Google+ Authentic Parenting: A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool: Sleep Talking

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool: Sleep Talking

Written by Marcy Axness, PhD

This is the fourth post in my new holistic healing/natural health series, where we explore alternatives to mainstream healthcare and find new ways for you to care for yourself. If you would like to submit a post to this series, contact me (mamapoekie at yahoo dot com).

In my years of coaching and counseling parents-in-progress, a unique and little-known tool has proved incredibly useful: sleep talking. It is yet another way in which to practice Parenting for Peace’s #1 Principle – Presence. Speaking to your child while he or she is sleeping is a way to be present to your child in a powerful way, and to speak directly to the unconscious, bypassing whatever protective deflection your waking child might have toward the words of acknowledgement and healing you want to share.

Philipino pediatrician Rhodora Diaz was inspired to develop this as a “last resort” for two young rebellious, hostile young patients who had one thing in common: they had both been unwanted conceptions, and both mothers had resented their pregnancies.

When she got reports some months later from both of these mothers that their children’s attitudes behaviors had dramatically improved after sleep talking to them, Dr. Diaz began suggesting the technique for helping other children with puzzling or persistent problems. Over time, she refined a 4-part “Sleep Talking Script” as a guide:

  1. Statement of love
  2. Statement of the problem
  3. Interpretation / proposal for a solution
  4. Statement of love & commitment (closing statement)

Dr. Diaz suggests limiting the Sleep Talk session to five or ten minutes. She has found that the best time for a session seems to be in the early morning, before the child wakes up (which is a deep sleep).

I work with clients to help zero in on what they might “sleep talk” about with their child. I have found with many parents in my practice that previously unrecognized traumas during infancy, birth, pregnancy and even conception often prove to be avenues for discovering clues to troubling “inexplicable” behavior or developmental issues. These often serve as key points to be addressed through sleep talking. So that is Step One – thoughtfully and intuitively zeroing in on these kinds of events or experiences that may have planted the seed for these later issues.

Step Two is to prepare at least an outline of the main points you will touch upon in each of Dr. Diaz’ four parts of sleep talking. Here is just one “script” example from a parent in my practice. (Note Dr. Diaz’ four elements – which are Steps Four through Seven of my adapted protocol):
James, you are our precious boy and we love you so much… and we’re so proud and happy to be your parents… and that you came to be our son.
We notice that you’re sometimes very dreamy and you’re not quite present with us... like you’re up flying in the clouds. Sometimes what happens is that we get impatient or frustrated trying to reach you... and then that creates a separation between us. We would like to bring you back to earth, and help you really be here, and feel comfortable with us here.
When you first came to us, we hadn’t expected you, and so we were surprised. We were really happy you were coming, but we realized we had to make a lot of changes to get ready for you... and so there was some chaos and crazy times and some really hard work we had to do. So we’re thinking that might have made you feel unsure about whether or not you really belonged here with us. Maybe you got the idea that if you really came to us it would cause too much trouble.
We want you to know that we’re so happy you’re here, and all the changes we made in preparing the way for you were wonderful changes. You’ve enriched our lives so much, and we love you and want you to be fully here with us, all the way, with your entire being. We look forward to all our happy years with you, all of us growing together.

So what is the missing Step Three? Sitting with the material you plan to discuss with your child long enough to process out any “emotional overload.” As I learned from the brilliant psychiatrist Myriam who works with babies in a Parisian neonatal intensive care unit – effecting miraculous healings by simply speaking their (usually difficult) prenatal or birth stories to them – it is more effective when we can speak with words that are straightforward and unclouded by too much sentiment or emotionality.

To read more about this gentle, compassionate and useful technique, visit Dr. Diaz’ site at


About the author
A member of Mothering magazine’s online expert panel, and a popular international speaker, Marcy Axness, PhD, is a professor of prenatal development, and she also has a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. She provides training for childcare, adoption, education, and mental health professionals about the latest findings in the science of human thriving, and is the author of a new book that distills that research: Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers. She invites you to join her at



  1. Intriguing! My son was born premature and even after 2 years, I think he is still emotionally affected by our early separation. I might give sleep talk a try...I used to talk to him in his isolette so it might be particularly powerful for us. Maybe it will also help with the sleep issues we have which I also think are related to the NICU. Thanks for the info!

  2. Sylvia, I would so appreciate hearing back from you of any impressions after you try this with your boy. You can reach me at -- thanks, and wishing you the best. I do address the specific issue of healing approaches to separation due to NICU confinement in my book beginning on pg. 192 of my book.

    Marcy Axness, PhD

  3. This is very interesting, thank you for posting!

  4. I am definitely going to use this with some issues we have been experiencing due to family circumstances. I am thankful for you sharing it here and on facebook.

    As I spoke to my son tonight I felt the angels and sensed he was listening. I think this can also be a powerful way to bridge communication between parent-child, allowing the parent to affirm the child while expressing concerns and potential solutions respectfully, aside from the difficult moments. Sometimes the tension of the moment speaks louder than any caring words can really cut through...

    Thanks again.

  5. Last night, before I commented, my son and I had some confrontational interactions. I was communicating boundaries and I felt he was not respecting them. Although I know why this is an issue, I still need to honor these boundaries for myself and the family. Understanding does not beget responsibility in this situation.

    As I sleep talked with him I noticed that his eyelids gently moved and I felt this sense of peace and healing inside my body. I honestly shared my love with him (which is really great to connect to when a child is sleeping - here's one way I do it: It felt very cathartic after the rough evening we had. I also felt responsible in talking about how I experienced the problem while offering a possible solution. I wasn't just hoping it would resolve itself.

    This morning I felt love instead of guilt, he got up without issue, and there was no morning quabbling with siblings. This is a practice I will certainly continue and share. Thank you so much.

    1. thank you so much Amy, for sharing your experiences. Ever since I learned this technique from Marcy, it's been a real asset in my parenting. I love how this unwinds tangles that have been created throughout time.

    2. Definitely, a powerful tool for parents who are open to nighttime parenting. :)

  6. This is interesting. I have memories of my mother doing just this as we grew up, just after we'd gone to sleep. I have been having issues with my daughter since we've uprooted her life repeatedly over the last six - 12 months because of complications in our adult lives, and I've really felt a loss of connection between us.

    Just a question. In the naming the problem phase, is their value in using 'i feel' language rather than 'your behaviour' language? In otherwords - I feel that you're hurting your sister to get my attention rather than your hurting your sister makes me sad. I don't know if that makes sense written down! I guess I'm asking whether sleep talking would convey a sense of guilt vs ownership of the problems. Meaning I have to be careful not to let it turn into a cathartic outpouring of frustration. Hm. Guess I may have just answered my own question ;)

  7. Yes, I think you answered your own question. I do this now and again with my kids and I try to be as non-judgmental as possible. simple statements and feeling statements may be most appropriate. I will try to contact Marcy to elaborate on this.


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