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Love as the Source of Education


“We need as teachers an awakening of living human nature that experiences again within itself the whole child, insofar as we come into a spiritual connection with the child.”

—Rudolf Steiner

Without a deepening and internalizing of the idea of destiny, it will become increasingly difficult to come to terms with the questions of education: One sees in every child an individuality, whose path is neither confined by the gateway of birth nor the gateway of death. When a teacher receives pupils in the mood of “having a destiny with them,” a new sense of responsibility is strengthened.

When in quiet reflection one directs one’s attention to what is brought into this life individually, and to the capacities and impulses that these children should one day carry from this life over the threshold of death, one obtains an immense power as an elder to support, bear, and help to solve the problems of these youths. The source of strength in the internalized idea of destiny can only become effective, however, if the “modern learning methods,” the technical intermediaries, the cleverly contrived, improved performance programs do not replace the speaking human being.

For the sake of a contemporary spiritually and artistically formed teaching process, Waldorf pedagogy holds human to human interaction as the “most modern” educational method. The communication of knowledge through the creatively fashioning human being can alone radiate edifying forces, wisdom and warmth into the lesson.

When Rudolf Steiner still led the school (according to all eye witnesses) he was for teachers, pupils and parents the source of wisdom and warmth for the prosperity of the school.

He stepped into the center of the school community, attended classes, gave the teachers examples, confidence and advice, worked in the teachers’ conferences on the inner structure of the school organism and on the spiritual permeation of the whole work, spoke at monthly festivals and parents’ evenings. From him there went forth enthusiasm, momentum and heart-warmth.

In all difficult situations he asked first and foremost for that spiritual-human contact between teachers and pupils, indeed he demanded it. Where this contact was given, where work was done with enthusiasm, where in the upper school the love for the teacher turned into love for the subject matter, into interest in the world—then he was thankful, because he saw that his work was rooting itself in humanness.

What human beings alone can give to one another, so that we learn the art of becoming human, he showed in exemplary fashion. This is why he repeated so often the single question in his addresses to the pupils: “Do you love your teachers?” and he was satisfied with the joyful “Yes!” of the hundredfold chorus of children.

The science of the human being that Rudolf Steiner placed at the foundation of Waldorf pedagogy bears the power within itself to awaken love when one works with it. It is love that on the one hand always wishes to become deed and true action in daily life and on the other hand strives to become knowledge, “real spiritual atmosphere.”

It is love that Rudolf Steiner integrated in the foundation stone of the school, so that in the Free Waldorf School, the spirit of love could hold sway and lay its foundations wherever it builds places for childhood and youth in the world.

Every teacher rejoiced (as Karl Schubert describes) when he came into the class. It meant so much for the children. The classroom was filled with a festive mood. He always gave motivation and encouragement. He trusted one more than one trusted oneself. It suited him when one sought and entered upon new paths out of one’s own strength, in connection with the spirit of pedagogy in which one stood.

He allowed much to happen because he wanted much to happen and much to be done. I heard him once say: “I am not in accord with much that happens, and yet it seems right that it happens, because otherwise nothing would develop.” He laid great value on the artistic element, which he would like very much to have seen represented by us. “Go, go” was his admonition, and then came the pleading emphatically spoken word, “warmth, warmth…”

Rudolf Steiner once came into the drawing lesson of Wilhelm Ruhtenberg, who had given the assignment to express in lines “hatred and conflict.” Soon the opposite assignment followed to draw forms that resembled “love and friendship.” That was the moment when the door quietly opened and Rudolf Steiner entered.

He saw that a girl had tried to represent love in round yet melancholic, inwardly directed forms. Ruhtenberg describes in his journal from 1927: “He took her drawing book in hand and drew very plainly with a couple lines two forms that wrapped around each other: above they wish to touch almost tenderly, neither wishes to offend the other, one appears to wish humbly to bow, and the other, as if shielding, wishes to lean over.”

A fellow pupil, Berthold Faig, reports the same situation: “In another lesson Pastor Ruhtenberg had given us the task to bring “love and hatred” to expression in an artistic form, and once again Rudolf Steiner came to us in the class. In the blue drawing book in landscape format with colorful tissue paper between the pages a girl had brought “hatred” to expression in a jagged form. We had not used colored pencils, but only the usual black pencil.

Rudolf Steiner drew “Love” in the book, as it is reproduced here from my memory. My late class teacher also remembered this drawing in the same form.”

Of the three most commonly used forces of education—fear, ambition, and love—Rudolf Steiner felt that in Waldorf education we must leave out the first two. The symbol at the headings and publications of the International Association of Waldorf Kindergartens have to do with the third force. We are often asked what it means and who gave it to us. Rudolf Steiner drew the symbol of love before the eyes of the children in a book. We chose with the foundation of the international Kindergarten Association in the autumn of 1969 this symbol.

By Helmut von Kügelgen

Translated by Clifford Venho

This is the title article from Love as the Source of Education, edited by Susan Howard.

49 Phrases to Calm an Anxious Child



It happens to every child in one form or another – anxiety. As parents, we would like to shield our children from life’s anxious moments, but navigating anxiety is an essential life skill that will serve them in the years to come. In the heat of the moment, try these simple phrases to help your children identify, accept, and work through their anxious moments.

1. “Can you draw it?”

Drawing, painting or doodling about an anxiety provides kids with an outlet for their feelings when they can’t use their words.

2.  “I love you. You are safe.”

Being told that you will be kept safe by the person you love the most is a powerful affirmation. Remember, anxiety makes your children feel as if their minds and bodys are in danger. Repeating they are safe can soothe the nervous system.

3. “Let’s pretend we’re blowing up a giant balloon. We’ll take a deep breath and blow it up to the count of 5.”

If you tell a child to take a deep breath in the middle of a panic attack, chances are you’ll hear, “I CAN’T!” Instead, make it a game. Pretend to blow up a balloon, making funny noises in the process. Taking three deep breaths and blowing them out will actually reverse the stress response in the body and may even get you a few giggles in the process.

4. “I will say something and I want you to say it exactly as I do: ‘I can do this.’” Do this 10 times at variable volume.

Marathon runners use this trick all of the time to get past “the wall.”

5. “Why do you think that is?”

This is especially helpful for older kids who can better articulate the “Why” in what they are feeling.

6. “What will happen next?”

If your children are anxious about an event, help them think through the event and identify what will come after it. Anxiety causes myopic vision, which makes life after the event seem to disappear.

7. “We are an unstoppable team.”

Separation is a powerful anxiety trigger for young children. Reassure them that you will work together, even if they can’t see you.

8. Have a battle cry: “I am a warrior!”; “I am unstoppable!”; or “Look out World, here I come!”

There is a reason why movies show people yelling before they go into battle. The physical act of yelling replaces fear with endorphins. It can also be fun.

9. “If how you feel was a monster, what would it look like?”

Giving anxiety a characterization means you take a confusing feeling and make it concrete and palpable. Once kids have a worry character, they can talk to their worry.

10. “I can’t wait until _____.”

Excitement about a future moment is contagious.

11.  “Let’s put your worry on the shelf while we _____ (listen to your favorite song, run around the block, read this story). Then we’ll pick it back up again.”

Those who are anxiety-prone often feel as though they have to carry their anxiety until whatever they are anxious about is over. This is especially difficult when your children are anxious about something they cannot change in the future. Setting it aside to do something fun can help put their worries into perspective.

12.  “This feeling will go away. Let’s get comfortable until it does.”

The act of getting comfortable calms the mind as well as the body. Weightier blankets have even been shown to reduce anxiety by increasing mild physical stimuli.

13. “Let’s learn more about it.”

Let your children explore their fears by asking as many questions as they need. After all, knowledge is power.

14. “Let’s count _____.”

This distraction technique requires no advance preparation. Counting the number of people wearing boots, the number of watches, the number of kids, or the number of hats in the room requires observation and thought, both of which detract from the anxiety your child is feeling.

15. “I need you to tell me when 2 minutes have gone by.”

Time is a powerful tool when children are anxious. By watching a clock or a watch for movement, a child has a focus point other than what is happening.

16. “Close your eyes. Picture this…”

Visualization is a powerful technique used to ease pain and anxiety. Guide your child through imagining a safe, warm, happy place where they feel comfortable. If they are listening intently, the physical symptoms of anxiety will dissipate.

17. “I get scared/nervous/anxious sometimes too. It’s no fun.”

Empathy wins in many, many situations. It may even strike up a conversation with your older child about how you overcame anxiety.

18. “Let’s pull out our calm-down checklist.”

Anxiety can hijack the logical brain; carry a checklist with coping skills your child has practiced. When the need presents itself, operate off of this checklist.

19. “You are not alone in how you feel.”

Pointing out all of the people who may share their fears and anxieties helps your child understand that overcoming anxiety is universal.

20. “Tell me the worst thing that could possibly happen.”

Once you’ve imagined the worst possible outcome of the worry, talk about the likelihood of that worst possible situation happening. Next, ask your child about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. The goal of this exercise is to help a child think more accurately during their anxious experience.

21. “Worrying is helpful, sometimes.”

This seems completely counter-intuitive to tell a child that is already anxious, but pointing out why anxiety is helpful reassures your children that there isn’t something wrong with them.

22. “What does your thought bubble say?”

If your children read comics, they are familiar with thought bubbles and how they move the story along. By talking about their thoughts as third-party observers, they can gain perspective on them.

23. “Let’s find some evidence.”

Collecting evidence to support or refute your child’s reasons for anxiety helps your children see if their worries are based on fact.

24. “Let’s have a debate.”

Older children especially love this exercise because they have permission to debate their parent. Have a point, counter-point style debate about the reasons for their anxiety. You may learn a lot about their reasoning in the process.

25. “What is the first piece we need to worry about?”

Anxiety often makes mountains out of molehills. One of the most important strategies for overcoming anxiety is to break the mountain back down into manageable chunks. In doing this, we realize the entire experience isn’t causing anxiety, just one or two parts.

==> Have an anxious child? Don’t miss the 9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try Masterclass March 29th

26. “Let’s list all of the people you love.”

Anais Nin is credited with the quote, “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer.” If that statement is true, then love is anxiety’s greatest killer as well. By recalling all of the people that your child loves and why, love will replace anxiety.

27. “Remember when…”

Competence breeds confidence. Confidence quells anxiety. Helping your children recall a time when they overcame anxiety gives them feelings of competence and thereby confidence in their abilities.

28. “I am proud of you already.”

Knowing you are pleased with their efforts, regardless of the outcome, alleviates the need to do something perfectly – a source of stress for a lot of kids.

29. “We’re going for a walk.”

Exercise relieves anxiety for up to several hours as it burns excess energy, loosens tense muscles and boosts mood. If your children can’t take a walk right now, have them run in place, bounce on a yoga ball, jump rope or stretch.

30. “Let’s watch your thought pass by.”

Ask your children to pretend the anxious thought is a train that has stopped at the station above their head. In a few minutes, like all trains, the thought will move on to its next destination.

31. “I’m taking a deep breath.”

Model a calming strategy and encourage your child to mirror you. If your children allow you, hold them to your chest so they can feel your rhythmic breathing and regulate theirs.

32. “How can I help?”

Let your children guide the situation and tell you what calming strategy or tool they prefer in this situation.

33. “This feeling will pass.”

Often, children will feel like their anxiety is never-ending. Instead of shutting down, avoiding, or squashing the worry, remind them that relief is on the way.

34. “Let’s squeeze this stress ball together.”

When your children direct their anxiety to a stress ball, they feel emotional relief. Buy a ball, keep a handful of play dough nearby or make your own homemade stress ball by filling a balloon with flour or rice.

35. “I see Widdle is worried again. Let’s teach Widdle not to worry.”

Create a character to represent the worry, such as Widdle the Worrier. Tell your child that Widdle is worried and you need to teach him some coping skills.

36. “I know this is hard.”

Acknowledge that the situation is difficult. Your validation shows your children that you respect them.

37. “I have your smell buddy right here.”

A smell buddy, fragrance necklace or diffuser can calm anxiety, especially when you fill it with lavender, sage, chamomile, sandalwood or jasmine.

38. “Tell me about it.”

Without interrupting, listen to your children talk about what’s bothering them. Talking it out can give your children time to process their thoughts and come up with a solution that works for them.

39. “You are so brave!”

Affirm your children’s ability to handle the situation, and you empower them to succeed this time.

40. “Which calming strategy do you want to use right now?”

Because each anxious situation is different, give your children the opportunity to choose the calming strategy they want to use.

41. “We’ll get through this together.”

Supporting your children with your presence and commitment can empower them to persevere until the scary situation is over.

42. “What else do you know about (scary thing)?”

When your children face a consistent anxiety, research it when they are calm. Read books about the scary thing and learn as much as possible about it. When the anxiety surfaces again, ask your children to recall what they’ve learned. This step removes power from the scary thing and empowers your child.

43. “Let’s go to your happy place.”

Visualization is an effective tool against anxiety. When your children are calm, practice this calming strategy until they are able to use it successfully during anxious moments.

44. “What do you need from me?”

Ask your children to tell you what they need. It could be a hug, space or a solution.

45. “If you gave your­­ feeling a color, what would it be?”

Asking another person to identify what they’re feeling in the midst of anxiety is nearly impossible. But asking your children to give how they feel with a color, gives them a chance to think about how they feel relative to something simple. Follow up by asking why their feeling is that color.

46. “Let me hold you.”

Give your children a front hug, a hug from behind, or let them sit on your lap. The physical contact provides a chance for your child to relax and feel safe.

47. “Remember when you made it through XYZ?”

Reminding your child of a past success will encourage them to persevere in this situation.

48. “Help me move this wall.”

Hard work, like pushing on a wall, relieves tension and emotions. Resistance bands also work.

49. “Let’s write a new story.”

Your children have written a story in their mind about how the future is going to turn out. This future makes them feel anxious. Accept their story and then ask them to come up with a few more plot lines where the story’s ending is different.

Have an anxious child? Take our free, live masterclass: 9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try Masterclass on March 29th @ 12pm Noon EST – Grab a spot here!

About the Author:

Renee Jain is an award-winning tech entrepreneur turned speaker and certified life coach. She also holds a masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Renee specializes in cultivating skills of resilience in both adults and children. Her passion is taking research-based concepts and transforming them into fun and digestible learning modules. For children, she has created one-of-a-kind anxiety relief programs at GoZen! delivered via engaging animated shorts.

Children That Play Outside In All Weather Grow Up Resilient

Originally published on

It seems like an obvious statement, so why don’t kids play outside in challenging weather nearly as much as they used to? Why are schools keeping kids inside at recess when the temperature gets too cold? What kind of adult will this type of childhood experience create?

Most challenges, risks, and hurdles are swiftly removed from childhood in efforts to prevent anything bad from happening to the children that we love.

As Winter ebbs and flows, with temperatures ranging from minus 25 to plus 10 in the past few weeks, we’ve experienced a wonderful range of opportunities with the programs we run. Challenges and opportunities. From freezing weather with blustery winds, to rain and floods in the parks where we work, to massive snowstorms full of amazing forts and fun!

Imagine children that have grown up playing outside in all manner of challenging conditions, in all seasons of the year. Imagine how they’d be different than kids taught to come inside when it’s raining, or cold. Imagine how they’d be different from kids that find entertainment from the TV, computer or video games. Continue reading Children That Play Outside In All Weather Grow Up Resilient

Help Your Toddler Learn to Put Himself to Sleep

Toddlers don’t seem to have an off switch. Often, when they’re tired, they just reverberate faster, like an over-wound toy, until they crash.

Toddlers don’t seem to have an off switch. Often, when they’re tired, they just reverberate faster, like an over-wound toy, until they crash.

Toddlers need adequate sleep to rise to the developmental challenges that fill their lives, from controlling their temper on the playground to staying on top of their own bodily functions. Even the stress of saying goodbye to Mom and Dad when the babysitter comes can be handled more resourcefully by a rested toddler than a tired one. Your toddler doesn’t know it, but he needs his sleep.

The bad news is that some kids seem to be born “good” sleepers, and some aren’t. After all, many adults are insomniacs, and while some of them are certainly influenced by environmental factors, some of our ability to sleep easily seems to be innate.

The good news is that falling asleep is a matter of habit, and all kids can learn it. While some kids have a harder time falling asleep than others, all children do start sleeping through the night most nights. It may take some time to develop that habit, but your busy toddler can learn to put himself to sleep, and to stay asleep, eventually. Here’s how:

1. Start the wind-down process early in the evening.
Toddlers who’ve been racing around the apartment can’t simply switch gears and decompress when you decide it’s bedtime. The last few hours before bed should be calm and quiet.

2. Follow the same evening routine every night, if possible.
Your goal is a sense of calm, safe, inevitability. Dinner, then a bath, then stories, then kissing and tucking in all the stuffed animals who share the toddler’s bed, then prayers or blessings, then lights out while you sing to your little one, is an example of a common and effective routine. Beware of too elaborate a routine, because they have a way of expanding to take more time. But don’t think of bedtime as a chore that’s taking too much time. Think of it as the best part of the day, when you get premium quality time with your little one.

Toddlers who are showing oppositional behavior may resist moving along with the bedtime routine. The best way to sidestep this is to have the clock, rather than you, be the bad guy. Create a chart with photos of your child doing all the steps of the bedtime routine, with a clock time next to the photo. Then point to the photos as you go through the routine every night. Over time your kid will begin to move herself through the routine.

Even better, with a routine your child sees you as her advocate.

“Look, it’s 7:15! If we can get out of the tub now and brush your teeth, we’ll have time for an extra story before lights out at 7:30!”
That way, you’re on his side, and he doesn’t need to rebel against you. He also begins to learn about responsibility and making smart choices. And, of course, allow plenty of time. It won’t exactly settle your child down if you get impatient or angry.

3. Help your toddler set his “biological clock.”
Toddlers need a set time to go to bed every night. Most toddlers do better with an early bedtime; between 6:30 and 8 pm. You’d think a later bedtime would help them fall asleep more easily, but when they stay up later, they get over-tired, and stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol kick in to keep them going. Then they actually have a harder time falling asleep, wake up more during the night, and often wake early in the morning. So keep moving bedtime earlier until you find the time before your little wind up toy starts getting wound up.

Dim lights in the hour before bedtime, as well as slow, calm routines, help kids’ bodies know that it’s time to sleep. If you can take him up to his bath at 6:00, be in bed at 6:30 for stories, and turn the lights out at 7:00pm, he’s much more likely to fall asleep than if you put him into pajamas at 7:25 and snap the lights off.

The key is to watch for those yawns that signal he’s getting sleepy. If he kicks into “overdrive” mode, getting him into bed will be much harder.

4. Set up a cozy bed.
All children go through normal sleep cycles in which they wake just slightly and then settle into deep sleep again. Your goal is to ensure that discomfort doesn’t wake your child during those periods of slight waking. Quiet matters — make sure she can’t hear the TV. Consider a “white noise” machine. Darkness matters — make sure the curtains keep the streetlights out. Room-darkening shades or blackout curtains are invaluable, especially in the summer months when your toddler will be going to sleep while it’s still light out. Warmth matters — if your toddler kicks his covers off, make sure he sleeps in warm pjs with feet. And of course, once he’s out of diapers, be sure he uses the bathroom last thing.

Finally, a “big” bed for a toddler who is graduating to his or her own bed, that he or she picks out, can be a real attraction. But remember that losing the crib walls may be more freedom — and insecurity — than he can handle. Plan the transition to the “big” bed carefully. (Click here for more on The Big Move from the Crib to the Big Kid Bed.)

5. Many toddlers need a bedtime snack to hold them through the night
Especially during growth spurts. Warm milk, a slice of turkey, a piece of toast, something calming and predictable, not too interesting, and without sugar, works best. If they can eat it at a snack table in their room while you read a bedtime story, before brushing teeth, you can move efficiently through the bedtime routine. If your baby is over a year old and still nurses to sleep or falls asleep with a bottle, you’ll want to break that association, so that when your child wakes in the night she can put herself back to sleep. She can still nurse or have her bottle, but then should brush her teeth and fall asleep without food in her mouth.

6. Don’t give up naps too early.
Although every child has individual sleep needs, most kids are not ready to give up naps until age 3. Going napless before that just makes them cranky and adrenalized, making bedtime much more challenging.

7. Make sure they get enough fresh air, sunshine and exercise during the day.
Your grandmother was right: kids really do sleep more soundly when they get more outdoor play. Just not in the hour before bedtime, which re-energizes them! Laughter is also essential for many children. Play a roughhousing game to get them laughing before dinner — be a bucking bronco, or chase them around the house. This allows them to let out the pent-up anxieties of their day, so they settle more easily at bedtime.

8. Decide for or against the family bed for your family.
Most toddlers fall asleep easily if you lie down with them, and many parents do this. Other parents resist, because they too often fall asleep themselves, and lose their evenings. This is an individual call, and there is no shame in waiting till your child is a little older before expecting her to put herself to sleep — it does get easier for kids as they get older. Many working moms, particularly, treasure this time with their kids, and love being able to go to sleep early, then get up early and rested. One downside of this habit is that if the child is not in your bed, you will need to move, which wakes you up. The other downside is that when he awakens slightly in the middle of the night during normal sleep cycles, he may well miss your presence and come looking for you. If you aren’t willing to let him crawl into your bed at that point, this may not be a sustainable routine for your family.

9. If you aren’t using the Family Bed, consciously teach your child to put herself to sleep.
Your goal, of course, is to help your child sleep through the night. Kids in the family bed often do this automatically since they’re reassured by their parents’ presence, and since sleeping with the mother is certainly a natural state biologically for toddlers. If you don’t want a family bed, your goal is for your toddler to put herself back to sleep when she does wake slightly at night. For most babies and toddlers, that means helping her learn to fall asleep herself, so she won’t miss you during those slight night wakings, but can roll over and go right back into deep sleep.

10. Teach new sleep habits.
If you’ve been helping your child fall asleep with nursing or rocking, then when he wakes slightly during normal sleep cycles, he is likely to look for you, because he needs to be nursed or rocked again to fall back asleep. Unless you want to rock or nurse him to sleep over and over at night, your goal now is to help him fall asleep in his own crib or bed at night. That means putting him into bed when he’s awake, so that he can get used to falling asleep there himself. Breaking his established sleep habit can be challenging — it’s hard for him to understand why you can’t nurse or rock him now. You can expect him to need your close physical proximity to settle down to sleep.

If your toddler is still nursing, just avoid letting him nurse to sleep. In fact, you may want to break the association with sleep completely by nursing him in the living room before beginning the bedtime routine. Since nursing is a harder habit to break than rocking, you may want to use a two step process. First, get your child used to falling asleep without nursing, even if you have to rock him. Then, wean him off the rocking.

11. Explain to your child what’s going to happen.
Act out a little skit with stuffed animals that show a little one resisting bedtime. The parents stay calm and loving and insist that it’s time for sleeping. Your child should be able to tell that the little one is him and should see that the little one eventually lies down in the crib or bed and goes to sleep. You can make it as funny as you want, and the child as resistant as you want but make sure the parents always reassure the child that they are there, and the ending is always that the little one happily goes to sleep. Use little mantras that you can repeat at night, like

“When it’s dark, we sleep….When it’s light, Mommy comes to get you!”
12. Start slow.
Begin (after your bedtime routine) by holding your child until he falls asleep — not lying down, which puts you in danger of falling asleep. Use the time to meditate, if you can, or listen to music.

Once he’s used to falling asleep this way, the next phase is to touch, but not hold, your child. Eventually, he will be able to fall asleep with you simply holding his hand, or putting your hand on his forehead. (It often helps to give kids a large stuffed animal or pillow to hold at this point, to substitute for your holding them. Kids often love to curl around a large, cuddly animal.)

When he can fall asleep being touched but not held, begin to sit next to your child while he falls asleep, without actually touching him. In the beginning, you will probably need to sit close enough to him that he can touch you briefly if he wants to reach out.

Finally, begin sitting further and further away, until you are outside the bedroom door. You may be able to read with a flashlight, you can certainly listen to music. If your child tries to sit up in bed, just remind him in a monotone that it’s bedtime, sleeptime, lie down now please. Another variation on this process is to move quietly around the room, straightening up or folding laundry, while your toddler falls asleep. This provides a sense of security, without him depending on your physical proximity. Then you can leave the room for longer and longer periods, beginning by sitting right outside his door with a good book.

You will probably find that some days he backslides and needs you to touch him again. That’s ok, it won’t sabotage your overall momentum, as long as the next day you’re back to your program.

13. What if he cries?
Your little one is learning new sleep habits, and that’s hard for him. He may well cry, and beg, for you to do things the old way. He’s showing you all his fear of being without you. After all, for him bedtime is like being sent to Siberia, and it’s reasonable for him to be afraid. Your job is to listen and acknowledge:

“I hear that you’re worried…I will be very close by…I will always come if you call….I know you can fall asleep without me.”
When young children get a chance to cry in our loving presence, they experience those fears they’ve been fending off, and they are able to fall asleep more easily. This is not the same as leaving a child to “cry it out” which leaves him alone with his fears. Staying with the child gives him the backup he needs to face his worries, and feel them, which makes them dissipate.

What if he gets hysterical? Hold him. Crying is fine, as long as you’re there. Don’t move away from him any faster than he can handle, meaning crying is fine but hysteria isn’t conducive to sleep. If you feel your child is too upset, there is nothing wrong with trying again when he’s older, or simply making your teaching more gradual.

For instance, if your child is used to falling asleep by being rocked, you could start by putting him in the bed and explaining that now we fall asleep in the bed. But it would be gentler (and I would always go with gentler) to rock him almost to sleep in the chair, then stand and rock him in your arms, then hold him still in your arms until he is almost asleep and accepts the stillness, then lower him into the crib or bed still awake although almost asleep. When he protests, pick him up again in the rocking position and rock a little, then stop. Keep repeating this. It may take 25 attempts, but eventually he will let you put him in the bed without protest.

Too labor intensive? Once your child is verbal, and you’ve acted out the new plan with stuffed animals, you can move faster. But honestly, it’s self-defeating to move too fast. Your goal is to avoid trauma, which is best done by moving very slowly through this learning process. Think of it as you do learning any other new skill (talking, using the potty, reading). It happens over time, not all at once.

Will he be traumatized by crying? Remember that my recommendation is to teach your child as gradually as possible. While your child is learning to put himself to sleep, a parent is in the room, rocking or holding him, then reassuring him and touching him. If your child is crying, you are in physical and verbal contact with him, comforting him. Saying no to your child is fine, even if he cries, as long as you are present and reassuring him. This is not “Ferberizing” which requires the parent to leave the room, even though you are actively “teaching” your child to put himself to sleep.

Remember also that the first few nights are the hardest. If your little one is used to you rocking her to sleep, and now you say you can’t do that but you will hold her while she falls asleep in her crib, she is likely to protest with vigor. After all, she doesn’t know how to go to sleep without rocking. But if act out the new routine with stuffed animals, and then stay by her bed and keep reassuring her and holding her, eventually she will lie down and sleep. The first night it could well take an hour. Within a week, don’t be surprised if she lies right down to sleep as soon as you put her in the crib.

14. Night Wakings
…usually diminish as kids learn to put themselves to sleep, because when they wake slightly at night they aren’t looking around for mom or dad. While your child is still needing you to fall asleep, however, she will probably keep waking up at night. For that interim period, many parents find it easier to just let their toddler climb in bed with them, particularly because she hasn’t yet learned to fall asleep without being held and thus could wake repeatedly at night. Once she is falling asleep without your touching her, however, you will find that she is usually able to put herself back to sleep at night without even waking you. If she does wake and need you in the night, you can minimize her repeating that behavior by returning her to her own bed, and repeating your bedtime practice of sitting near her (some parents lie down on the rug with a blanket) while she falls asleep.

Special note for moms who are nursing toddlers: It’s fine to nurse your toddler at night if you’re up for it. However, while breastmilk by itself probably doesn’t cause cavities the way a bottle does, some parents find that once solid foods are introduced along with breastmilk, little ones are prone to cavities. Others find that toddlers who nurse at night wake up all night asking for milk. So it is also fine to night-wean your toddler, and it should not impact your nursing relationship if you make sure that your little one has plenty of cozy nursing opportunities during waking hours.

If you do decide to break the night nursing habit, it helps a lot to send Dad in when your little one wakes at night. If you make this an inviolate practice, and even tell your child during the day that only Daddy can come in at night because Mommy and the nursies are sleeping, she will gradually — probably not without protest — accept that as the way of the world. As long as Dad is there to comfort her, protesting mom’s absence won’t traumatize her.

15. Acknowledge your child’s courage and loss.
Tell him how proud you are when he makes progress in learning to sleep by himself. He needs some motivation to do what is, after all, a hard thing for most toddlers. When you do your little skits with the stuffed animals, be sure to have the animal parents be proud of the child. Any other motivation you can give him will also be valuable; some kids respond to little prizes in the morning, and if he shows any interest in eventually having sleepovers, for instance, you can point out his progress toward them. And remember to provide plenty of physical closeness and snuggles during the day, to make up for his independence at night.

This gradual program provides a sense of security while at the same time teaching your toddler to feel comfortable falling asleep without your physical proximity. Eventually, you’ll find that your toddler is asleep almost as soon as his head settles on the pillow – and you’ll be amazed to find you actually have an evening!


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