Many children will cry falling asleep. Whether in your arms or already laying down when your child begins to cry as they drift off to sleep, it can be very stressful for parents. Even after years of working with infants and toddlers, I find myself thinking, "Just Sleep!" because it's hard to understand why a child is resisting and crying. All the resources about using positive sleep language and setting a good routine will help, but ultimately your child might cry as he falls asleep.
Finding just the right response to your child's cry requires some listening on your part. Look at your child--is she sad because she's falling asleep, is she fighting sleep? Do you think she is scared of falling asleep? Look closely at your child's face, the intensity of their cry, and their body language. What might help them to relax? Often parents rock, shush, sway, or bounce, to try to calm their child. This is often too much. Children download their calm from our calm and so they need you to be calm. A rhythmic swaying might be calming but if you're anxious, that swaying is likely more rough and less rhythmic. We do not recommend using motion or using it minimally. So you want to respond to your child's cry but you want to hold in mind your role. It is not your job to fix your child's cry. It's communication. Your job is to listen. Instead of solutions, offer your child your calm and your empathy. You might say, "I'm right here, I know it's hard to let go." When you are calm and empathetic you might see a way to help, such as a change in position, a gentle touch or a song. A song is a great example of something that could be delivered as a way to offer connection, empathy, and calm but could also be delivered over top of the crying to hush or quiet. Alternatively, many parents simply give up and let their child 'cry it out'. We find this is a 'not enough' response, maybe communicating to the child that they are on their own or their cries are not heard.
Be present and listen for the cries' communication. Know it's going to take time for your child to learn to sleep and that crying might be a part of his process.
Empathy when your child is crying might sound like:
- Sleeping can be hard. Calm body. Deep breaths. It's safe to sleep.
- I see you're trying to stay awake. It's safe to rest. Your body needs rest to have energy for later. I'm here with you.
- I can hear you're having a hard time getting to sleep. It can be difficult.
- You sound really angry. It can be frustrating when you want to play but feel tired. We will have time to play after nap.
- Stretch your body out long. Close your eye. You're safe.
- You're letting out all your energy in those big cries. I hear you have a lot to let go of to be able to relax.
One of our favorite sleep articles from Janet Lansbury's blog might also be a resource to consider: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2015/01/helping-your-baby-learn-to-sleep-guest-post-by-eileen-henry/