S3E1: The Psychology of Sleep Training with Dr. Tanya Cotler | Baby's Best Sleep

Dr. Tanya Cotler, is BOTH a child and adult Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Toronto. She specializes in maternal mental health, parent-child attachment, and mindfulness. She is passionate about helping parents work through their own early hurts and traumas so that they are to empowered with self agency and can listen for what suits them and their children best- without the added noise of collective opinion. She sits down to talk with Amanda about sleep training from a psychological perspective.

http://tanyacotlerphd.com/
https://www.instagram.com/drcotler/

 

Introduction Voice Over: (00:01)
You’re listening to the slumber Party podcast with your host Amanda Jewson, a mom of two girls, a child and infant sleep expert and general sleep lover! If you’re a tired parent who is desperate for answers or just someone who loves sleep, this podcast was created just for you. Each episode is packed full of tips and tricks to help you maintain your sanity as well as your social life during the early stages of parenthood. So grab your headphones. It’s time to get comfy!

Amanda: (00:37)
Dr Tanya Cotler is a clinical psychologist for both adults and children and focuses her work primarily on parents. Getting back on track. I, I don’t know how it happened but Tanya and I stumbled on a conversation on the phone one day and we literally were high fiving and I, I had to have her on the podcast because I love her approach and she breaks it down in terms of the emotional wellbeing of sleep training for both parent and child. And I think this is a very refreshing take and something I think many of you will benefit from listening. If you are thinking about doing any sleep training or have done sleep training in the past, you’re going to love it.

Amanda: (01:28)
Hi Tanya!

Tanya: (01:30)
Hi Amanda!

Amanda: (01:32)
Okay. I have to ask you are a doctor, do you like doctor? Is it Cotler? Is that how I say your last name?

Tanya: (01:40)
That is how you say it, but you could totally just call me Tanya. Let’s, let’s go. Let’s do it that way.

Amanda: (01:45)
Okay. You work hard for that, that ‘Dr.’ I mean, I think it’s, I always like to ask, My friend has her doctorate in education and she’s like, ‘it’s okay that you call me doctor.’

Tanya: (01:58)
I think with the pens in the role and where you tre. But for The sake of this, we’re having a chat, we’ll put up a bit of a wall if we keep saying doctor, I think.

Amanda: (02:08)
Fair, fair, fair, fair. Okay. Sounds good. So I’m super excited to talk with you, and that we recorded this time because the first time, we have a mutual friend who kind of connected us and then we got on the phone and it we’re like, yes, yes. Woo. And so I think we’re both really excited to talk about sleep, and why it matters to both parent and child and that it doesn’t, it’s not always this horrendous thing. And I feel like we’re, we’re very much aligned on that. And part of what I do and I really want to do is I want to empower my listeners with facts. So I’m, I’m pretty strong in the research side and I always tell people, you can always contact me about that. I have a lot of things that I can share with you. But what I love about you and where you’re coming from, you’re from, you know, the mental health aspect of this, which is always a huge concern with my clients. You are an adult, adult clinical adult and child clinical psychology. Oh my God, I can’t talk psychologist. Exactly. Well, why don’t you, why don’t I pause on my talking and you tell us a little bit about what you do.

Tanya: (03:30)
Okay. Mmm. I think one of the reasons why would I do is so relevant to this talk and I should, I already put, parentheses around it, I don’t talk publicly or openly a lot about sleep training and it was only because I adored you that I sorta thought, okay, I’m going to make myself super vulnerable and talk about this and know that I might get a lot of hate mail, but it’s actually really important that I do it and the reason why that is, is because, yes, so I’m an adult and child psychologist, meaning that my training and experience is working with both adults and kids. And without going into it too much over time, I kind of created a hybrid where I really focused primarily on the zero to five years, like early childhood phase and maternal mental health. But I am trained to work with kids alone with parents and kids, with parents alone or any combo of that. And so the, the kind of framework I’m entering all of this is from everything being good for parent or good for mom and good for a child. And I think most of the time when people are approaching a new thing, but especially like the mommy camp stuff, they approach it very infant centric, like baby centric, baby focus. It’s not good for baby, or maybe it is good for baby. So the sleep training debate to me is always about what’s good for baby. The angles you hear is, it’s not good for baby’s attachment, attachment, attachment about baby or you here it’s good for baby for babies independence or baby self-regulation. And I kind of want to enter in between those two and say, actually that’s not the conversation we should be having because that’s, that’s not what it’s about. It’s not enough. Baby doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Is it good for the dyad? Is it good for the mother or parents and baby, is a question to be asking, which kind of shifts everything if that makes.

Amanda: (05:31)
Yeah. Oh I, I mean this is exactly, I mean this is why we were fist pumping on our call. It’s exactly what I think. It’s like, I, I take it, you know, you’re talking about mother and child. I had a, I don’t know why this sticks out in my mind, but I went back to work pretty early with my first at four months. And honestly, the whole first year of work, I worked at an incredibly supportive workplace. It was an amazing experience. I regret nothing, but I did have outsiders say things to me all the time like, ‘don’t you miss your child? Is it, you know, aren’t you sad? Is she okay?’ Dah, dah, dah. And then my friend said to me this like amazing thing and it’s always stuck in my brain that we need to stop thinking about what’s good for the child, the child, the child, what’s good for your family. And we’ve stopped thinking about the family as a unit and it’s just, a light bulb went off. Like this is good for my family cause I like working. We can afford to pay my mortgage. And, yeah, I’m not stressed about that.

Tanya: (06:40)
Totally! And that’s where we kind of get into trouble with everything. Right? Because a lot of the time research that people will look at, we’ll look at Hunter-Gatherer societies and say how they are the best parents so to speak because children have attachment needs that are intrinsic. So do we, people, human beings have attachment needs. And the primary attachment need is for connection and how that is first done is through proximity. So people who are taking that and saying, you need to be close to your child are taking something accurate but it’s getting shifted out. Of what it means a little bit and thinking too only one piece of it. So yeah, proximity is super important.

Amanda: (07:20)
I just want to pause you for one second Tanya because there was a little bit of a break in what you said and I want to make sure that that word was clear cause I think it’s important what you said is there needs to be proximity, is that right? Yeah. Okay. That word got cut off so go ahead.

Tanya: (07:41)
Yeah, exactly. Proximity for connection and that is true and babies are hardwired to cry to, to make sounds to coo, to smile in order for us to approach them to connect to them and we are hardwired to actually respond to that. And so that is true. And what attachment really is isn’t only that proximity though, and this is where we get on a little bit in trouble. It’s the attunement, it’s tuning into the child needs and what does the child need? What is, what are his or her feelings, desires, what is he of she thinking, all of that. But also tuning in to the self, what is going on with me? And so in Hunter-Gatherer societies where there’s multiple people that are responding to the attachment needs of the child, there’s a village literally that are all responding. It actually functions not to sleep, train, so to speak, but it functions not to do a lot of things because this child is being responded to and having his or her attachment needs met by many people. And so it’s easier to make it quite simpler on mom in that sense because she isn’t being totally burdened by and depleted by multiple needs. In our society, a mother is today probably the primary mental load holder. And what I mean by that is: did they forget crazy hair day tomorrow. And did they return the library book and are their socks too small? And they’re also the primary emotional holder usually for their partner as well. They’re hardwired to be that. So if they have two children and a partner, they usually have three children, and I’m not, you know, dad shaming in this and I’m talking about whoever holds the maternal role or the maternal function, whoever the partner is I’m talking about, I’m not talking gender here. So then there’s that role and then there’s the third kind of issue that arises, which is moms are expected to now contribute economically in the workforce. And so if all of that is happening together and mom is expected to do all of that, and we’re in a different model here, she’s going to be totally depleted. So when we talk about sleep training, how is she supposed to function? She’s not going to be able to function. She doesn’t have a village of people who are going to sleep with her baby over night so that she can go tomorrow and you know, do what she needs to do. She needs to be with baby. And so if she may need to respond to baby in a certain way that may require, and I don’t love the word training, and we can talk about that if you wanted to, but that may require some rewiring. Then if she does that, she may be more able to show up for her child throughout the day. If she doesn’t, then the child is going to see a very depleted, very detached, intentionally depressed mother. And there is a ton of research on that and the child’s capacity to pick up on the mother’s emotion in her face. Well, if the mother is flat faced all day long, unable to respond to the baby’s cues all day long, we’re hitting more problems in this situation. So if the mother says, I need sleep, I can’t function. I can’t think of what my child is going through. I can’t be attuned to my child because I’m too tired. Well we might have to help mom get some sleep and that isn’t necessarily unfortunately looking like someone else stepping in all the time and so that’s what’s getting unfair. We’re saying you can’t sleep train and depend on your village. What if mom doesn’t have a village? That’s not the society we’re living in. I wish it were. If we had a communal ethic where there were lots more money being put into social programming and less is, less of a focus on independence, on economic independence. I don’t know that I’d be having a conversation where I support sleep training, but that’s not society we live in right now.

Amanda: (11:39)
Exactly, I couldn’t. Oh my God. I’m getting chills in some of the things that you’re saying. I mean that’s it, right? It comes down to if we lived in, I tell, I tell people this literally all the time. I say we don’t live in tribes anymore. We can’t hand off the baby to one person while we sleep during the day, coz baby was up all night. Is it natural and normal for your child to do those things? 100% it is. Like, it all makes sense. But if your child is up every hour on the hour, and I always like to stop in and put out a big disclaimer here too, because let’s be clear, there are lots of mothers right now who are up every hour on the hour with their child and they’re functioning and they like it and they’re happy and no one should be telling them to sleep train their child either. You know, it’s like, well, are you, are you loving your life? Great. But when you were talking about the flat-faced depleted mom like that is so, you know, those are my clients, right? Like, it’s, it’s tough stuff. And how do you go back to your family and provide emotionally? You know, you just can’t.

Tanya: (12:53)
And I love what you said. Who are we talking to? So there’s two points that I think are so important. Who are we talking to? So what do you mean: every mother or every parent and child? What is that dyad meeting? I work as a mother of three myself and as a psychologist who’s been working with moms going on 15 years, I definitely should give back money because I think I {inaudible} every mom who saw me before I became a mother. If any of them are listening, you can {inaudible} But, what are they needing? Right. So the mom who chose co-sleeping and has been co-sleeping and nurses through the night and barely.. you know, gets woken up at all. And even the mother who I see who has a family bed, there is so much support for her. If that is a model she wants to work within, that is the model we’re going to figure out how to work within. 1000%. But for the mother who comes to me and says ‘I need permission to be able to help my child to sleep because I can’t function, cause I’m a single mother because my family lives all the way across the world, because I don’t have family. Because my partner works shift work and I have three children because, because…’ That mother deserves to also be able to do what she needs. And so, so that’s the first thing that I loved what you said. The second is, what are we talking about when we’re saying sleep training? And I think, yeah, what’s happened is we say the word and people define it, how they defined it in their mind and many, many nuances to that. So who, I mean, what I have heard perspectives on training that I have heard that are very extreme, that I cannot as a psychologist entirely support because yes, babies do need connection. They do need to know they can trust you. And so there’s probably contact that needs to be made in some way, but we have to work within that. So yeah. So we’re talking about crying all night long and you never, and you don’t go in, maybe that might be a model, but that model can be, is a little harder one. But then what are we talking about with all the other pieces, right. Teaching a child the difference between night, day and night. Not every kid comes into the world knowing that. Yeah. Well that’s a lot of stuff we have to help our kids and we should teach them circadian rhythms. How else are they going to do it? Yeah. Bedtime routine. Some families don’t understand the importance of that, of calming the entire system down, of connecting before bed. If you have a child who has been overstimulated all day and then you try to put them to bed, well the cortisol is like a red bull. How are you going to get that kid to bed? Right. Teaching the importance of bedtime routine. This, that’s all part of sleep training. So a lot of the time when we hear no sleep training, no sleep training, what are you talking about? No what? No bedtime routine? Coz that’s crucial. The kid who wakes up, like you said so many versions of how you’re going to support that child. How old is that child? Because if this child is three or four like mine who woke up every hour last night. I didn’t just leave her – I’m very tired by the way today because of it. But I did have to go in and remind her that I know she was feeling really big feelings and that I want us to deal with them more tomorrow and remind her how we cope with those big feelings. But that it was night and it kept my light off, cause if she saw my face would overstimulate her and it wasn’t time for play and I just, most of the time didn’t speak at all and just just for a little and touched her back and that is in someone could say training. Um, and I didn’t go and lie with her the whole night because if I did tomorrow she’d want me to lie with her. And so there are models.

Amanda: (16:45)
Yes. Yeah, yeah, 100%. And I think people’s biggest fear when they call me or they start this process is that I’m going to tell them to like shut the door and not go back in the morning. And it’s like, well first of all, why would you need me to tell you that? Just if, if you want to do that, that’s a probably a lot easier in some ways than what I’m going to tell you to do.

Tanya: (17:11)
Of course. And I hate, you know, I always say like it does work. Of course it works because the child has stopped and it might be what that parent needs cause they need it now and then okay.

Amanda: (17:27)
I see that like people will be like, but sometimes I think that I just, I can’t go in there, I can’t do the thing. And I’m like, well maybe you need to think about that too because I like a big part of my work, too is reminding parents about their, I call it, it’s kind of Woo Woo, you probably have a better language around this that I might steal from you today Tanya. But, but I always call it like, it’s like good or bad energy, right? So like, um, I always say I know within 30 seconds how the night’s going to go in an in-home. I go in, I feel the vibe, I feel the energy from the parents and I can tell you probably to the minute how long that child is going to cry. And it’s about the feelings that the parents are putting out that I feel, okay. So like me, a stranger, your child is definitely feeling, I don’t know what to, that’s like I can’t go into my resource book and be like, here’s the study on, on your feelings and how your child also feels them. But I know,

Tanya: (18:41)
Well, you’re jumping on something so important, Amanda because you’re talking about the whole consciousness of, of parents and our need to, know if we could all do this and we were all able to do this right away, we may not need sleep training. I’ll be honest with you and people who come into practice and we do this work. It’s funny, after I mentioned my daughter, I wanted to put parentheses and say she doesn’t do that every night and I have done my work. But. Right. It’s, it takes work. Our children show up and they meet us up and they show us things about ourselves and some kids they show it to us at night, you know, acting out during the day in tantrums. Sleep wakings are the same thing as a day tantrum and in both case, and really they are, and the child who does more night wakings is often for whatever reason, more comfortable existing in vulnerability at night than in the day. And in both cases they’re telling us of needs, needs that they need, responding to. Butwhat that does to the mother or the father or the parent, what it provokes in them, what it triggers. That kind of feeling it sends down their spine has to do with themselves and who they are and what maybe the attachments were. And what shrill cries or feelings of helplessness or anger that come up when somebody is crying or screaming that has to do with them and often that work, that work I do in my office, that work of understanding, who responded how when you cried? Who responded how when you were helpless? And so now that your baby is doing this, what is that doing to you? I mean that is the work. So we’re talking about existing in this place where we all want to be conscious parents raising empathic, kind, centered, authentic children and yes, and we want to see our children. They are. And yet we are, many of us are talking about that, preaching that surrounded by that now with amazing minds like Dr Shefali or Gabor Mate, but we need to think about who are they before they’ve, they’ve been wakened and what if they are in that phase wakened? Well, that work that they’re doing that I hope they can do with their therapist or with somebody that’s going to help them. If they’re really tired, I’m just going to be blunt. That work’s going to be really hard. So sometimes problem is actually sleep training before they hit that moment of consciousness and being able to look at this stuff. And then I often see them as almost stepwise fashion. They do this and then they look back and they say, maybe this child, actually, if I had realized what the cries were doing to me, maybe I would have been able to do it in a different way. But I shouldn’t feel shame about that. This is where, I am now. And what I may have needed in that moment may have been different.

Amanda: (21:21)
Yeah, I love that. I’ve just loved it. And you’re giving me so much good vocabulary around that. I mean, this is, this is where I feel like I should, you know, not everyone is, is in that spot where they hear the crying and they’re broken by it, but there are a lot of clients who are, or people who, you know, start the process and they can’t follow through. And I’m like, you know, I get it. Let’s just stop. Like, don’t do this. If that is your real body that you fear, having a true visceral reaction, then there’s other stuff that you need to do first before you even think of this. And maybe it’s like you just don’t. Yeah. Yeah.

Amanda: (22:13)
I feel like there’s a, an internet connection problem. So sorry! Uh, it’s, it’s always fun with technology. No I, I just feel like we need to, there’s always a step two, right? Like I say, like I’m step one and then step two, I have a good idea of what I think is probably going on, but you need to go see Tanya. Yeah. Maybe you don’t

Tanya: (22:45)
Yeah. And, and also, or maybe you don’t. Right. And also I want to give space for this whole other, returning back, maybe closing it with, there is that person who is either going to say, this is never for me and I just feel good with the way I’m doing it and actually I don’t need to sleep train at all. But then there’s also the parent who goes, I desperately need to sleep train but I can’t. It’s just something I viscerally cannot do it, and that is, I do believe for many responding to the intrinsic attachment needs. Like I said, ideally in a different society, I think yes, we wouldn’t have to sleep train our children and so that parent is more attuned to or connected to that I want to respond to my child. Every attachment need that is my role and I am going to figure out how to take care of me or I’m putting myself on hold and then that person’s going to need another form of support while they do that. So yes, that might be therapy support while they talk out how tired they are. That might be a doula coming into the home. And so yes, if you fit in that category and you’re saying this isn’t for me, I’m also not functioning, now what? Yes

Amanda: (23:47)
I just want to know, you talked about attachment and attunement. So I’m really clear attachment. Like if I were to break it down, what is the like difference, is there an easy way to answer that?

(24:00)
I could {inaudible}

Amanda: (24:08)
I would buy it!

Tanya: (24:09)
But I’ll break it down as easily as I can cause it’s so {inaudible}.

Amanda: (24:14)
I would totally do it.

Tanya: (24:19)
Would you? Maybe I should get a side hustle.

Amanda: (24:21)
Its not easy!

Tanya: (24:21)
It is not, we should talk about it after.

Tanya: (24:27)
What it isn’t. I almost find it easier to, to define it with what it isn’t to myth bust. It isn’t necessarily defined by co-sleeping or baby wearing or breastfeeding. Those are behaviours. It’s not what necessarily build a secure attachment. They may, and so you know, by no means am I saying those things are problematic. They’re wonderful and beautiful if they work for you. What attachment is music in many ways. And that might sound funny, but attachment is, music is in, I told you I was woo woo. It’s about a mother and child or father and child tuning in to one another. And it is a constant interchange and ebb and flow of responding non-verbally and verbally to facial expression, to behaviour, to tone of voice and so on and so on as one grows. And it is every, moment to moment, movement, dance music between two people. It’s relationship really, that is full of ruptures. It’s full of mistakes, and repairs and mistakes, repairs and ebbs and flow and the research, and I just want to like almost let listeners take, if nothing else home then this. The research talked for a long time about the primary role or the primary being that assisted building a secure attachment is sensitive responding. So meaning mother to child or parent to child responding to the attachment needs of the child. And the attachment needs are things like and attachment behaviors or things like the cry, and that’s where some stuff gets taken, and that proximity is important so that the child can explore and, and those are all accurate and there are a ton of research to support it. But what we are seeing and in recent research and in an amazing research by Woodhouse show that it’s, it’s almost responding for 50% of the time. That there could be ruptures. That ruptures are part of it because it’s moving. It’s ebb and flow, not constant. It’s not 100%. With attunement, you’re repairing

Amanda: (26:44)
You know when we had our conversation on the phone when you said that, it’s like what a relief because how many mistakes are we going to make? And you also said something that was, if we need to get it 50% right, let’s say that we do decide at the night, these are the moments where I can’t respond to you right now, but darn it, I’m going to make up for it during the day. And I felt like, wow, that’s a really great way to look at it.

Tanya: (27:26)
You know, I think it’s part of it is also that you, you in the repair, I love to highlight the repair. Your child’s a person, your child understands and like we said, is picking up on facial expression, nonverbal behavior and the woe face. As you know, as it’s been called, which is like the awe face when they are in distress. And so having that face also in describing what happened, saying I’m sorry about last night bud. That was hard. What was hard for you? It was hard for me. Mama was tired. I couldn’t anymore sweetie. So, so this is what I had to do or, or talking to the child beforehand. Hey sweetie, tonight I’m going to come in every 5 minutes and

Amanda: (28:07)
Yeah, people are writing notes, this is it, this is what you need to do.

Tanya: (28:10)
I love you but then I’m going to go or whatever the plan you ended up coming up with, I don’t want to create the sleep training plan right now, but right. You’re repairing your rupture. It’s right there. You say here is my rupture. That was my rupture and I’m sorry buddy but I love you and I’m still there.

Amanda: (28:23)
I tell parents to do that all the time, I tell parents to talk to their babies like they’re real people and tell them what they’re going to do and what to expect that night and that if they need them, that you’re coming back and just keep telling them that and then come back. And the more they see that you come back, the easier this is going to be.

Tanya: (28:42)
So you’ve got it. So you’ve got it. So why the 50% research has said it is because a child builds over a collection of the moments. It’s like they take the whole song, not the moment by moment of the, I am not good at music language, so I’m going to stop with the metaphor, but they take the moment right. And they make the collective song out of it and the collective song tells them I can trust her or I can trust him. That’s where they come up from. So that’s that 50%. It came from, I made a, I made a general impression of you now, and my general impression was made from the whole day, from the whole night, not just from one moment.

Amanda: (29:24)
Yup. 100%. Well, as I always say, I like to keep this podcast to the length of a crap nap. We’re getting, we’re getting to a dangerously good nap levels here. So how can people find you and are you taking clients?

Tanya: (29:49)
I’m always attempting to, to help someone find the support they need. So if I’m full, I have many amazing people I refer to. I’m always taking a few, depending on need and timeline. So yes in brief. Yeah, we can connect and I can help you. And my best way to reach me is tanyacotlerphd.com is my website. You can find me there or you can find me on Instagram @DrCotler, I think I’m on Facebook, but I have no idea how to find me. Um, I just shoot things over and that’s it.

Amanda: (30:28)
Awesome. Well, I know, I feel like if I had listened to this five years ago, I would have called you. So hopefully people are hearing this and know that there are options if they’re feeling kind of icky in life or maybe have some questions in general, how to, how to get some good help. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure, honestly,

Speaker 3: (30:51)
Thank you so much! And I’m so lucky to have someone like new supporting parents and their baby’s in sleep.

Speaker 2: (30:58)
Well, thank you. That was very nice. Have a good one.

Speaker 1: (31:03)
Thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Slumber Party. If you’re ready to help your little one, get the sleep that they need and get your nights back while you’re at it, make sure to check out Amanda’s signature DIY sleep training courses or work with her directly. For more details headover to babysbestsleep.com. Don’t forget to hit subscribe, like and review! Happy sleeping everyone.