Using sensory nourishment to support sleep in a fussy toddler | Possums for Mothers and Babies

Using sensory nourishment to support sleep in a fussy toddler

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Debbie Spink BPhty - PIPPS Manager, Mental Health Advocate

I have many gorgeous humans in my world, but one has truly captured my heart recently. My great niece is 15 months old and was born with a condition causing, amongst other things, blindness. She is an absolute delight to be around - however she is a typical toddler who has recently found her stubborn streak. I was visiting her and her family a couple of weeks ago, around the time of her usual afternoon nap, and on that particular day she was, let’s say, pretty cranky! Frustrating for her mum to say the least!

Jumping on your lap while you hold her is one of her favourite things to do, so I encouraged her to join the game. Even that didn’t appeal to her little dialled up brain. I then wrangled her across my lap, and as she lay on her tummy, I began to quite vigorously ‘pummel’ or firmly pat her back. My history as a physio means that I felt confident to use my cupped hands, knowing that I was not in any way hurting her. The Swedish massage therapists call it tapotement. Showing absolutely no resistance to my version of tapotement, she was sound asleep in less than 5 minutes!

Her mum looked at me with disbelief. ‘How did you do that? I can’t believe that worked!’ she said. ‘How on earth can she sleep when you are patting her that firmly?’ she added. The simple answer is sensory nourishment. When our sensory needs are fulfilled, our dial gets turned down, removing the barriers to sleep and allowing our natural biological processes take over.

As visual sensory input is not an option for her, she needs increased sensory input via her other senses like touch. By applying tapotement, I was feeding her sensory hunger, resulting in her dial turning down, allowing her to drop off without a fuss. She slept for 30 – 40 minutes on my lap which was an absolute pleasure for me, then rose refreshed to enjoy the rest of her day!

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