This month we’re featuring Expert Guest Macall Gordon MA! If you’re a member of the website you can drop by and ask her questions throughout the month of March! If you’re not a member, you can join by heading to the front page and picking your member level. We’d love to see you! 🙂
You Are Not Your Mother Podcast #3: Interview with Macall Gordon MA
Dawn: This is Dawn Friedman of You Are Not Your Mother, the membership site for parents who want to do things differently and this is our podcast. That was my daughter, Madison who wrote the intro and she wrote the outro that you’ll hear at the end.
The You Are Not Your Mother membership brings together my work as a clinical counselor with specialized training in maternal mental health and infant-toddler mental health to a community for parents who are working to break family patterns of dysfunction in their own parenting.
This month our theme in the membership is Patterns and I am interviewing Macall Gordon, who is a sleep coach out in Seattle. Macall has a BS in human biology from [00:01:00] Stanford and a master’s degree in applied psychology with an emphasis in infant mental health from Antioch University in Seattle and she’s also a senior lecturer there in the counseling psych department.
In this interview in McCall is going to talk about why she’s passionate about sleep. Why common sense sleep practices simply do not work for some kids. What parents can do about that and how they can advocate for themselves and find people who support their learning around sleep and parenting.
As always, I encourage you to tune in and take what resonates with you. Leave what doesn’t. And trust your own self to know what information and advice is encouraging to you and helping you on your journey
Okay. You ready? Let’s go.
Hi Macall thank you so much for meeting with me; I really appreciate it. Can you please tell me why you are so passionate about sleep. How did you get into it?
Macall: Oh, about sleep well, because I [00:02:00] wasn’t getting any. I wasn’t getting any when my children were small. My daughter — she’s now 26 so it was a while ago — and it was extremely long, hard natural labor. Then she had colic and I was really thrown for a loop with early parenting. She just wasn’t, it just wasn’t going the way the book said. I also, I knew at that point very early that the books weren’t talking about babies like her, because she was extremely alert, extremely engaged, from birth — just eyes, laser focus.
I just knew she just was not the baby. They were talking about and at that time there were basically two options for sleep: cry it out or gut it out, and we were doing attachment parenting, which made a lot of sense, but even that wasn’t going the way they promised or said that it might. We actually went and met with Dr. Sears. Cause we were like, what the what! [00:03:00] Help! Please! And that’s right when he was writing the Fussy Baby Book so that wasn’t even out yet. And he asked, actually asked me to contribute anecdotes or stories and to the book. So a lot of those that are in there are me from my experience, trying to, you know, navigate this very intense, alert, on child.
So magazines were the big deal. Parents and American Baby and all those things that were in the pediatrician’s offices. And I remember looking at them and there’d be an article on the importance of responsiveness. Cause remember early nineties was that whole new, like critical period of brain development time so how responsiveness built all this great stuff in the brain. And then the very next article would be o. How you had to let your baby cry it out for sleep. And the age to start that, I noticed,any was getting younger and younger and I was like this doesn’t make sense to me.
So I started poking [00:04:00] around as as much as I could then in some of the research and it was just too limited to, to really find anything. So ultimately I. Years later, I applied to graduate school and then devoted my graduate work to doing that project. Now I work exclusively with parents of babies of — who were alert, intense, sensitive, non sleeping babies.
Dawn: And you call these kids live wires. Can you tell me more about that?
Macall: What I’m referring to there are dimensions of temperament there’s seven kind of that they pretty much settled on and it really is kiddos that are just dialed up a little bit more on, some or all of them. Usually these kids are very intense, both happy and sad. I say just big feelings, just big feelings. Like you never have to wonder what they’re feeling. Persistent. Never gives up ever. Perceptive, will notice they notice things and they [00:05:00] discrepancies bother them.
They can really be also sensory sensitive, so that highly sensitive thing can be in there where it just little things bother them or overwhelm them. So from my perspective, they’re just taking in more information per unit of time and they have way more difficulty letting go of the world to go to sleep.
If you think of going to sleep, that has a lot to do with diverting your attention, allowing yourself to be sleepy, getting comfortable. There’s a lot of skills there. You don’t just turn off. I certainly don’t, I don’t know about you, but I have a whole hours or two of shenanigans before I can finally go to sleep.
It’s oh my, my shirt is wrinkled. Oh, my sleeves need to be pulled out. Oh, the hairs on my neck, yeah. It’s a little princess and the pea action going on. But babies have the same thing. Sleepers are just wired to sleep. They can just turn off and they’re like, yeah, I’m okay and they can just go to sleep. [00:06:00] These more sensitive ones, that’s just not that’s the case. They just don’t.
Dawn: What kind of common sense wisdom does not work for these kids?
Macall: Oh, God crying it out doesn’t usually work cause these kids do need a lot more help calming down. I should also say, it’s not that it just doesn’t work for the kids, it really doesn’t work for the parents.
There’s a discrepancy between what the books say about sleep, right? The books will say the first night will be horrible. Your baby might cry for 30 minutes. But the next night will be worlds better. That’s one way of selling it to parents, Hey, it’s going to be bad the first night or two, but that’s all.
And these parents, it is not that at all. It’s hours of crying, many days in a row these babies might cry until they throw up or lose their voice. It’s awful and that’s a whole different ball game to ask parents to sign up for that. And it’s often not two or three nights it’s often weeks maybe [00:07:00] without improvement. So anyway, that, that kind of doesn’t work.
Drowsy, but awake is a huge deal and it honestly doesn’t work for a lot of kids, especially very young babies but it really doesn’t work for these guys. They just need so much more help disconnecting from the world and going to sleep. But it’s more about, what happens to parents when they have a child like this, that it just takes more out of them. I’ve so many of the parents I work with have just honestly, thrown the kitchen sink at the sleep problem. They are tying themselves up in knots just to get some peace and just to get this child to go to sleep.
And I honestly can’t blame them. The advice that’s out there really makes them feel bad about it and makes it feel like they are weak. They’re just caving. They just don’t have the courage, whatever the words are. And it’s really unfair. It’s really unfair to parents who are doing their best.
Dawn: You mentioned that parental temperament [00:08:00] also plays into how they experience sleep problems. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Macall: I can’t tell you how often I say, I’ll ask a parent will be like what kind of sleeper are you? And they’re like, Oh, I’m such a light. Sleeper. And you’re like, okay what’s that about? What is, what does that mean? Oh God, it’s just what I said before. Oh, I need white noise and it takes me forever to fall asleep and I’m like, tree meet apple.
Or parents know they’re really sensitive; they’re auditorily sensitive. Sometimes these intense babies — at least I know with my daughter and I’ve heard it from many parents — she didn’t just cry. It was like she was being stuck with a pin. It was like, do I need to go to the emergency room? Like scary. Like my whole system would activate. Now I’ve learned honestly, this is just recently I think I’m really auditorily sensitive. I really think I am , but her intense crying, activated my whole system. So it was also difficult for me to stay calm while she was freaking out. [00:09:00]
That’s where if we talk about what’s your history as a parent, what do you bring to the table? We have to talk about how well we learned about our own temperament and our own sensitivities. I think a lot of parents, it just wasn’t it wasn’t even a thing. At least in my era, my generation, it was all about becoming a functional human being and any of that sensitivity stuff was a liability. So I remember the day where I was like, why are my kids so intense? And it was like, Oh my God, I think I’m intense. I honestly didn’t know.
So we all have to think about how does my child’s temperament interact with mine? But there can be these mismatches, right? And it has a lot of it has to do with temperament. When I work with parents, with these kids, we have to ask about what the parents’ temperament is because here’s the thing. If you’re gonna work on sleep at all, all the advice [00:10:00] is like a unidirectional thing, parent to child. Hey parent, here’s what you do to the child, right?
Almost none of it talks about what goes on inside the parent or what the parent is bringing to the table or what the parent’s history is or what might come up. What does your child trigger in you? What unhealed gunk from your past comes up as you’re parenting your child? So that does come up with sleep occasionally in terms of people saying Oh my child, I cannot let her cry at all. I don’t want to disrupt attachment, for example, or I can tell she feels abandoned, and I’m not a clinician, so I can’t totally go there with people, but you want to say, let’s think about what’s coming up for you when you hear your child crying like that.
Dawn: What does the research actually say about crying it out?
Macall: Do you have [00:11:00] another two hours? So there’s a lot and I’ll just, I’ll try to pick and choose. So I look at the research and then I also look at what parents are being told to do. Almost all the advice suggests starting crying it out. And honestly about 98% of the books that are out there are going to look like they’re not crying it out, but they essentially are, just different versions of it. I’ve seen so many books where I open up. I’m like, Oh, this is good. Oh, I like that . Oh, there it is. There it is. And again, I really want to emphasize to anybody listening: I am not across the board against using Ferber any of that stuff. It works fine for many kids and it’s low stress for people. If it works for you quickly and pretty easily, or if you’re in a context where you have no choice and you have to get this child sleeping quickly, you do what you have to do a hundred percent.
My issue [00:12:00] with it is that it’s phrased as the only option appropriate for every single family and every single baby. And that is absolutely not true. That’s what I have a problem with. So you get people using it who don’t feel good about it. It doesn’t work for their kid and they don’t feel like they have any other options.
It’s being recommended on babies that are just too young. Most of it says to start by three or four months, and there’s really no research on using it in babies under six months. And there’s also no evidence and no research on the benefit of starting early, rather than later.
People say that if you start at three or four months, it’s going to be easier. And I. There’s no evidence of that at all. In fact if you wait till the child has a few more self-regulation skills, if you think about what it takes to actually self calm, they need visual skills, motor skills, attentional skills, cognitive skills.
There’s a lot that has to happen. We don’t really know what [00:13:00] is happening if a baby, a two month old, for example, cries and cries, and then goes to sleep. We really don’t know what that’s about To say it’s self-soothing is a bit of a myth because that baby hasn’t self sooth, they’ve just stopped crying.
And I do know there’s at least two or three outlets right now. There’s a pediatric practice and a book series that recommend strict crying it out, meaning put the baby in bed and don’t go back until morning, starting at eight weeks. Now does it mean, if a parent, again, once again, if you did it and it worked for you and everything’s cool, like seriously. But again, it’s that sort of overarching, like this is totally safe for every single family and every single child, and that has not really been investigated.
I would suggest for these intense alert kids that’s a whole, it’s another question, right? It’s a different question. There are not a lot of different [00:14:00] methods. There aren’t. It’s only one, there’s only one method and that’s changing the child’s go-to-sleep pattern and you can do it really slowly. You can do it really fast, but it’s all on one continuum.
Dawn: Do you have thoughts about co-sleeping?
Macall: I think co-sleeping is fine. I did it with my kids, except my son was such a light sleeper. I think he and I, and this is before white noise — thank God for white noise — I think we were waking each other up. He would wake up about every 45 minutes and then it would take me 20 minutes to get back to sleep.
It was bad. So I think he would have slept better in his own space even in his own space next to the bed. But co-sleeping , I will just say what the pitfalls are — because there are some in terms of just getting better sleep. I often tell parents, especially when the child is getting to be mobile, to at least work with a crib or a pack in play so you have a safe place to put them. Either for naps or for that [00:15:00] 7 to 10:00 PM range. I have a lot of moms going to bed at seven because the baby goes to bed at seven and that’s no fun either. So it’s good to just practice with the separate space so that you have a safe place for them to be, and you don’t have to actually be there.
That’s one and then two, it can be trickier — when mom is nursing and it’s a time that she’s like wants to cut down nursing, that can be not impossible, just tricky because you’re right there. So usually the approach I used for sleep is a gradual fading down of what you do and you gradually move away if the baby’s in a crib, gradually move away. That’s the The Sleep Lady method; it’s also called parental fading in the research. It’s hard to do when the baby’s right there, you can’t move away. You’re just right there. So again, it’s not impossible; it’s just tricky.
So I think there’s no innate upside in a good or bad in any of the approaches. It’s just what’s what are the pros and cons for each [00:16:00] individual kid?
The other thing is these sensitive kids, sometimes even though they act like they really want to be near you and that’s a little bit better. It sensorily, the family bed is there’s a lot going on and so some, like I said some of these little alert, intense ones they do better in a very quiet room on their own surface, whatever. But you just, you don’t know until you try.
Dawn: So it sounds like you are very flexible in your thinking you’re meeting the family where they’re at, where the child is.
Macall: Have to. At least because I specialize in working with these kids, with the alert intense ones. We have to take parents’ bandwidth into consideration.
Again, this is that bi-directional nature of parenting, right? It’s not just the parent dispensing parenting behavior to a child. It impacts the parent and the child’s response impacts the parent as well. It goes in two directions. Parent influences the child, but the child really influences the parent.
[00:17:00] I have this analogy so let me preface it by saying I’ve never been in a batting cage before, but it’s what I imagined it to be like. So I came into parenting before having a child thinking, okay, I’m going to read all this stuff and I’m really going to have this. Intentional approach. I know what I want to communicate to my child.
I know the philosophy I’m going to use. I’m going to get in that parenting batting cage, and I’m going to line up the bat. I’m going to hold it just right and I’m gonna do all the right stuff. And then the balls started getting shot out of that machine. Faster and faster so that not only could I not swing, all I was doing was keeping myself from getting beaned in the head by a ball.
Like I couldn’t even, I couldn’t even line up a hit. And that’s what it felt like. I had how I thought I was going to be. And then I was met with my children and that all really changed. I have to take the parents into consideration. Cause a lot of times, by the time they get to me, they are [00:18:00] so ground down to a powder that they just almost can’t maneuver.
They’re so tired that to say, Hey, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. They can’t do worse. They’re so tired, they can’t do worse. So sometimes we have to do some preliminary steps just to I say to take the pot off the boil, to get the tension and conflict and frustration level down.
And then we maybe can work a little bit on changing the sleep patterns, but you have to take a parent into consideration because they’re the ones doing it. I’m not there doing it.
And that’s the other piece is that none of the advice really does it. A lot of the advice just talks parents into doing something there’s a lot of, they call it cognitive restructuring. There’s a lot of that about, Here’s why you should do this. And here’s why it’s so much better than not doing anything.
And and here’s why you shouldn’t feel bad about doing it. And I’m like, why do we have to try this [00:19:00] hard to talk parents into something? Shouldn’t we have options that make sense to them from the get-go, so that’s another kind of, one of my sort of crusades is like parents deserve options that make sense to them.
Dawn: So what does an intake with you look like?
Macall: I should just preface this by saying I was trained by Kim West who’s wrote the book Good Night Sleep Tight. And I went with her because she’s a licensed social worker and so she really has a systemic views, which I really appreciate it is not just behavioral.
You don’t just go in and tackle behavior. So we ask a lot of questions about how was the birth, how did that happen? Baby born full term? Were there any problems? We rule out medical. Issues. Cause there are several of those that I see all the time that have not gotten picked up by a pediatrici an.
Where does the baby sleep? What do you want to happen? What is happening? And then I ask questions about everybody’s temperament. So I asked about the child’s temperament as well as both parents. [00:20:00] I have people list their fatigue, their kind of level of worry. Whether they’re having any kind of scary thoughts.
And then I look at the easy step to shift with with a family, which usually is naps, making sure the child’s getting enough naps at the right times. And then we talk about shifting bedtime.
But especially with really tired parents. We do it in chunks because sometimes they just can’t do it all at once. So we can even break it down into, okay. Let’s just do this one thing. And I think for most parents telling them what they don’t have to worry about is Is the best thing ever.
So for most parents, we say under six months, do what works. Feed to sleep, rock, to sleep, hold to sleep. All fine. All fine. You can shift that later, but for now, just do what works and then you see this anxiety just like drifting off their shoulders. It’s so incredible. Because I think many parents actually [00:21:00] don’t want to work on sleep really early.
I think they just have an innate feeling like this feels early, or they’ve tried that laying the baby down drowsy but awake and it’s a disaster. And then they’re like, Oh my God, this is not what I expected. So if you say, great, hold your baby. They’re like, cool, awesome. They love that.
Dawn: You work up to age five.
Macall: Yeah. But I do find that once they’re like older than four — and for some of these precocious little ones, even four — it starts being more about worries and fears and runaway brains. And less about sleep behavior.
So often with those kiddos, then you’re really talking more maybe having them, maybe a clinician, like a play therapist or somebody that can give the child and the parents some strategies to help them manage their runaway brain. That really so like I said I would work with kids that old but [00:22:00] so often I ended up referring out because they’re just smart little cookies and their brains are running away with them.
Dawn: So speaking of anxiety I find that the parent’s anxiety often gets in their way of their decision-making. They just feel frozen in place.
Macall: And it’s not their fault. It’s not their fault, often people say, Oh, parents are just, you didn’t say this. I’m saying that advice will say, Oh, parents are just needlessly anxious or parents are just anxious. So they just can’t listen to their kid cry. It’s like really pejorative and it drives me crazy.
Of course they’re anxious because all the advice makes them seem like they’re screwing up. Parents really feel like if they make one false move, everything is toast. You just lost it.
I have calls from parents of four week old babies and they preface it by saying I know we have a lot of sleep crutches and we’re doing bad habits. I still nurse her to sleep and it’s
like, you have a four week old baby, of course, [00:23:00] but they really feel like they’ve already screwed it up.
And I think that advice does not give parents the license to experiment, to take their time to learn about their baby, to learn about themselves, to see what they know to validate what they know. And I don’t know, maybe you don’t sell books if you do that, but But I think parents really feel like if they do something and it doesn’t work, that it’s their fault, they did something wrong rather than this just isn’t right for my child.
They’re like, what did I do wrong? Because the book says, if I do this, then X, Y, or Z will happen. And when X, Y, or Z doesn’t happen, the finger is pointed directly back at the parents. And that comes from research as well. So there’s several studies that are like , well, this only worked for 50% of the families, but that other 50% they didn’t implement the strategy correctly.
Or there were other issues like [00:24:00] parental depression or marital conflict. And you’re like, Or maybe it just didn’t work for them. Maybe it’s the interventions fault possibly.
Dawn: So can you talk a little bit, because I do hear that a lot that they’re creating bad habits. Can you talk about this idea of bad habits?
Macall: Yes. You know sleep research and advice are full of parent shaming and it needs to stop because all the words really are they’re there. It’s very critical of the, both the baby and the parents, right?
Their sleep crutches, bad habits, parents cave. It’s awful. So we don’t talk about bad habits. Nursing to sleep is not a bad habit. That is biologically appropriate for an infant in a mom or dad. It’s normal.
The other problem with the term of bad habits is children need a cognitive structures in their head to be able to build and maintain patterns. They might be able to get some kind of [00:25:00] rudimentary ideas, but they can’t construct actual habits that you cannot ever shift later on down the line. I mean that’s bonkers. This idea that a three-month old can create a habit that you can’t change is it’s like saying, I’m sorry, three month old baby.
I’m not going to get you dressed because if I do that, you’ll never learn how to get yourself dressed. It’s bananas. So after six months, what I talk about our patterns, right? Little kids learn: this is how humans go to sleep. I this, and then this is how humans go to sleep because that’s, what’s being done for me.
A, B, C, D, whatever. So when they wake up, they just want to re-engage that pattern. It’s like a script that we are teaching them by what we do to help them go to sleep. So rather than bad habits, we just say, Hey, there’s part of this pattern that’s not really working anymore so let’s change it.
[00:26:00] We’re going to change the pattern and that doesn’t blame anybody. It just is like this isn’t working anymore. And that’s why I say, look, , parents can decide what’s a problem. You might do stuff up to the child is 16 months old and then you say, you know what, this isn’t working anymore. Or I thought this would shift on its own and it’s not. Cool. Let’s change it. No harm, no foul.
This idea that we have to get stuff done early on, or God only knows what’s going to happen. I do get some really intense kids and with those kids, if a parent has gotten to a point where it’s manageable and sustainable and maybe not the way that somebody would say is perfect, but for them it’s absolutely working. Cool. No problem that there, there isn’t a problem there. So you get to decide what’s a problem.
Now that said, if a mom has a baby and the baby’s waking up every two hours at eight months, [00:27:00] that’s a problem for the mom, right? Cause she needs four to five hours of sleep to just be coherent. We also balance, moms, for example, going, “No, I can do it. I can do it. No, I can. I can do it.” No, you shouldn’t try that. You shouldn’t do that. That’s the point where you say we have to ask the baby to bend a little.
So we balance things but I joke around and say , my parenting philosophy was to follow my children’s cues. And again, they were so alert and intense that I say I follow their cues right off a cliff. Like I was not doing well. And I didn’t know how to ask them to meet me a little bit closer to the middle.
Dawn: There is so much shame around sleep. There’s shame that you have a baby that doesn’t sleep. You have shame because you’re not getting the baby to sleep. And then I know at least in the natural parenting community here where I am, there is shame if you do intervene because a [00:28:00] good mother will sacrifice herself on the altar of her children so can you speak to that a little bit?
Macall: Given that I was, very firmly in the attachment parenting community it was harder because it was either cry it out or nothing. There was that. Now that there are options, I do know that in that community, I think there are people who are really struggling and either they’re worried somebody’s just going to say, Oh, you just have to let them cry. Like they don’t know that there are options that will work. But I do know that there’s such a strong push against even talking about it, but I think that’s because it’s synonymous with crying it out, it’s synonymous. Like they don’t know that you can do it in different ways. I suspect there are lots of like parents of three and four year olds and the parents like, okay. I did not think I’d still be nursing at night and I don’t know how to make it stop.
It’s not about being completely child centered or completely parent centered, which is what I think the paradigm, [00:29:00] they believe there’s that paradigm. There is a middle ground, which is where it should be because you have to function.
And this is the other piece is that parents of easily sleeping kids sometimes think it’s because of stuff they’ve done rather than you just have a kid who sleeps and you probably could have done a million different things and it all would have worked exactly the same. It’s a whole different ball game for, again, for these alert, sensitive little guys for whom nothing works like it’s supposed to.
Dawn: Can you say more about how nothing works like it’s supposed to?
Macall: Anytime you change that pattern, that script? Especially with these guys, they are going to notice, you cannot sneak up on a baby. You can’t do something that they’re not going to notice. So when they notice they’re going to let you know they noticed by crying. If you’re standing right there, they’re not feeling abandoned. They’re just like, what the heck [00:30:00] is going on? I don’t understand this. What are you doing? What are you expecting me to do? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. So you’re standing there helping them. But potentially if they really get freaked out, pick them up, calm them down, but you have to put them back . because there’s no way to change a pattern, but to change a pattern, there’s literally no way to do it.
I tell parents like we can’t do this in a way that they’re not going to notice.
Dawn: How does a parent know if they have one of these live wire kids?
Macall: Oh, Oh my God. You just know, I did a really large scale parent survey. And I had a couple of questions. I had a lot of questions actually. So I got 850 returned surveys, which is a ton. I just did all kinds of parents, not just alert ones so the research really looks calls these kids difficult, which I also hate, and they’ve correlated a difficult temperament to all kinds of horrible, bad [00:31:00] outcomes. Drives me bonkers. From my perspective, I feel like they’re not looking for positive stuff that’s also in there. So all this stuff I’ve been talking about — alertness, sensitivity , extroversion — like there’s lots of stuff in there that definitely has a challenging side, but also has phenomenal strengths.
So my to alert, intense non sleeping children are now young adults. My daughter who had colic and never slept is — they’re both — intense, amazing human beings. I think these little guys there’s huge strengths that kind of masquerade as being difficult, like you want your 14 year old daughter to be persistent, you really do! You want your, 21 year old son to have a sense of himself and to stand up for himself or whatever you want. [00:32:00] Those characteristics in little tiny bodies it can be really inconvenient. So the purpose of the survey was to say, Hey, I wonder if there are strengths that the research has overlooked .
So that was one question. The second part was to validate some anecdotal stuff that I’ve heard before about these kids with temperaments. And then the third was to ask about sleep, because my sense was that these parents were trying more things with less success than the other ones.
Of course, what I did find is sure enough, yes, the kids who had the more difficult temperaments or what research would call difficult. And that just means meltdowns, difficulty sleep, problems with self soothing — that stuff. That they did score higher on perceptiveness and sensory sensitivity and older kids scored on perfectionism and detecting social dynamics like exclusion or bullying.
They saw this ethical behavior. There was all kinds of stuff in there. Then I [00:33:00] also found that these kids were more likely to have had a difficult labor or birth, which is anecdotal, but I did find it. They were more likely to also have had things like colic, apnea reflux, a lot of reflu x, food intolerance. So they were sorted as systemically, more sensitive too, which was really interesting to me. And these parents scored themselves way lower on their own sense of competence which made me, which made my heart bleed a little bit. I know. They were working harder and thought they were doing a crappier job.
Isn’t that sad?
Dawn: It is sad. I do think sleep is an opportunity to really let parents know you’re doing a great job. You just got a harder job than other people.
Macall: It’s true. Sometimes working on sleep gives parents that little sense of mastery that they’re not getting. Cause these kids, when you Zig they zag, the books say to do something [00:34:00] even with discipline or whatever, it does not work. They say, Oh, create a sticker chart, sticker charts don’t work for these kids. They know they get it. They’re like Nah, I’d rather come out of my room a thousand times.
Dawn: And I think I, I read on there something that you looked at some connection of giftedness, is that right?
Macall: Giftedness is such a loaded word. Parents hate it and it’s just got all kinds of baggage. But I teach research at Antioch here, Antioch university here in Seattle. I said, Hey, if anybody doesn’t have a research topic, I’ve got a couple for you. I said, I’m really curious about talking to parents of gifted kids and asking what they were like as babies. So the student did that and shocker found that these kids never slept ever.
When we talk about giftedness, we’re usually talking about like academic, like IQ stuff. There’s a whole different version of giftedness that they call over-exciteabilities, which has to do with creativity, a more global [00:35:00] kind of intelligence that has to do with seeing patterns, artistic, or musical or performance, creativity, athletics ability, like different domains. And that’s really the kind of giftedness that I see. Cause these kids detect patterns amazingly well, and they detect discrepancies.
My hunch is just that– because they’re taking so much in their brains and their ability to make connections, they’re just learning a lot that maybe sometimes they can’t handle, of course. I don’t know how I’d ever really research it; I think these kids are probably really smart. I think they’re probably really smart, which is why it’s so hard for parents to stay ahead of them. You always have to stay one step ahead. And it’s super hard. Super hard.
Dawn: And like you said earlier, if the parents were this kind of baby too, if they were this kind of little live wire themselves, then probably their brains are going a million [00:36:00] miles a minute too and so they’re all just kind of playing off each other and it makes things that much more difficult.
Macall: I also remember times where — I remembered of a video and I could never find it. So I don’t know where I heard of it, but I thought I had heard of that Brazelton had done a film of a mom and a baby, and then waited for that baby to grow up and then filmed her with her baby and the physical similarities were ridiculous, right? Like this idea that how we parent is wired into us by the way we were parented.
I remember there were so many times where, I consciously want to do things differently, for example, wasn’t gonna spank my kids. So your kid is acting up and you’re like, okay, I know I’m supposed to do something and I don’t know what that is. Honestly, it felt like I was trying to rewire my brain in the moment to do something new. And with these [00:37:00] kids, it was really hard because again, They’re one step ahead of you. So I, there were many times where I was just like, I don’t know what to do in this moment.. I’m sure that’s pretty. Common and especially common at bedtime. I have so many parents of three-year-olds and I am telling you three-year-olds are drunk with power. They’re just drunk with power. I work with so many parents of these bright, intense three-year-olds who have 8 million ways they’ve devised of putting off bed time. And so parents are just constantly trying to stay ahead or stay afloat. And it’s really difficult. It’s really hard because these little guys are so smart.
Dawn: So how do you start, where do you even start when you’re trying to get kids like this to figure out sleep?
Macall: You can start out and you scaffold those skills. You start right out, but you you move all the time so that you start out going, Hey, I’m going to help you a whole bunch and then I’m going to get [00:38:00] you used to this. Because I can’t stay here for two hours while you fall asleep. And sure. I think there are kids who just want you there, they just want you there. But then I also wonder about those kids who are just clinging onto the pattern that they are comfortable with. That’s the other piece of temperament is some of them don’t shift gears easily at all.
For example, I’ll say, sure. We could do five baby steps, but for these little guys, each baby step is gigantic. So now you’ve just done five gigantic steps instead of just one really big one. For some kids, I say let’s change it all at once and just get it over with.
For example, some parents want to start off with the baby in their room and then when the baby’s sleeping through the night, change them to their room and I’m like, then you’re just going to be starting all over again and I don’t think you want to do that. It’s about being methodical and really almost rigidly consistent with [00:39:00] these kids because they will detect a pattern if they can figure out what that pattern is.
Dawn: What makes it difficult for parents to stick to being methodical and rigidly consistent?
Macall: This is another trap that these parents can fall into is they, and this is again the fault of the advice. So parent will say, okay, I’m going to do X. And the first night it’s a rodeo like horrible. I just tell parents it’s going to be awful. No question. It’s going to look like it’s not working. Don’t even expect it to look like it’s working. But on their own, they try it one night and they go, Oh my God, that was an hour and a half of screaming. I am not doing that again. And so they do something different the next night. And then when they try to back to that original thing, it’s 10 times harder because the kid is thrown off by the wobbliness of the process. So you have to pick something you can do and just do it like again, almost [00:40:00] rigidly consistent several nights in a row to really see if it’s going to kick in. I say, push through the pushback. You have to get over that hump that they’re going to do no matter what you change, they’re going to hate it at first and you can be supportive of that and go, I know this so sucks. And we’re going to do this.
Oh, I know this is so confusing and we’re going to do this. You really can do both. But parents get so thrown by the intensity of the reaction that they just go, Oh my God, can’t do this. I’m killing them. I can’t do this anymore. So you gotta just push through.
Most of these parents really think they’re the only ones. They’re the only ones in their playgroup. They’re the only ones in their little birthing class group. I talk to new parents all the time and there’s always one person like all the little babies, little tiny two month olds are like on the floor, playing moms are chatting [00:41:00] and there’s always one parent in the back bouncing with their very fussy little baby. They feel like they’re the only one on the planet. And I do think getting parents together to say you are not alone would be really helpful. Cause I think they just feel, Ugh, God. So out of it, you’ve got the one really fussy baby. So hard.
Dawn: Is there a time that a sleep coach is not an appropriate choice?
Macall: Going at something behaviourally is one way to rule other stuff out. If you go at it completely behaviorally and nothing changes, that means something else is going on. I tell parents if a kid is snoring, I’m like, okay, we can try this behaviorally but if they’re snoring, that may be the culprit. If we can make headway on the behavior then maybe it’s not such a big deal, but if we get to the end of coaching and it’s still awful, this kid has obstructive sleep issues. So [00:42:00] it’s a good way of just ruling things out because almost everybody will say, you just need to let this kid cry it out. And the parents can go I worked with a sleep coach. We worked on everything and it’s still happening so say something different.
Dawn: What’s something that parents struggling with sleep can do right now?
Macall: I do think it’s really important for sensitive parents that they may need to do some of their own self calming practice. I know some parents really get just systemically so upset when their kid is crying. So I would say to parents, look, number one, inquire into your own history. What’s coming up for you. What’s the feeling. And where do you think that comes from? And too if you’re really getting activated doing some mindfulness and some self calming whether that’s, there’s acceptance and commitment therapy or there’s other kinds of self- talk [00:43:00] skills you can use to help yourself stay grounded and calm because your kid does pick up on those feelings. And if you’re anxious, they’re going to pick up on it.
So both of you working together on self calming is great. And I’d say, especially with older kiddos if you have an anxious older kiddo, Do bedtime yoga with them do little bits of meditation because it’s going to be good for you too. So self care, self-talk for your own sensitivity is going to be a hundred percent key.
Dawn: Isn’t Macall great? I mean isn’t she fantastic? You can find her at her website, LittleLiveWires.com and of course she’s on Facebook and she’ll be in the membership site answering your questions so if you’re a member of YouAreNotYourMother.com please come on by and hit her up as you can hear she’s really warm and easy to talk to.
I wanted to let you know, [00:44:00] too, that in the membership site, we do have a workshop on temperament traits.] So you can figure out is your child one of these little live wires. You probably have a good idea of whether or not they are by listening to this podcast but if you want to know more about temperament and maybe the temperament of your other kids or of yourself or of your partner, then I encourage you to join the site and you can take that class. We also of course have an email course on grounding techniques. Like Macall says, learning how to ground yourself when you’re feeling really stressed and anxious when your child is revving up, can be a big help in your own parenting. We also have a course on anxiety. One-on-one learning what it is to have an anxious child. And I’m working on adding some courses to expand on that a little bit.
But back to Macall , I really like what she had to say about habits and reframing those as patterns. So instead of saying [00:45:00] you’ve created bad habits, what we can talk about is we’ve created a pattern that’s no longer working. I just love that and I’ve been thinking about that a lot as I was working on the journal prompts for the membership site. I went back to that idea over and over again.
I wonder if it would benefit you to think about something that you have labeled to yourself as a bad habit as a pattern that’s no longer working. And if that allows you to see it differently, be a little more forgiving and if it allows you to problem solve in a new way. I know that I’m going to bring that idea into the therapy office too. I just think it’s incredibly useful.
Something I think is really important to understand is that we don’t become parents the first time we hold our baby or child in our arms. We actually build our parenting through our family practices. It’s something that we create every day through [00:46:00] these family practices, the things that we do — the decisions that we make about feeding, about sleeping, about education, about how we talk to our kids, about how we spend our evenings — all of these things create our parenting. At the very beginning, the way that we create our parenting selves are making decisions about sleep and feeding and play and how we interact with our baby.
This is just so important because we’re actually building our identities and when people get in the way of that with advice or criticism, it starts over running our own instincts like we don’t get a chance to build our own trust and belief in ourselves and it makes parenting so much harder.
For those of us who are trying to interrupt family patterns of dysfunction, we may struggle to even believe that we have instincts that should be listened to. It’s even more important that we connect with people who are going to support [00:47:00] us in our own discovery.
This is why I feel cautious about some sleep coaches and lots of parenting books and some therapists, even. If any of us in the expert — I’m using air quotes here — expert field think that we always know better than our clients then I think we’re in the wrong business. Really our job is to listen to the client, share information that we have, what the research has to say, and then help the client to connect to what they need and what their baby needs.
This is challenging stuff, and if you listened to last week’s episode where I was talking about presence, this is what I’m talking about here. Parenting advice that doesn’t first focus in on you and your child and what you want and what you define as a problem and what your goals are is not going to be good advice.
In order to help you become the parent that [00:48:00] you are meant to be, and that your child needs that expert needs to take a back seat to you and your kid. You can hear that in Macall where she’s saying, you know, this might not even be a problem. You get to decide if it’s a problem. Because a whole lot of people are going to ask, is that baby sleeping through the night yet? Is that baby still in your bed? Are you still rocking that baby to sleep? And none of that matters unless you have a problem with it. It doesn’t matter that other people are critical of it if you don’t have a problem with it because you are the boss and you need experts who are going to solidify your confidence.
Then maybe somewhere down the line, the patterns you established don’t work anymore. Then we need someone who’s going to help us figure that out too and isn’t going to tell us that we were doing it all wrong in the first place. This is what I know about patterns, all right, it’s that things work and then they stop working and it doesn’t mean the things that worked for wrong; it means they stopped working. That’s [00:49:00] all. So like Macall saying, go ahead and nurse that baby to sleep. You’re not building a bad habit. You’re doing something that works right now. You can keep on doing that until it doesn’t work then you get to do something different.
I talk to parents and they’re feeling so frustrated because they’re stuck in a pattern that isn’t working and they’re beating themselves up for it. But the fact that you’re unhappy in that pattern, all that is is a sign that it’s time for the pattern to change. It doesn’t mean you made a mistake. It doesn’t mean that the pattern was the wrong thing in the first place. It just means you’ve grown and/or your child has grown and you’re ready for something new. We have to hit the wall sometimes, so that we recognize that.
If you’re stuck in a pattern and it’s not working you can come to the membership site, you can reach out to someone like Macall, who has a lot of compassion and understanding and empathy and who’s not going to shake their finger [00:50:00] at you and tell you you were doing it wrong, but is going to help you figure out how to adjust the pattern so it works for everybody again.
Speaking of the membership site, YouAreNotYourMother.com. Go and check it out. I would love to have you there. You can read about what we have to offer. It’s courses and it’s live office hours and I’m adding new content all the time.
I also hope that you’ll subscribe to the podcast and if you’d rate it, that would be great too. Share it with friends who you think might find it helpful. Until next time this is Dawn Friedman signing off. Thanks a lot and bye-bye.