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How often do we talk about empathy and baby sleep in the same sentence?
As a Nanny and Infant Sleep Mentor, my clients usually talk about baby sleep in terms of emotions like:
But the most helpful mindset you can cultivate to help your baby sleep better is one of empathy.
If your baby is struggling to develop healthy sleep habits, know that your emotional state when putting bub to bed is critical. How you are feeling, and the expressions of those feelings when you strive to settle your little one, has a profound impact on her ability and willingness to relax and sleep.
If you tense up at nap time or bed time because the experience has been challenging, your baby will pick up on this tension. They will inherit the idea that sleep is a bad thing, to be avoided or resisted, and you will likely encounter more tension and stress.
Please don’t feel like you are “doing it wrong” if this is the case for you. Of course you are tense and stressed – you’re not getting enough sleep yourself, and no doubt you are worried that your baby isn’t getting enough sleep either. This anxiety stems from your deep love for your child.
You just need some tools to change your approach.
When you are able to acknowledge your baby’s challenges and express empathy, you convey that your baby’s emotions are ok, valid and perfect.
Don’t make the mistake of believing that a baby is too young to have emotional experiences. They may not have the ability to manage or express their emotions just yet, but as tiny humans, they detect energy and moods just as readily as we adults do.
Think about the impact of empathy and compassion on yourself. When you are experiencing a strong emotion, and someone denies that emotion or declares that you should not be feeling that way, how do you feel?
Not great. Most likely, you will feel that emotion even more strongly, but now it’s imbued with frustration and resentment too.
When your emotions are validated (“Of course you’re feeling this way? Who wouldn’t?”) you feel a release. You feel comforted. The emotion likely begins to subside.
When you convey to your baby that how she’s feeling at bed time is perfectly fine, she can accept her fear and move through it. She feels heard and understood. Now, satisfied that she has communicated and that you have given her permission to feel, she can begin to relax.
You can show empathy to your baby with compassionate words, with soothing touch, and even by applying mindfulness and acceptance principles.
Within your baby sleep routine (the sleep routine is the cornerstone of healthy sleep habits) there is ample space for compassionate physical contact.
While nursing, touching, holding and cuddling your baby at sleep time, make sure your movements are gentle and slow. At this time, we don’t want to stimulate bub with too-vigorous rocking or bouncing.
Your tender touch can convey empathy by reassuring bub that she is safe. The strength of your arms while breastfeeding, the warmth of your hands as you put her down, gentle squeezes on her hands and feet as she prepares for sleep can help her to know that she is protected.
While offering these soothing touches, convey empathy using words like the ones above in your own authentic way.
Grounding yourself in the moment by following your breath can have more than just a calming effect on you. You can transfer this calm to your baby too.
The simple act of following your breath in and out while allowing your baby to do and be whatever she wants in that moment can bring about an energetic shift.
Present-moment acceptance means allowing whatever is to just be. Similar to the principle of acknowledging baby’s emotions, this acceptance can communicate the idea that all is well and fine, so that baby releases and lets go as well.
Your goal as a parent is to support your baby through developmental milestones so that she learns to sleep on her own. The idea is to empower, not rescue.
Bringing empathy and compassion into the equation is key to getting you there.
Need 1:1 help with baby sleep issues? Everyone loves a baby sleep success story. And after 20 years of professionally caring for infants, toddlers, and their families, Raquel Tara has hundreds of them. In 2017, Raquel brought her RIE-inspired Baby Sleep Support program to the online space. Since then parents from Byron Bay to Broome and everywhere in between now have their own baby sleep success story to share with you.