Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Question from a Mom:

I am so tired!  We just moved and my baby isn't sleeping. He usually sleeps through the night, until now. Do you think the move is affecting him? He is only a BABY why should it bother him?

These are some of the thoughts your baby might want to verbalize if he could.

"Dear Mom,

Moving is very stressful for me. You are so anxious and busy. It feels like you don't love me and are too busy for me. Am I bad or did I do something wrong?  I was so familiar with our old house. This new room is so scary and the noises are all new and different. I feel overwhelmed. Where are my old friends, my room, my toys? I just feel sad. I wonder if I will I ever feel better.  If you can leave an apt or house, perhaps you can leave me too!  When I miss you I wonder if you are coming back , I am not sure?”

Brain Insights:

Your baby is expressing some very real feelings that are very natural as a result of the change in his life. As a caring parent, it is wonderful that even though you are not sure, you have considered that it could be the move that is affecting your son’s sleep.

Understanding a couple of areas of early brain development may help address your excellent questions.

1. Brains adapt to the environment they are most exposed to. Through repeated experiences a baby’s brain learns what to expect from their surroundings. The brain actually creates connections based on these repeated experiences. Your baby has adapted his brain to the sounds, people and familiar objects of your previous home.

2. Brains also are primarily focused on survival. All brains are constantly unconsciously scanning the environment for safety. It determines if the environment and the people in it are safe. The brain becomes alerted if there is something new or different. Until it decides if the new situation or objects are safe, the brain stays on alert.

Through this understanding you will better be able to help your son adjust and feel comfortable in your new surroundings. You can provide verbal reassurance. You are the person he depends on most to keep him safe. He has to rely on you to let him know if he is in a secure situation or if he should be frightened. So, in addition to your verbal reassurance, he will also pay a great amount of attention to your non-verbal expressions and feelings. The more you are calm and show comfort in the new home, he will begin to learn this is a safe place and will relax.

This trust and dependence on a parent is clearly evident in the Visual Cliff 
Experiment by Joseph Campos and shared by Mind in the Making.You can watch it here and get a better idea of the very real impact your actions have on your baby.

Ava Parnass from Listen to Me Please
provides additional valuable insights: 

One of the first things I learned about in college was the Hans Selye scale of stress. To this day it still stays with me despite all the other amazing interesting things I have learned and am learning since. Selye put moving to a new place,  death and divorce right at the top of the list of the stressors that families experience. 

As a baby-child psychotherapist for over 20 years I have seen how moving is just as stressful for babies and children as it is for adults. The stress of moving can cause some new or regressive sleep problems for your baby or toddler.  

As adults, we tend to stress over the details and even though babies and young children don’t stress as much about those details, they will feel the anxiety from you and also feel their own anxiety that such enormous change causes.  Moving is totally disruptive — new room, new house, new school, new caregiver -babysitters, new friends, etc. And let's not forget, the noises are different. New things are scary and most of all the grown-ups are preoccupied. 

Babies, toddlers and preschoolers thrive on routine, so when those routines are disrupted, it can make babies anxious and have many feelings that are keeping them awake at night.  Babies and toddlers lack the words and self-awareness to articulate their feelings. They may show a variety of different behavioral signs and ways expressing their feelings.

Things you could do and say:

1. Show me pictures of old house during the day. Play; Bye Bye old house, Hello new house. Connecting a picture to a feeling and event facilitates learning.

Say: "I know you must miss your friends and your room. Missing is a hard feeling." (empathy)

"I am sorry. Soon you will feel better and I will help you." (empathy and hope)

2. You can role play with stuffed animals, use a play crib, have animals  sleeping in the new bed and room during the day. This works even with a baby.

You play all the roles, keep it brief, and make it fun. Role playing helps kids cope with hard feelings and transitions, and helps build resilience.

3. Say, “Mommy (Daddy) always come back, but houses we say good-bye to sometimes.”

Repeat frequently during the day.  (empathy and building object constancy, that grown-ups do come back)

4. Keep in mind when babies are adjusting to a new sleep routine in a new home, an additional factor in not sleeping can be daylight saving time and time zone shifts. So adjust the routine accordingly.

5. Try to make sure that the first month or so after your move is as “normal” as possible.Try to minimize the amount of changes in the first weeks of the move.

6. You may have to start or restart gentle sleep training with Emotional Intelligence.
(e-book and a new book, Time-In not Time-Out coming soon, Ava Parnass)

A: Sit by bed for a few minutes as your child settles in at night after your regular routine bath book cuddles etc.

B:  When the baby cries say 2 lines with no affect (feeling)   (parents need to  make night time not interesting but at the same time feel safe and secure)

Say, "I love you, I know moving is hard and I bet you miss your old things!"
“Mommy or Daddy always come back to see you when you wake up. We will have fun and play in morning when the sun is up.”

7. Keep the routine as regular as possible throughout the day. Of course bedtime routine will be most important to keep consistent. 

8. Spend time in your son’s room with him. When you or he hear a sound, verbalize what the sound is. For example: “You hear the water running in the kitchen, don’t you?”  Or, “I hear the clock from the living room can you hear it? It sounds like it did at our old house doesn’t it?”

9. Arrange the furniture and belongings in your son’s room as close to the way it was in your previous home as possible. As you put things in place you tell your son, “This is like it was in your room at the old house isn’t it?” 

10. Make sure you provide fun interaction time together throughout the day, so your baby gets the attention he needs. Brain Development Activity Packets provide an extremely easy way to have ideas right on hand. Each activity also explains how it is good for your son’s brain development. Which will help relieve some of your worries! 


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Ava Parnass said...

Wow Deborah,
Thank you so much for co-writing together. I so enjoy working with you! Such great information. And I love sharing and writing with you.
I also love parents' reaction when they read the posts!

March 19, 2013 at 9:45 AM

I love this post – thank you Ava and Deborah. We moved just a few months ago and boy did it affect our baby! She was so used to her home in the woods and she loved it there. She was totally content and at peace in that home, knowing her family and her routine and the town. After we moved she didn’t go #2 (I know that sounds funny) for 9 days. Then we drove back up to our old town for a day trip. She went potty like 7 times in one day! She relaxed enough to let herself feel safe again. It was really sad to me, though – I felt badly knowing that she was so tense for the days before that, hardly sleeping, etc. She would wake up in the new home and look around frantically and then start to cry. She is not a crier at all – she is super happy and easy going – so we KNEW she was totally off kilter. It took about a month but she is at ease now. She has a new routine and she knows her family loves her every minute of the day. Thanks for the great tips, Ava! You are such a big help to so many parents and educators.

March 19, 2013 at 8:51 PM
naomi said...

Wow what a lovely blog and great advice. It is funny to hear what that baby may be thinking or feeling but it validate why they are behaving in this way. I tihnk it is great that you have gone inside them ind of what that child wants/needs.

March 21, 2013 at 11:18 AM

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