This presents a challenge when it comes to playing defense and driving to the basket. Both of which his coach continually tells him to do. He will try but just isn’t progressing because of fear I believe. He says he’s not afraid and gets defensive when I try to encourage him. I want it to be fun, but I get frustrated when he doesn’t put forth all of his effort or try his best. I don’t want to argue over sports. But what do I do when he’s not giving his all when he’s capable of so much more. He doesn’t think he’s being lazy at all. I worry this is turning into an argument or he feels like we are “on him” after every game. 

A. Perhaps he is giving it his all. I assume basketball has been fun for him for the past 7 years and now that it’s getting serious and risky, he doesn’t like playing anymore. My advice is to follow his lead on this. If he is not a naturally aggressive kid, he is just not going to put himself in a high-risk situation where he could get hurt or has to push beyond his limits to be considered playing well. He needs you to support him in doing what feels right to him. Otherwise, he will believe he’s not meeting up to your expectations of him.

He gets defensive because you are seeing it only from your point of view or the coaches point of view, not his. That translates to being against him, especially if he thinks you see him as lazy and not trying his best, and that doesn’t feel good. Now that the game is getting seriously competitive, it just may not be his game, and he would rather shoot hoops with friends on the driveway and watch it.

If he’s not particularly competitive (maybe he’s more of a gentle soul), a team sport may not be as engaging as a solo sport like skiing or swimming, etc. Perhaps a musical instrument. This should not be a question of laziness or not trying his best. If you support him, he will find the best direction for him. If he believes he’s not good enough for you, that can affect many decisions and choices in life. You might try something like, “You know, I think I’ve been pushing you in basketball because I thought you needed it. But I may be wrong and all I’m doing is pushing my agenda onto you. You are the one who knows what’s right for you. If basketball is no longer your thing, then I promise to pay more attention to what is your thing and let you lead the way.”

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.

When Your Kids Push Buttons BookWe punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.




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