Subject: Toxic Stress And The Stress Of Learning a New Skill: There is a BIG difference!

Tears do not equal trauma 
Separateness does not equal abandonment 
Coming and going to offer our support is not neglect 
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Crying is the number one issue parents are concerned about when faced with a sleep change. In fact this newsletter could be 10 pages long to cover the nuances of this topic.

These are the most common words I hear to describe exactly what it is that parents are afraid of.
  1. Abandonment
  2. Trauma
  3. Neglect
I assure you that any parent who is having any of the above experiences with their child is not calling a sleep consultant. 

100% of the families I work with have a strong and healthy bond with their child.

100% of my program not only supports this bond but reinforces and strengthens it.

When I stared this program over 10 years ago I consulted with experts in the field of attachment theory. One of my primary goals in creating my sleep program was to keep the secure attachment in tact. Five years later I was led to the work of Allan Schore at UCLA. It was his writings on "Regulatory Theory" that made me realize that my approach to sleep in fact strengthens the bond. 

Fear of change is part of the human condition. Fear of our children crying in the face of any change is part of the human condition. Some part of us, if not every bit of our biological being, is not supposed to let that happen. Therefore, it makes since that we would get into a situation that compromised our own sleep to prevent any amount of crying.   
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The Difference Between Toxic Stress and Normal Stress

In David Bornstein's New York Times article in October, he explores the latest research and interventions in protecting children from toxic stress. 

He writes about a landmark study in the late 90's that examined the adverse affects of childhood experiences. These adverse affects included abuse both sexual and physical, neglect, domestic violence and family dysfunction. 

Fortunately this type of research has been taking place for over a decade now.
"...Researchers have understood that frequent or continual stress on young children who lack adequate protection and support from adults, is strongly associated with increases in the risks of lifelong health and social problems..."

The article goes on to define the difference between toxic stress and normal stress of childhood. Jack P. Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, where the term toxic stress was coined, describes this difference as follows.

"It’s also critical to distinguish between “toxic stress” and normal stress. In the context of a reasonably safe environment where children have protective relationships with adults, Shonkoff explains, childhood stress is not a problem. In fact, it promotes healthy growth, coping skills and resilience. It becomes harmful when it is prolonged and when adults do not interact in ways that make children feel safe and emotionally connected."

Providing the safe environment for sleep, remaining responsive to the cues of the child, and making changes using the loving associations the child has come to expect, help our children develop that very important human quality - resilience. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties is a gift we give our children each time we allow them to struggle, learn a new skill, support them without fixing it for them and hold a loving safe space for them to experience their own capabilities and competence. 

Bornstein goes on to say this about high stress situations...

Children can be shielded from the most damaging effects of stress if their parents are taught how to respond appropriately. By developing the ability to read a child’s cues, and by being emotionally available on a daily basis, parents can provide buffers that reduce the harmful physiological effects of high stress.

The parents I work with know how to respond appropriately on a daily basis. However, at night, and especially around sleep, we become more vulnerable. All animals are vulnerable around sleep and we are animals. We have obsolete instinctual drives and our newborn babies have primitive brains. 

Changing the way we are doing sleep is not a high stress situation for children. Even if they are crying we are offering everything they need to feel our warmth and love.
  • a safe and nurturing environment
  • remaining emotionally and physically available
  • staying connected and attuned
  • responding to the cry when it becomes intense
However, changing sleep can feel very much like a high stress situation to the parent, especially if the parent has unresolved trauma or abandonment anxiety. Here is what helps the most.
  1. emotionally regulate yourself - this is essential in helping our children emotionally regulate. Using meditation or a prayer practice can work wonders in this regard. 
  2. remain open and responsive but do not engage - being present is very different than actually engaging with your child. Depending on the age of the child this can be accomplished very well with coming and going to offer support and comfort. However, if a parent decides to remain present the entire time step one and two become essential in this process. 
  3. be an accurate mirror - If we can accept that learning a new developmental skill is not a high stress situation then we need to mirror that back to our child. This is why I find acknowledgment, empathy and reassurance so beneficial in this process. We acknowledge that this is tough for them, we empathize with their emotions and we reassure them that we are here in support. Mirroring back is very different than riding the waves of emotion with our child. We want to be an emotional anchor for our children. We provide the stability as they experience the storm of emotions that can rise and fall as they learn a new skill. 
 We are not leaving them alone to cry until they pass out.
My specialty is helping parents remain emotionally regulated as they respond and remain connected to their children in this process. 
Mindful Moments 
The dew of compassion is a tear
~ Lord Byron

Making peace with the discomfort you feel around your child's emotions.
Inspired by Janet Landsbury's blog Elevating Childcare.

Even though your child has a lot of development ahead,
in this moment she is a whole person.

Become curious about how YOU feel about the many emotions your child will feel and express over time. Ponder the following.

  1. Do you feel responsible for your child's emotions?
  2. Do you view crying as something to be avoided or fixed in your child rather than a nuanced dialogue?
  3. Can you be open to becoming an emotional anchor for your child, rather than riding the whirlwind of his ever changing emotions and expressions?
Events and News
Tuesday February 18 -  Boulder Community Hospital
 1:00 - 2:00  P.M.

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Eileen Henry, 1538 Bradley Drive, Boulder, CO 80305, United States
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