Children's pillow talk


Boosting your child’s self-esteem while they are asleep may seem a little far fetched, but many parents are using SleepTalk to great effect, writes SHEILA WAYMAN.

MAYBE IT sounds too good to be true, that sitting talking to your child for a few minutes every night after they have apparently fallen asleep can have a significant beneficial effect on their lives.

But hypnotherapist Philip Donegan swears by the process known as SleepTalk, both as a parent and a professional. Developed by Joane Goulding, a former director of the Australian Academy of Hypnotic Science, it is a programme aimed at developing the emotional resilience of children aged 12 years and under.

In fact the children are not actually asleep, Donegan stresses. It’s a matter of identifying the stage when there is a level of brainwave activity that allows their subconscious minds to be open to suggestion.

Parents are taught how to impart positive messages into their child’s subconscious mind, thereby instiling the self-affirming belief that he or she is both loveable and loved.

Donegan and his wife Tracy were introduced to SleepTalk three years ago by a colleague over from Australia on holidays. They tried it on their son Jack at home in Julianstown, Co Meath, about six months before he was due to start school. They were concerned at the time about his clinginess and reluctance to mix with other children.

“At a playground he would hang on to your legs for 10 minutes before he would go and play,” explains Donegan. So they started practising SleepTalk and still use it regularly. “It worked really well. We used Jack as our guinea pig and we were amazed. The difference is just incredible.” Jack became more outward and confident.

Their personal experience convinced Donegan of the value of SleepTalk as a tool for parents, so he contacted Goulding and trained in teaching the technique before offering it at his practice, Hypnosis Ireland, in Julianstown.

About one-fifth of his clients now are parents coming to learn or refresh their SleepTalk skills to use on children with a range of problems or none. While it is suggested for such “trouble areas” as anxiety, bed-wetting, behaviour problems and issues at school, it is also used by parents who simply want to boost their child’s self-esteem.

Donegan always tries to see both parents. “You will find the dynamics of the two parents tell you so much about what’s going on. Nobody likes to hear it but the reality of your five year old having challenges are down to what’s going on at home.”

Unconditional love is a big thing, he explains, “and it tends to get lost pretty easily. Too often a parent is saying ‘You’re a good girl if . . . You’re a good boy when . . . ’. It is not a question of whether you love your children unconditionally, it’s whether your children feel unconditionally loved.”

In the first consultation, all parents are taught the same foundation process, no matter what the problem is. At the root of every issue, he says, will be the challenge the child has with self-worth and self-esteem.

The parents also answer a questionnaire, which gives them a baseline for the state of the child’s behaviour. “So six weeks later when they come in and we ask basically the same questions, we will be able to see significant differences.”

Initially the parents must carry out the process without fail every night for four weeks. It takes just two or three minutes and is done about 30 minutes after the child has gone to sleep.

This continuity at the start is “make or break” for success, Donegan says. “There is a physiology that creates belief in our mind. So you have to get through at least 28 days of doing this process every single day; if you miss a day, your clock starts over and you have to start another 28 days.”

After about six weeks, parents return to Donegan for a second visit and can then discuss what they see as the child’s main problem. “But you find so often that what they thought they were coming in for will have changed after just a month of doing the foundation process,” he says.

A visit to Donegan, lasting 90 minutes to two hours, costs €120 and parents would not normally need to attend more than three times.

Natasha Doyle from Swords, Co Dublin heard about SleepTalk through a friend who was using it to help her son who had a problem with bed-wetting. Doyle and her husband Paul met Donegan and decided to start using it last June for the two oldest of their three children, eight-year-old Kirsten and five-year-old Declan.

“There were no issues, it was just to help them along,” she says. “It was to kind of reaffirm things which you would say during the day.”

She believes it has made a difference. “Initially when I started it, I thought Kirsten got worse, she was all over the place. After a couple of weeks more, she settled.”

Doyle thinks she also did it for herself as a mother. “During the day I would get ratty with her over something and then I felt I needed to retract a bit of what was going on, so she didn’t think her mam was always giving out to her.”

Her daughter’s teachers have since told her that this is Kirsten’s best year at school. “She was always very good in school but could be a bit hyper; at the end of October they said she was like a different child. I certainly did not tell them I was doing it [SleepTalk].”

How SleepTalk helped on toddler

When Ciara Byrne was two-and-a-half, she had several behavioural problems, including severe temper tantrums and being very clingy.

Her mother, Anne, was attending Philip Donegan for hypnotherapy at the time and he mentioned SleepTalk to her. She and her husband John decided to try it with Ciara. Within a couple of weeks, they saw “really big changes” in her.

“We’ve been doing SleepTalk religiously every day and she has come around so much, I really feel if we hadn’t, things could be a hell of a lot worse than they are now. She’s very outgoing, loves her friends, she still has her challenges but there is such a big turnaround, the difference in her confidence level is a big thing.”

Ciara has recently been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder, Asperger syndrome, but Anne is sure that SleepTalk will continue to help her daughter.

She understands people’s scepticism but, as a physiotherapist, she describes herself as “a very scientific person” and says that, scientifically, SleepTalk makes sense. “You know what a child’s sleep patterns are like, we know the power of positive thinking. You’re going into their subconscious and there is nothing iffy about it. It makes sense to me and I have seen the results anyway with my daughter.

“It’s something I suppose you can never prove,” she adds. “You can never say where she would be without it but I really feel as a mother we would be in a far darker place if we hadn’t gone down this road.”

Names have been changed

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