Friday, 18 May 2012

Bedtimes and blanket swinging!

This week I was lucky enough to attend a course on Theraplay®. Run by one of the few qualified therapists in this country, the course aims to teach some of the techniques that can be applied by parents directly in the home; the idea being to improve the relationship and connection between child and carer. The second part of the course is next week, and although it was fast-paced, the trainer was almost constantly talking, and there was a lot to take in, I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the therapy. I was so excited to hear that Phyllis Booth (who along with Ann Jernberg developed the therapy) will be speaking at the Adoption UK annual conference.

So I’ve already started to introduce some Theraplay ideas at home. We are having a pretty good week, so my confidence is quite high at the moment and I’m less stressed than on bad weeks. Mini is much calmer and less stressed this week (bar some stresses on Monday – Dollop’s birthday, where Mini didn’t cope very well), and that makes it easier to try out some new techniques without worrying so much that he’ll feel antagonised. I’m not introducing too much, just a couple of ideas.

One of these, after just two attempts, has already become integrated into Mini’s (and Dollop’s) bedtime routine. I’m not sure it’s got a formal name, but here we’re calling it ‘blanket swinging’. The therapist leading the course demonstrated it, and explained it is useful for bedtime soothing. I’d never really thought about it before (because Mini didn’t experience physical trauma, and had a fairly straightforward first year), but he mentioned that some children ‘play up’ before bedtime because going to sleep is scary. Children who’ve been through trauma may have bad memories of bedtime for many reasons. For some children it’s about losing control – when you’re asleep you have no control over what happens elsewhere, or what happens in your dreams. Makes sense.

I’d like to think that most parents have a relaxing soothing routine before bed to calm their children down – bubble baths, quiet stories, warm drinks etc. We do those things in our wind down routine, along with last toilet trips, washing and teeth brushing. But Mini is still often hyper and not at all relaxed – refusing to go to bed, refusing to lie down, refusing to stay in bed. So now we’re trying blanket swinging. We use a big soft fleecy blanket, folded double for strength and softness. Mini lies on the blanket, choosing whether to face me or the NC and when he is ready to be lifted, he winks. We slowly raise him up on the blanket and swing him gently from side to side. We sing My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean (replacing Bonnie with Mini), and when we’re done singing we slowly place him down, wrap him in the blanket for big cuddles, and then place him into his bed where he wriggles down under the covers. We’ve only done this twice, but he is incredibly relaxed, and we’ve had no bedtime problems. *Taps wooden table nearby* I don’t know if we’re doing this ‘correctly’, but the way we’re doing it is working for Mini, and us. We’ve found that even if the previous half hour has been a bit fraught, the gentle swinging calms us too!

The other technique we’re trying out will become part of our general parenting style (I hope), but requires lots of practise. It’s called matching. You might have heard of it, you might like to look it up. The way we’re doing it, is to match our voice and actions to Mini’s (but in a more controlled manner). This helps us attune to Mini, and helps him manage his feelings by pulling him out of the extremes to a place where he is able to talk or reflect.
So if Mini is excitable and fidgety and active, then (despite what he might be saying), we match our voices to that – talking higher, talking quickly, and then we gradually slow ourselves down, and Mini comes down with us…
If Mini is lethargic, and is looking like he’s feeling down, then we use a slow, deeper voice, empathising with him. We then gradually lighten our voices and speed up a bit in an attempt to bring him up a little bit.

It’s really hard, and I know of someone who tried this with her 7 yr old who ended up hitting her in the face because he felt she was imitating him and taking the mickey. So at the moment, the NC and I are trying to practice this with each other. This in itself is an exercise to help Mini too. It could be confusing for him, and hard for him to process if the NC comes home from work all upbeat and happy, if I’m sitting slouched on the sofa with a face like thunder after a hard afternoon. So we’re trying to match each other too.

This feels like the next step in our journey, and even if it’s not, the course is really interesting and it’s nice meeting other people in the same situation!


  1. This was really interesting to read, Stix. We did a bit about Theraplay in our initial workshops, and were told to go away and read more. Reading about your experiences with Mini really bring home how useful these small changes to routine and interaction can be - I particularly liked the idea of 'matching' which I feel could be useful in any stressful situation, quite similar to work I've done with Non Violent Communication (NVC), helping us to really engage with what someone else is feeling/trying to express. Look forward to reading more about how Theraplay helps you all...

  2. Thanks for your comment. It certainly is interesting. We'd learnt about play therapy in our preparation course which seemed to be more about using dolls and puppets to act out sitautions or feelings but Theraplay seems less contrived, and much of it is the kind of play we do anyway, with just some minor adjustments to tone or setting...

  3. Ah interestingly, Pickle's foster carer's used to do 'blanket swinging' all the time. I wonder if they were advised to do it. I just thought it was something 'they did'. Great idea.