Helpful comments – not always so helpful

by Maryanne Sayers

A Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you were able to take some time out and exhale from your busy lifestyles and spend some much-needed quality time with family, friends and loved ones.

I hope 2016 brings you all that you wish for…and for many families with babies and young children – top of their wish-list may well be…sleep!

One of the things I hear all the time when first working with a family who are having issues with their baby’s sleep is: “We were just waiting for it to get better” or “People were telling us it would all work out” or “Friends were telling us to just do what we needed to do and don’t worry about trying to establish a routine”.

I absolutely understand and appreciate the good intentions (REALLY good intentions) of those offering advice in trying to stay positive for the family involved and feeling like they are giving them helpful advice. However, I can tell you – for parents who are utterly sleep deprived AND who are trying anything and everything to get their baby to sleep AND who are going through exhausting rituals and processes each day AND who are very nearly at the end of their rope – being told “don’t worry it will all work out” or being told “just get through the first few months and then it will get better” or being told “don’t listen to what other people say, you just do what feels right/natural for you” is actually very unhelpful advice.

Nothing feels “right/natural” to them at that point. They feel helpless and not in control. They are sleep deprived. They are at breaking point. They are putting on a strong, brave front to the outside world but on the inside they are crumbling and feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The warm and fuzzy comments from their family and friends about “just do what feels natural…it will all get better” are just adding to their feelings of helplessness and despair.

Families who are sleep deprived will hold onto anything, even if they are only meant as a passing comment. Being told that things will get better and that it will all fall into place is giving them false hope and a completely unrealistic expectation. So, in turn they just keep going day in, day out – delirious with exhaustion (so too is their baby) and waiting for everything just to suddenly self-resolve one day and be completely sorted. And I can tell you – it just doesn’t happen.

Other advice given to families is along the lines of “Hey, you have a baby and this is just how it is. Sleepless nights and complete chaos is just par for the course, so get used to it”. This could not be further from the truth – i.e that this is just the way it is and that they need to get used to it. Sleep deprivation is not a normal outcome for babies and parents if a proper structure and routine is established, which includes babies acquiring the skill of being able to sleep.

The reason parents are in this situation with a baby who is not sleeping well is because their baby’s overall sleep foundation and routine/structure has a number of problems and is not set up correctly. Significant changes need to be made in order to get it all resolved and on track. Parents/families need to be advised and guided on what they need to do in order to make change and break the cycle they are in. They need to be educated. They need to be provided with a clear plan for going forward that they can follow.

Until parents understand what the existing contributing issues or problems are and importantly, what changes then need to be made, then nothing will change. Their same cycle just keeps on going. Things won’t just magically repair themselves and all fall into place. It just doesn’t happen. Yet so many families just battle on and on, sometimes for months, waiting and hoping it will all get better.

There is so much information and advice coming from numerous sources – and much of it is conflicting. “Don’t do that”, “Don’t do this”, “You shouldn’t be doing that with your baby to help get him to sleep”, “You are doing WHAT with your baby? No, that is crazy!”. It is no wonder parents everywhere are overwhelmed and confused.

Much more helpful to those families you may know who are really struggling, is to let them know that there’s lots of help out there for sleep and settling issues and then try and take an active role in helping them connect to these support services. For example, there is Tresillian and Karitane. There are helplines. There is local sleep cottages. There is the local childhood clinic. There are private consultants such as myself who do consultations and home visits.

Even though it is coming from a good and compassionate place of wanting to be helpful/sympathetic – please, please think twice about saying to a family who is struggling with a sleepless baby/toddler “don’t worry – hang in there, it will all get better”. Because I can tell you every day it is not getting better, it is getting worse. And these families are struggling, sometimes beyond what you could ever imagine.

Contact Maryanne 0417 068 545

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