How to Help Your Child Sleep Better By Starting With Yourself
I wanted to share some of my own, personal experience in helping my 4 year olds sleep patterns.
From his earliest days, I used to describe my son as “sleep resistant”. Rocking, nursing to sleep, rescheduling our lives around nap time, complete pitch black darkness, white noise machines, swaddling … you name it, we did it all. He has always been a very alert, observant person and he was rarely (read: never) the type of child who would put his head down or just dose off at times.
When I started to learn about Conscious Parenting, from the incredible Dr. Shefali Tsabary – I began to internalize one of the movements main messages: that whatever lack we are perceiving in our children, is in fact a reflection of our own selves. And that rather then looking to fix a problem in our child we need to embody the change ourselves.
And I thought: OK, it makes sense that if I want my child to be polite, I should say “please” and “thank you”. But … my son doesn’t even see me go to sleep!
How would that effect his sleep?
But on a more spiritual level, if you like, it resonated for me. And so, I began a conscious process where I let go of my expectations from my sons sleep – and instead began to focus on my own.
“We cannot expect them to become something that we are not willing to embody ourselves” – Dr. Shefali
As soon as I had made this shift, I realized I had come up against something important. I have had nightmares for years and years, I always refer to myself as a “light sleeper” or a “difficult sleeper”.
I compared myself to my husband – saying I couldn’t fall asleep as fast as him or sleep as long. I was also not taking the care I wanted to of my own time or being as protective as I needed to be of my own sleep. So I began to focus on going to bed earlier, on rewiring my brain to think of myself as a flexible, rested sleeper and I began to take more practical steps like unwinding before bed, going to bed earlier, and switching off devices in the evening hours.
At the same time I began to analyze what I might be projecting onto my son. We stopped things like: “Why couldn’t he get his father’s sleep genes?” or “He’s a difficult sleeper.” And we began cultivating a more trusting, separate approach to his sleep personality: we began to think of him as someone who knows his own body, and who will rest it when it needs rest – and to model this behavior ourselves, even when he couldn’t see it.
One of the best ways I’ve found to nurture a trait in our son is to treat him as though he already fully manifests it.
Accordingly, our sentences sounded less like this:
“Close your eyes now, it’s time to sleep”
And more like this:
“You’ll sleep when you’re ready.”
Less like this:
“Please just go. to. sleep!”
And more like this:
“Can I stroke you while you rest?”
We stopped getting upset and frustrated that he woke up at 5:30am everyday – and began to accept – embrace even – that this is his body clock and the we are the ones who need to adjust our expectations and our schedules to accommodate that.
All of these, perhaps seemingly minor shifts accumulated into a very big paradigm shift for our family. And sleep is no longer an “issue” that we even think about.
“You don’t ‘fix’ your child. You create conditions for them to rise” – Dr. Shefali
If you’re struggling with sleep I hope this might inspire you to think about your own relationship to sleep, your expectations – and perhaps unrealistic expectations of your child’s sleep – and what stressful energy you might be bringing to the table. I’d love to hear if Conscious Parenting has helped you in this or in other areas of your life – for me it’s transformative.