Using the end of the night to help a child unwind, make sense of the day, and prepare for what’s to come tomorrow can be a valuable tool for shifting their brain and body into a state of rest.
Joining me to talk about how parents can use the last 20 minutes of the day to promote social and emotional learning is the author of the children’s book series, Conscious Stories, Andrew Newman.
Helping our child to feel safe and connected to us just before it’s time for them to drift off into sleep can have a huge impact on their ability to successfully fall asleep and stay asleep and on their overall mental wellbeing.
Let’s just say we’re four years old and somebody pushes us on the playground. You go to sleep full with this, and then at night your brain catalogs and stores and partitions and makes sense of the experience. And by the time you wake up the next day, the brain has got a really good proposal for you on how to not have that same horrible experience again.
Dr. Sarah (00:30):
Using the end of the night to help a child unwind, make sense of the day and prepare for what’s to come tomorrow can be a really valuable tool that allows parents and children to feel connected and for a child’s brain and body to shift into a state of rest during those last few minutes of the day. My guest today really understands just how impactful this time can be. Andrew Newman is a children’s book author who has crafted a series of books called Conscious Stories, and these books are designed specifically for children and parents to come together in this really special way that promotes deeper bonding, greater social and emotional learning, and it gives parents these really creative and special tools to make their child’s bedtime ritual meditative and sacred. Helping our children to feel safe and connected to us just before it’s time for them to drift off into sleep can have a huge impact on their ability to successfully fall asleep and stay asleep and impacts their overall mental wellbeing.
If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you have probably heard me say over and over how important self-care is for parents. And I don’t mean spot days and weekend getaways though. If you can squeeze that in more power to you. I mean some very basic and often overlook things that can have a huge impact on the way we feel about ourselves and the amount of patients and bandwidth we have when parenting our children, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and getting proper nutrition all go a really long way in filling our cups and preventing some of the symptoms of burnout. And that is why I was so excited that Sakara is offering securely attached listeners, 20% off their meal program or functional wellness products with code DRSARAHSAKARA for first time customers.
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I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hi. So Andrew, welcome so much to the Securely Attached podcast.
Yeah, it’s such a pleasure to be with you.
Dr. Sarah (04:08):
I’m so happy that you’re here. So you are a very prolific children’s book author. You have 23 books under your belt.
Yep. Can’t stop it. Now once it’s started,
Dr. Sarah (04:23):
Where did this come from? How did you get into writing these books and what’s your background that informed these books?
Yeah, well, as a storyteller, let me weave a little story. Once upon a time, way back when there was a little boy who grew up in South Africa and that was the landscape that I grew up in was apartheid South Africa. It was all boys education, it was church-based, it was before the terms emotional intelligence even existed. And a lot of that changed for me in my early thirties. And that’s when I got into my own personal development work. Like many of us, I came through the door of crisis and there were lots of fires under my feet and I had to go and stomp them all out and then try and work out who I was in the world and where I wanted to go. And I entered the world of personal development through healing schools, which particularly one training that was, I’ve done seven years and it was really focused on developmental psychology, was like the first six years of the life.
What is it that’s happening there? How are our beliefs formed and how do we see the world because of those experiences? And I had to unravel South Africa, I had to unravel my childhood. I had to go back and do the gritty work of looking at that. And in the process I was surrounded by other people who were doing the same thing. I was helping clients do the same thing. And I was like seeing these common themes come up to the surface and it didn’t make sense for me. We’ll touch on some of those, but it didn’t make sense for me that we were all resolving our childhood issues. I was like, why don’t we just do a better job at the first six years of life and then save on therapy balls later if we invest early? And so the stories started to come out as little ways that I could weave what I had learned both about the pain points and the common struggles that we had and the solutions. So now we’ve got worlds through stories where heroic characters have heartfelt victories and the kids who are reading it can learn from it and the parents who are reading it can remember and we’ve got a joint learning experience that’s happening just in the last 20 minutes of the day.
Dr. Sarah (07:14):
Yeah, I love that. And I imagine in using storytelling, using books, using that connected time with your kid when you’re reading together, that is a time when most parent child dyads have pretty relaxed nervous systems. So it’s a great time to be downloading this information as a team.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There’s something that happens when we go from a front to front engagement to a side-by-side engagement, all of the rank of being a parent and brush your teeth, put your pajamas on, don’t do that. All of that changes and now there’s a book in front of both of you and you can enter that world together and you go on the adventure that the authors created for you and the illustrator and you enter that world. And I mean, it’s interesting how much kids will open up at that time and that they start chatting away about their day. And it’s like you’ve asked them a couple of times, they’ve said nothing. If they were at play school and they came home and you, you’re trying to connect and maybe find out a little bit of what their day was, and it’s like all of a sudden there they are, you’re trying to put them to sleep and they just start opening up and they start chatting away. And the second parenting dilemma, do we follow the story or do we follow our agenda to put them to sleep or we follow the child who’s opening and they’re making themselves available.
Dr. Sarah (08:50):
Yeah, it is a dilemma. Parents are tired at the end of the day and that’s a very useful stall tactic for kids. And also it is a legitimate invitation to connect on the part of the child with the grownup. I mean, it is tricky when kids are in that really safe, really comfortable space, they’re probably snuggled up with you. It’s really easy to open up and it is. Yeah, I find that dilemma too. I mean, I have too, and yeah, my kids are extra chatty at bedtime when I’m like, I’m ready to go to sleep myself. Can you just sleep stop? Why couldn’t we have done this an hour ago? And I had the bandwidth? But I think you got to find that balance because sometimes you have to say like, I’m going to delay bedtime. I really want to hear what you have to say right now.
And so you have a choice each night on that. One of the things that I wanted to do when I was thinking how do I help parents and kids at the same time is looking at the busyness of parenting and wanting to not add anything to that. And so when we’ve got little ones, we have to put them to bed as part of what we do. There is a cultural thing being human that we will always tell stories. And it seems that that’s a time when stories are going to get told anyway. And so I was like, why don’t we just make it a small change in how that time is used with intentionality by weaving lessons into the stories, things like the little brain, people giving kids language and tools to help them with what I call yucky brain moments.
Dr. Sarah (10:42):
Tell me about yucky brain moments.
Yucky from a brain science perspective, it’s fight, flight and freeze. And I’ve characterized dopamine and serotonin into little characters and they go running through the brain and they have a moment where things start going wrong and the panic button gets hit and cousin adrenaline jumps into action and he’s a bit more like he has a security watchtower. And so he comes through from that and this is when we can see it in our kids. I learned a lot of this from Dr. Becky Bailey whose work is called consciousdiscipline.com. And it’s a brain state model for kids and families and parents in education. And we’re like, when the behavior in front of us is what we might say acting out, we need to know that something’s happening in the state of the brain and that particularly if we’re seeing survival defensive behaviors, then the brain is running a constant question. The only thing it’s asking is am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe? And we can’t do anything to educate the child until we address the safety. So that becomes, that’s one version of the yucky brain moment is that kind of safety response. The other one is the slightly whiny version of, and what the brain is doing at that stage is asking the question, am I loved? Am I loved? Am I loved? Am I loved? And again, we have to address that first. And when safety’s on and we’ve got it and I’m loved is clear and known, then the front of the brain becomes available and all of that resourcing is there and we see it in curiosity and creativity and natural flow of the child going out to explore their own world. And that’s a little bit deeper than the story covers, but we have at the back of the book what I call a brain balance barometer.
You’ve already met in the story that one of the characters goes and presses the all clear reset button at the front of the brain. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful if we had one of those? Well, actually we do and we can put our finger on it and we can press it and we can recognize are we feeling safe and loved? Are we having a yucky brain moment will be frightened fighting or frozen? And then are we restoring calm? And again, the learning how to restore calm is embedded in the story because Auntie Oxytocin is the hero who comes in and she plays beautiful music. And so we have sighing, breathing, and relaxing as some options. And then now we’re in the home and we can just say, oh, you’re having a yucky brain moment, and maybe we can get a response to a laugh and it can break that moment a little bit and we can say, let’s press the all clear reset button like the little brain people did. And we’ve got a family tool, we’ve got a resource. I mean, you can say it to each other as parents, so you can say it to parents and kids. And then it won’t take long before the kids are turning around and going, Hey mama, you’re having a yucky brain moment. And that’s a great moment when that happens. It’s humbling, but it’s also helpful. And why not? Why don’t we want their wisdom available to us when the moment they’ve got it?
Dr. Sarah (14:49):
Right? And I love that the way this book works is it, or all these books kind of work is it creates a shared language again that you’re introducing in these calm connected moments when the thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex is on, is creating new associations, learning new things. So you’ve got that relational safety opening up access to learning in these bedtime story moments, but in that time, you’re creating a shared language that then you can use as a parent later as a shorthand when the prefrontal cortex or the thinking brain isn’t as accessible and you have to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. And sometimes you can break through, but if you have to give your child 15 words to try to break through versus a, is this a yucky brain moment that’s going to click for them much more? It’s just more accessible.
It’s a shared language that creates a shorthand that you could use in the hot moments when you don’t have as much language available to you. They’re not going to hear it. But it’s interesting because I think what also happens in a book, this is obviously you’re creating that shared language that the parent and child can both use together to help their communication in the hotter moments. But I think you’re also painting a picture. It’s a really incredible art form to be able to tell a story that a child sees themselves in the story and it makes intuitive sense to them what they are seeing because they recognize their experiences in the book and simultaneously helping a parent understand their child’s experience better and create more empathy and compassion for the parent towards the child. Because you can say like, oh, when my child is searching for silence and keeps getting thwarted and builds this frustration in their body slowly over the course of these accumulating frustrations, and then they lose it as a parent, we often see the losing it and usually it’s triggered by something super mundane and we’re like, why are you having this big of a reaction over this tiny little thing when what sounds like your book describes is like, well, yeah, but that tiny little thing tipped them over, but inside the body was this little thing plus this little thing, plus this little thing plus this medium sized thing plus.
And so it’s like, oh, right. I forget my child holds all these things in their body all day because a little kid in a frustrating world where they do feel thwarted and frustrated a lot and oh yeah, when they lose it, it’s because they’re releasing all this pent up frustration and I can have compassion because I can see it. I can understand it and have empathy for it, rather than just be like, why are you losing your mind over this Popsicle breaking? It’s not a big deal. Or I peeled your banana wrong, right? Yeah. But it’s not really about that.
Yeah, it’s a resourcing issue they’ve run out of the type of fuel that they need for that moment. And some of the relationship with fuel is also the space that you have to put it into. And this is where you are pointing out the stacking of experiences in the day. And I was looking at this, this is a lot of the content of my TED talk on why the last 20 minutes of the day matter, I was looking at how things stack up inside of us and how we metabolize them. And certainly intentionally sitting quietly and doing a little five minute meditation practice is one of the ways that we can help to metabolize, it centers us in ourselves and it builds fuel so that we can do things. But having spent all these years in healing schools and looking at trauma and not just looking at it from an analytical perspective, but really having to do our own healing.
Every student had to have 18 therapy sessions in the academic year because so much change was happening and so much was coming up and nobody ever said very much about sleep and its role in solidifying or dissolving the experience of trauma and the belief system. And it occurred to me that trauma, I would say pretty much always happens when we’re awake. If we’re asleep and something traumatic happens, we wake up. So the awake brain gets the head and their sleep brain has to process it and put it somewhere. And in the journey of that, we are creating a strategy. So if we had a trauma today, let’s say a microtrauma, let’s just say we had a challenging moment. We’re four years old and somebody pushes us on the playground for us as adults, not a big thing, but when you’re four years old and you’ve only lived 1200 days, your skills are not so available to manage this moment, and it’s a confusing moment.
So there it is, you are going to sleep, you go to sleep full with this, and then at night your brain catalogs and stores and partitions make sense of the experience. And by the time you wake up or when you wake up the next day, the brain has got a really good proposal for you on how to not have that same horrible experience. Again, here’s your belief system, here’s your strategy. Don’t go to the playground, don’t go near that person, don’t make friends. Whatever it is, that’s a protective mechanism that then gets its first layering in the heart and mind of this four year old.
And so much life is happening as adults, we don’t quite notice it. It’s a really small adjustment that gets made, but that adjustment is self believing. So over time then the five-year-old thinks that thing’s still going to happen and is pretty sure about it and is living that strategy. So is the six year old self, so is the seven year old self and you’re 30 down the road and you don’t actually know why you don’t like going on the playground of life. You just know that you choose to stay inside. But because this, again, it slips into the subconscious and if that’s how it all gets developed, and obviously the bigger the trauma, the bigger the security team inside of us kicks in and the stronger the defense that gets billed and the bolder the strategy to avoid more hurt. I was like, where can we interrupt this?
Where can we change the direction of this? And could we take some of the weight off before sleep happens so that the sleep brain doesn’t have to build such a strong defensive strategy for the kids? And I will say this is the world of story. That’s a hypothesis I’m putting out here. But because partly because the brain science doesn’t yet pull all of these things together and the sleep science doesn’t yet pull all these things together, but it’s an observational hypothesis that’s informed by my own studies and I’m waiting, I’m waiting. I’d love, let’s do the clinical trials, let’s try work this out somehow. But we’ve already touched on the relaxation that happens in the last 20 minutes, and we’ve touched on how relaxation resources and fuels us, and it downregulates our nervous system and it allows us to put down burdens that we are carrying.
And one of the ways we put them down is through attached connection, which is your world, and here’s the parent and here’s the story. And you get to the back of the book and the little activity page. Now you’ve just learned what a yucky brain moment is, or you’ve learned what a sticky thought is from the hug who got stuck. And right at the end there’s a question going, what sticky thoughts are bothering you? And you just ask and your kids start telling them. And in the process you are helping them metabolize because they’re running their experience through your energy body and system, through your calmness that’s there, your presence that’s there is helping them metabolize these confusing things.
Dr. Sarah (24:38):
And it’s interesting because what that also makes me think of is the role of narrative work in trauma therapy because one of the things that we do in therapy that we know from research does help reduce symptoms of trauma. And PTSD is making sense of a traumatic experience with a more linear narrative. Because oftentimes when we have a traumatic experience and whether we’re talking like macro traumas or micro traumas, but we don’t encode traumas in the brain, when you have a memory, you usually can kind of go back in your mind and kind of watch it like a movie. It’s linear, but when something’s traumatic, we don’t store it in the brain in that linear way. It’s usually fragmented, like a smell triggers it or it’s kind of in little shards of glass all over. And one of the things that we do in trauma therapy is help a person tell the story of the trauma in a more coherent narrative.
And in doing that, you are organizing and processing and consolidating all this sort of these fragments into one cohesive memory and it becomes less interruptive because you don’t smell something and all of a sudden have a traumatic flashback. It becomes more integrated into your story. You can build out additional stories about your resilience around this thing. And so this idea that when you process something even as small as a sticky thought or a yucky brain moment or a scary thing that happened on the playground, that you’re helping a child create that linear narrative and integrating and consolidating those memories so that when they do go to sleep, it’s not like you said, having to the sleep brains not having to do all of that work. You’ve already taken a lot of that work off of the child’s brain’s plate.
Yeah, that’s beautiful. And if I had my way, I would have everyone recount their day by creating a story of it. And the reason for that is you’re accessing the incredible fuel of creativity. So I’m actually, particularly in my adult work, I work with people who are tired of trauma centered personal development, and they want a creativity centered personal development focus. Now it’s important for us to do our healing and to go back and look at the wounds and we can get more of ourself back from the places we left it and where it was lost, but our creativity is just right there. It’s not as hard to get to. We don’t have to wobble around as much in the quagmire of our history. So I’m a big proponent of using creativity as a self-expression tool. One of the biggest patterns that I see in adults is the sense of withhold that we are quiet, we don’t fully represent ourselves.
We have great big ideas, and then we kind of hold back and we limit ourselves a little bit. And unfortunately that is modeling something to our kids. And so if we can be just that little bit theatrical and just that little bit artistic and creative and hey, how was your day in story? What happened to this is where Mr. Rogers would use puppets and we’d be able to act it out. Or maybe there’s a pseudonym that your kid has, although her name is Penny, but she has Penelope Jane as her avatar who goes on these adventures and yeah, can’t say enough about creativity. That’s totally my jam.
Dr. Sarah (28:57):
I love it. And it’s funny, I often will talk to my patients and myself really, I’m like, as adults, what do you do to play? And they’re like, oh, well, I play with my kids. And I’m like, but no, but what do you do to play? And they’re like, well, what do you mean? I’m like, what do you do? What do you do that’s creative and making something or doing something that doesn’t have an agenda or an outcome or it’s just to do to be creative. And it’s shocking to me how many parents I work with are like, I don’t do that anymore.
And then the kids come in with all of this energy and it awakens something. And part of what it awakened is the grief in the parent for what they’ve lost as they put down their own playful self. And that’s tender. And it takes something to recognize that you might have that and that little bit of frustration you feel towards your kid can be a projective outplaying of your own grief. Nine out of 10 times it’s yours. And this is what Dr. Shefali has done such a great job of bringing into awareness in her book The Conscious Parent is this awareness that we have to approach this from an adult first perspective, our parenting and our education. Again, Becky Bailey’s work is the same. She has teachers understanding that we’re flock animals like birds. If one bird gets a fright over there, the whole flock takes off all at once. And so that’s still true in the classroom. When a kid across the classroom has a challenging encounter, their brain gets triggered and goes into the survival state and they start acting out with fists and protective mechanism. The entire class’s brain has to look around for the saber-tooth tiger, including the teacher’s brain.
Dr. Sarah (31:29):
Yeah, I was just going to say the teacher too. And the parents we’re all connected.
So if we step in that moment, then all we’ve got is a room full of survival brains trying to manage a situation. And what Becky Bailey teaches, Dr. Becky Bailey, she says, first pause, everybody takes a pause, breathe and wish them well. And that action reset your brain and your nervous system and puts you into the resourced part of you that can now come and step in with the calmness and the composure and the real knowing of how to handle the situation without your own reactivity being added to the pot. And it’s the simplest, the simplest exercise and the hardest thing to do, but you can literally regulate a class of kids by breathing at the front. You can bring them into their own center and their own awareness just by coming into your breath. And this is what attunement is. And as part of the attachment, the successful attachment has good attunement where kids are seen, heard, felt, acknowledged, feel like they belong, they feel safe and love. And we create attunement in conscious stories through what’s called the snuggle breathing meditation, which is the way that we start story time. I’d love us to do it quickly because then you and I can drop another level into attunement even. So it’s four simple breaths, and the first breath is, I breathe for me. Just take that breath, I breathe for me.
You’ll be surprised how many mums feel they don’t deserve or can’t actually just take a breath for themselves. So this is the calling of spirit back, particularly with the young infants. I breathe for me and then I breathe for you. So that’s the second breath breathing in. Now I breathe for us. And finally I breathe for all that surround us, and then we go really quiet, just organically just happens.
And I don’t want to be naive. Your kids are going to love this on some days and rally against it on other days. Definitely. And we have parents who are doing this with very young infants. The attunement of the newborn on the mother’s breast is intermediate if we use our breath to do that. And I learned some of that. I did some work with patients in coma years ago in a hospital in South Africa, and it was bedside counseling for coma patients. So you enter their dream state world and the way you enter is by pairing your breath with them. And you can try this with your partners, you can try it with their kids, just watch their breathing. You can try it with your pets, watch their breathing, and then modulate yours to theirs. And just notice how much more connected you feel to them. Yeah, I notice I’m feeling a little softer inside myself. I feel like my voice is quieter since we did that breathing, how are you feeling?
Dr. Sarah (35:52):
Yeah, no, I feel slower. I more calm and steady pace. I think when I do these podcast interviews, it’s exciting, it’s frenetic. It’s like I want to kind of get high energy and it’s a definite shift in that, oh, I feel like I’m feeling slowed down and grounded. My mind, my thoughts aren’t going a mile a minute, which always happens when I’m interviewing someone because I’m trying to imagine where the conversation will go and how to meet them at the next thought. And that quieted. That was very beautiful.
And isn’t that exactly the transition from day to night, from awake to asleep that we have to lead our kids through the slowing down? It’s not a light switch. We don’t just go click and day has become night and awake has become asleep. We have to recognize the transition and care for it.
Dr. Sarah (37:10):
And guided a little bit through the support of our own calm nervous system. I always talk about co-regulation as sharing your calm nervous system with your child. And if you want to help your child move into a state of relaxation and eventually let go into sleep, which requires a tremendous amount of trust and safety, if you can kind of down regulate them by guiding their nervous system with yours, it’s a lot easier. And we won’t always be in sync, right? Like you said, there’ll be those nights when your kid just can’t get settled.
But I think it’s, and I’m curious your thoughts on this, but I think a lot of times parents mistakenly think that co-regulation means a calm child. Effective, successful co-regulation means a regulated child. And I actually think that’s a total myth about co-regulation does calm a child’s nervous system, but you can’t see the fire that didn’t get ignited. You know what I mean? You don’t know how much you are taking the edge off. You might still see a dysregulated kid who can’t get settled or is pushing it and really not feeling relaxed or calm, but your calmness may be actually very much contributing to a greater degree of calm than what might otherwise be there if you were ramping up too.
Yeah, absolutely. One of the call it tools, therapeutic tools that I learned about how you meet someone where they are now, there’s a couple of different situations. If they’re really scared, it doesn’t help for you to go to a scared place inside of you as if that’s pairing. That doesn’t help. It’s more supportive for you to stay in your calm and your openness because the mirror neurons will do some things there. But we worked, we’ve got one story called The Home for Sensitive Butterflies, and Luna is this beautiful sensitive butterfly. Now we’ve got a lot of sensitive kids out there and we’re still really learning what we mean when we say sensitive kid. I think it’s new language and some of it’s a little judgmental. Some of it’s actually just the freedom of a child to be open and aware of what’s happening in their environment. And that’s a function of the world being quite a safe place relative to its history. Now, I know there’s plenty of challenge, but in the history of the world, we’re doing really well at the moment and it allows consciousness to expand and the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we’re not actually attending to Saber Tooth Tigers anymore and keeping the fire lit. We have electricity and we sleep warmly mostly.
And wow, I dunno where that’s going to take me, but it’s like this sense that our kids and their sensitivities are probably how we would all be if we grew up in the environment of safety and openness. We’re antenna for the world. We perceive internally and externally, so much of what’s happening in our environment. We can recognize our parents’ mood, the teacher’s mood, we learn and we know how to respond. My body’s just moving in a super fluid way just as I talk about it because that’s how we are. Do we need to learn about energetic boundaries? Yes, that’s kind of helpful. And our sensitive kids are the ones that are often experiencing an overload of information through their onboarding of thin boundaries and just care and empathy for the world, actually.
Dr. Sarah (41:37):
They have a sensitive instrument. They get a lot coming at them.
Yeah, I love the word instrument because from a musical perspective, there’s some instruments that you really can’t even pick them up without the note going off. And so for those kids, what we can do in our system, if you’ve got a super sensitive one, is we can lift our energy and we can often they’re flighty and they feel like they’ve flown off somewhere, which is Luna in the story. And we can lift our energy and we can try and meet them where they are. If we arrive with a strongly grounded energy to a flighty butterfly, they don’t actually work very well. A strong hand doesn’t hold a butterfly. An open, gentle light touch is how we hold a butterfly. And once there’s connection there and attunement, and this is where we started our point of co-regulating in the flight, then we can help them come on in down to land.
And all of that healing response for your sensitive kids is woven into the story. So as Luna, she gets blown and lost and taken out into the world and it gets a little bit dramatic. And then she gets invited by the lavender flowers to come on in and to land because they can borrow her light and she can borrow their strength. And so she dares to rest. She daress. It’s existentially challenging to come on in and be present. This is an incarnate challenge. This is showing up into our life, and it comes in a little layers. And there’s this moment where Luna’s touching the pedals for the very first time, and she says that the purple petals surprised her tiny toes. They felt just like heaven, which is her favorite place, brimming with love, light, and safety. And so then we make the descent with Luna so that she can hold heaven and earth together for the first time. She has this experience and I’m interested, I want to hear from parents, can you resonate with my language as you hear it? Can you see it in your kids that sometimes they’re stretched way up there and their feet aren’t touching the ground. And it’s like, how do we let them have the experience of both? The word I use is heaven to represent something high and kind of mystical and spiritual, which our kids really are in many ways and still have their connection to earth.
Dr. Sarah (44:47):
And I think, again, that speaks a lot to that duality of when you’re reading a book, a kid’s book, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’ve probably read a million kids’ books to your kids.
But this idea that for me, my favorite books that I read, my kids are books where I can watch my kid feel seen. They’re the books that my kids ask for over and over and over again because they are in it, they see themselves in it, they identify with the story, they like what is being portrayed because they feel seen by the story. But then for me as a parent, I’m like, oh, I am gaining insight into the world of my child, into the mind of my child, into the experience of my child by reading this book. And though when a book does both of those things, it’s magic. And I think I have more empathy for my kids when I read a book that helps me understand what it’s like to live their life. And so when you talk about a butterfly that’s so sensitive, that feels like it might be flying off and floating away and getting lost into the chaos of the world, and there’s this experience where it actually is, it’s kind of scared to do it, but it touches down and it has this ability of, the environment around it has its ability to say it’s safe enough to stay here, but you can have both.
You can be up high and down low. You can be just on the edge of going away and still very much safely rooted here with me again as a parent who has a kid who perhaps is more flighty and more sensitive and loses it a little more or flies off the hand a little more or doesn’t feel like they’re here with us all the time off in their own space. And that could be frustrating as a parent when I can have empathy for my kid that has that experience because I’m like, oh, I see why it is. Again, this duality of the book is for the kid and it’s for the parent, and therefore it’s for something much bigger.
Right? Yeah, that’s beautifully said. And it’s just having this image of having the string of the kite just to the big toe of that little one. And so that your way to connect with them when they’re drifting. You said something quite interesting a minute ago that I wanted to ask you about, which was about the risk of falling asleep. Can you say a little bit more about that? I’ve got a position on it, but I’m What was coming up there for you?
Dr. Sarah (47:32):
Yeah, well, the first one who first introduced me to this idea of falling asleep and letting go is her name’s Eileen Henry, and she’s awesome. She has a book called Compassionate Sleep Solutions, and she talks a lot about sleep, but the way she described sleep is a falling into sleep and sort of letting go and that trust that you will be here. When I wake up and you were talking a little bit of what made me think of a secure base, when a child feels really safe, they can go and explore. They can go play, they can go take risks, and then they return and fuel back up. I think sleep also requires a very sort of the sleep version of that exploration. I have to let go, but I can really only let go if I know I have the secure base that will be there when I return because there is that risk that if I let go, you’re not actively holding me anymore.
Yeah. Thanks for sharing her details, because I definitely, there’s a book called The Girl with Waterfall Eyes, and that falling is really right in the heart of the story. And I remember my dad went for a small surgery years ago and he came home and he sat with us, he says, and then I was lying there and I was on the table and what happened next? And we came up with all these ideas about the surgeon and what it was. He says, no, next I woke up. Because there’s a big gap of time, and I think it’s existentially risky, especially for those who dream far away. And similarly, those sensitive kids who are almost happier in the world of dream than in the world of physical form. And we travel our spirits or souls or whatever we use as our reference. We have that experience. And then there’s this wondering of is there a kite string when you’ve gone so far? Is there a way back?
And of course, sleep and dream space is the world of nightmares, and we’ve all had one or two of those at some stage that have rattled us. And there’s that brain where the strategy, remembering it as you go to sleep, there’s a little flag being waved that says, oh, remember that time? And you better be careful out there. And it’s like it’s a subscript. You never hear it, but it’s the brain’s job just to hold it and keep it there. And this is the combination of using, I say the last 20 minutes of today actually belongs to tomorrow, and it is a bridge to set up the waking moment, and it’s really helpful to do all the things we do as adults, but really helpful for kids to have.
Maybe you’ve got one of those either whiteboard or an activity chart on the wall tomorrow you’re going to wake, you’re going to wake up, there’s a little picture of you waking up and then you’re going to get a hug, and then there’s a picture of mom and kid or dad, and then you’re going to get dressed and then we’re going to go to school. And it’s like the visual aspect of seeing that out in front and of going through that the night before gives some sort of a bracketing to that existential part that the risk of sleep is tempered by knowing there’s a hug coming in the morning and mom, mom or dad will be there to meet you even if you don’t need it. The parents are going, oh, my kid just gets up and gets going. I can’t stop them. They’ll wait before me. It’s like, yeah, but beneath this, we’re trying to settle a nervous, a long-term nervous system is kind of the goal. How do we have a self-regulating long-term nervous system with a whole bunch of tools that are so natural because they learned them before they even realized they were learning them.
Dr. Sarah (52:18):
And they learned them before? Perhaps there was a critical point when we were like, aha, I’m very aware of the absence of this skill. I think sometimes we get in a little bit kind of like what you’re describing, like, oh, my kid doesn’t need that because they just get up there, fine. But sometimes I think we don’t solve for problems until they become problems and then we’re like, ah, this is all really, really messy, and then people call me or go to therapy. They’re like, but if we can be sort of prophylactic and anticipate like, okay, hey, yeah, they’re okay, and it’s still a good time to build skills. It’s actually the optimal time to build skills, and so I like this idea. I think actually that visual anchor before bed one, I love the idea and I’m a big proponent of reflecting on the day before bed, telling the story of the day before you go to sleep.
Magda Gerber, who created RIE, which is a parenting philosophy, talks a lot about that in infancy right before your child’s even verbal and can process your language to be talking to them about the day and what’s going to happen tomorrow. But I love the idea of talking about what happened during the day at night, but this idea of creating actually not just a story, but a visual cue of especially for young kids who can be very, that concrete visual thing is very, very grounding and anchoring to sort of remind them, this is what we did today and this is what we’ll do when we wake up, and that reorientation towards the future connection that will be there waiting. That’s the secure base. They get to go to sleep holding that feeling in their body of like, ah, now I can go and explore. I feel so safe.
Absolutely. I still as a grownup wish that somebody would come in and tell me how my day is going to go like that. Be like, oh, thank you.
Dr. Sarah (54:36):
Yeah. But it is, it’s like if you think about it, even just like bodily or somatically, there’s something really settling about knowing we did this, it’s done. The day is finished. Here we are. I could slow down, I can rest, and tomorrow I can get ready for the next thing because I know what will happen. There’s like, Ugh, there’s that little dip in the, I just did and now I rest, and tomorrow I’ll do again. But now we stay that resting space. I think that’s probably really good for sleep from a somatic bodily orientation. This is so interesting. I’m super excited that we connected and I really cannot wait to read these books to my kids. If parents are interested in learning more about the work you’re doing or the conscious bedtime stories, where can they find you? How can they learn more about your work?
So the main website is consciousstories.com, and that’s got a whole lot of direction and resourcing there. We’re just building out or rebuilding out my offerings to two parents directly, and I particularly support, you can hear I’m not the guy who’s going to get really down into what you say when what happens. I’m the guy who’s going to be able to say, if you are the parent who’s already recognized the parent first, adult first philosophy, and you’re finding yourself a little activated, a little triggered, and you’re wanting some help to unpack why that’s happening and to reset your nervous system a little bit so that you can keep your center better when that’s going on and be kinder and gentler, then that’s the sort of thing I’d love to support with in my coaching and healing work. That’s a great pleasure. And just the other link that we’re on Facebook and Insta under Conscious bedtime stories and yeah, you’ll find us out there.
Dr. Sarah (56:53):
Awesome. We’ll put all the links in the show notes too so people can find this stuff. So great. Thank you so much. This was great, and I’m very, I feel so relaxed after our conversation.
I was like, I know it’s an interview, but if people fall asleep whilst I’m reading a story, then I feel it’s a great success.
Dr. Sarah (57:17):
Bedtime stories, right? That’s your jam.
And relaxation and ease and comfort in the body where the body takes care of itself.
Dr. Sarah (57:29):
Well, thanks. I’m sure we, we’ll be talking again soon.
Yeah, wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. Pleasure to be here.
Dr. Sarah (57:42):As you’ve heard, so much of this starts with the work we do on ourselves, and that’s why I created a workshop aimed specifically at helping parents learn strategies for identifying what calms their unique brain and their body, and offering you the methods I teach my patients for Engaging in these nervous system resets throughout the day and in the hot moments when you’re really being tested. But while feeling more centered and grounded is great for us, it actually does double duty. It’s one of the best tools we have for helping our child get through their big feelings and behaviors too. When we are able to remain authentically calm ourselves, not zen monk, calm, just calmer than our child, we are able to share our regulation through a process called co-regulation. So by learning tools and strategies for keeping your cool, you’re actually engaging in the most effective strategy for helping your child simply by focusing on yourself. And you can get a deep dive on every one of those tools and strategies in my workshop, Be the Calm in Your Child’s Storm: How to Keep Your Cool When Your Child Loses Theirs. To get instant access to this workshop, head over to @drsarahbren on Instagram and DM me the word calm, or go to drsarahbren.com and click on the workshops tab. That’s the word, calm on Instagram or drsarahbren.com/workshops. Thanks for listening and don’t be a stranger.
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