Sleep Talk Therapy for Children Struggling With Divorce
One of the bitter ironies for most single parents is that we’d do anything for our kids, but find that we have very little quality time with them. Can you relate? Even when I’m not working on weekends, I find that I’m constantly playing the disciplinarian and not able to reconnect, reassure, or just have fun with them. Between my nine-year-old’s antics (that seem more like those of a teenager’s)—to my two-year-old’s temper tantrums, most weekends roll along with me nagging, discipling, and often yelling “No!” or “Stop doing that to your brother!” at my adorable boys. It’s exhausting. Sadly, when children are dealing with the stress of a divorce, experts say they often act out more than normal and take out their fears, anger, frustration and anxiety on the parent who is caring for them most. This is also a time when they need more reassurance, love and stability than ever. Striking a balance between providing much needed discipline and reassurance is tricky. It’s so tempting to overcompensate for their loss and let certain bad behaviors slide, which experts say is a mistake. (Check out this story of mine for discipline strategies.)
But if you’re spending most of your time together nagging about homework, racing to and from scheduled activities, prepping dinner and disciplining your children—when can you find time to reconnect and reassure your troubled children? Believe it or not, one expert says we can do it while they are asleep. Yup, you heard me right—after you say goodnight.
I met Lois Y. Haddad RN, the author of Sleep Talk, at a friend’s speaking engagement a few weeks ago. When she told me that she developed this program after working as a nurse with critically ill children at UCLA Medical Center, I was hooked. She realized that children often heard encouraging words whispered to them when they slept. She shared with me a story about a nine-year-old boy whose father set him on fire. More than 60 % of his body was covered with burns and he had lost the will to live. Lois, whose shift was from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., would whisper to him after he fell asleep that she didn’t know “why this had happened to him, that he was a wonderful boy and that now was his chance to help other people through impossible situations.” The grafts began to take and the boy began to heal and he is currently a motivational speaker. Lois was so successful with children, that her husband, a general practitioner, often sent parents who were struggling with a host of issues with their kids—from back talk, to shyness, to lack of self esteem—to Lois.
When I was talking with her at this Orange County speaking engagement, I began thinking about all of the studies that I’ve read suggesting that some people in comas can actually hear what was said to and around them. (Read the story “I Was In a Coma But Could Hear Every Word” for inspiration!)
As she spoke to me I had a bit of an Aha moment, as Oprah would say. I instantly remembered a time in college when a dear friend had been crushed in a devastating car accident that instantly killed our other friend who was with her. I would visit Sarah in the south Georgia hospital the emergency crew drove her to, and see a version of her that was unbearable as she was completely immobilized and hooked up to tubes. She had suffered incredible brain and internal injuries, and while we weren’t sure she’d make it, something told me to bring my photos along. Maybe it was Divine intervention? Before making the three hour drive to see her, I dug out my photography class notebook and found the gorgeous black and white photos I took of Sarah. In most of the shots she appears to be floating in air: her black curly hair is flying around her, her polka dot mini skirt creating a ballooned mushroom that her bent knees are tucked under, only her white tennis shoes emerging from. Her smile is infectious. Somehow, I captured the essence of her spirit in our photo shoot. Sarah, who was studying to be an art therapist for special needs children, was vivacious, silly, funny, a romantic nut and full of life. She wasn’t this immovable person attached to tubes in order to breathe and eat. I taped these pictures of her leaping in the air all around her bed. I wanted all the nurses in this small Georgian town where she happened to have a car accident en route back from Florida, to see who she was. I wanted them to talk to the girl in the photo. I wanted them to talk about the girl in the photo. I wanted them to address her as she was—because somehow, I just knew she could hear them. I hope I was right.
So, as I was speaking with Lois, Sarah’s smiling face flashed before my eyes and what the former RN was saying about connecting with children as they sleep made intuitive sense to me. Here’s the gist of Sleep Talk:
After your child is asleep, go back into the room and talk with him/her. If you’ve had a terrible day together with lots of disagreements, it’s great to talk with your child as he’s looking adorable asleep. Your tone of voice will automatically become quieter, softer, more loving. It’s hard to have a dismissive or aggressive tone as you look at your sleeping angel. And, what you have to say will have more power coming from a loving place.
“A child hears differently in a sleep state than a wake state … But you need to introduce yourself gently, such as ‘William, this is your mother,’ when you begin [Sleep Talk] so that you raise the child up to an alpha brain wave frequency and he’ll let you in, know you’re a safe voice,” she explains.
For single moms of children who are struggling with their conflicting emotions during a divorce, Sleep Talk can be a great way for both the mom and the child to reconnect, says Lois.
“Doing Sleep Talk helps you dump any emotional garbage of the day. Through reaffirming your love and pride for him, you allow him to truly hear you on the deepest level and you clear the slate for the next day’s activities,” she says.
Lois has created many scripts for parents to use in her book, including one for children of divorce, and each can be tweaked for your situation as I think single parents often know what they want to say to their kids. Depending on your child’s age, the divorce issues will vary. But for my soon-to-be 10-year-old, I know I need to reassure him that everything is going to be ok. He needs to know that he’s loved; that this divorce wasn’t his or his little brother’s fault; that I’m proud of him; and that I will always be there for him. For a little boy, he is worried about so many adult things for the future: about our financial security; about whether his dad will live permanently in London; about whether mommy will marry someone else some day and who that will be; about whether we’ll have to move from Los Angeles in order to save money, etc. I know what I want to whisper to him. And I’ve already started. Let me tell you, even if Sleep Talk doesn’t change some of my son’s behavior, it is changing me. When I look at his adorable face while he’s asleep, I remember that he’s just a boy. My resentments and my anger at him for back-talking just drift away. I’ll continue with my discipline during the day—I mean, I can’t let him watch TV and play video games all day or hit his little brother can I? And while I do tell him I love him during the day, it’s usually after a day of nagging and cajoling and I can tell he’s tuning me out. Now at night, I tell him softly: “Mommy loves you. She’s SO proud of you. This isn’t your fault. We’re going to be okay.”
And we are.
- Getting a Divorce? Focus on Your Kids First (blogs.lawyers.com)
Laura, I’ve been silently reading your posts for a while now and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to your (smart, thoughtful, beautiful) updates. Today I just had to comment and say thanks for sharing such a great parenting tactic; I just sent a link to several friends because I think Sleep Talk is something every single mom I know will want to try. I know I want to try this with my teenage son (if I can stay awake later than him!) Your boys are so very lucky to have you.
Thanks so much Jacinta! My two-year-old’s marathon night routine usually means I’m falling asleep in his bunkbed before he does! But, I typically wake up at 3 a.m., fully dressed, and then can do a bit of Sleep Talk with his big brother. What a night owl my little guy is. I love your blog: thelookotheirish! I hope your nana’s wrist is better! Lots of love, Laura x
There is nothing more beautiful than my sleeping daughter in my arms.
Awesome writing here Laura
Thanks so much Scott!
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