Updated: Apr 9
Sinem Ozen Canbolat is a Developmental Psychologist with a focus on infancy (and early childhood). She provides consulting services to parents on the following issues: Helping parents understanding the ‘feeding-activity-sleep’ cycle of their infants , supporting the development of infant’s ability to fall asleep on her own from an attachment point of view, supporting the parent-infant relationship and infant's development through play sessions. She is a member of the Mother and Baby Health Foundation, Infant Mental Health Association(TR), a past participant of infant observation groups guided by the Tavistock Clinic (UK), and a current participant of Integrative Baby Therapy running by Matthew Appleton / Conscious Embodiment Trainings. As an accomplished sleep consultant, Canbolat has developed a novel sleep method which promotes a secure and attached relationship between mother and infant. She has also developed and tested a scientifically based toy set, designed for infants [0-6 months of age] and coordinated a parent training program at İstanbul University. She helps Turkish parents through a blog named yeoynauyu.com (eatplaysleep.com). The Turkish version of her book, "Playing With My Infant" and her second book, "Sleep, Attachment and Your Baby" are best sellers among all parenting books in Turkey.
Here the interview with we’ve done with Circle of Events for Sinem Ozen Canbolat, hope you enjoy it!
Why are you studying the first three years of human life, the early childhood?
Both in Turkey and the world, 0-3 years of early childhood are the most important but the least comprehended stage of human life. It is when 80 to 90% of adult brain development takes place, a decisive period for self and for how we form relationships in life. It has lacked unfortunately the attention it deserves until recently not just from the parents, but the specialists in the field and from the governments in terms of social policies. I think we are waking up to this stage now. Countries including Australia, United States and United Kingdom have seen how important it is to invest in this particular stage to lower crime rates, boost the level of education and to carry their countries to the future. They have taken actions accordingly. With the birth of my children, I have come to realise how few studies are carried out in the field, how superficial and limited is the information given to parents. And since then I do my best to further advance in the field.
Well you’ve just mentioned your effort of advancement in the field. Could you elaborate a bit about those efforts?
Following my academic studies I have worked with children for a brief amount of time. During the first month of my job I found out that I was expecting Ada, my first child. Ada had just turned one that I found out I was expecting Ege, my second child. I guess they are the first and loveliest reasons making my advancement possible. Then I have attended many national and international trainings in the field, among which I am most impressed by baby observations I have carried out for two years together with Tavistock and Complementary Baby Therapy I am currently studying in the UK. In these studies, I have witnessed quite miraculously the baby’s body-soul integrity and how her journey starting from the very first moment of conception deeply affects her post-natal life and the fact that difficult experiences can be mended through support offered to parents. The third pillar in my intensified studies in infant mental health has certainly been my efforts to go through my own processes to help understand the babies and their parents and to separate my own experiences while helping them. For each second I spend with the babies I have tried to be there for them physically, mentally and spiritually as much as I could.
If this stage is so pivotal for adult life, then it is essential that one has to be more than ready to be a mom and dad. In what ways should people get ready for parenthood before they hold their ‘bundle of joy’ in their arms?
As a lovely friend of mine puts it, I guess we can never get fully ready for parenthood. Still, doing our best surely matters. To begin with, it is important to be aware of our unheard feelings and unmet needs from our own early childhood, to mourn for the buried pain they have caused and to be able to say goodbye to them. Once it happens, the suffering child inside will have been healed giving enough room in our hearts for our baby to come. Only then we will be able to focus responsively to the needs of their bodies, souls and minds. Otherwise, without even noticing, our needs can get ahead of our baby’s needs.
Can you please give an example?
Let us assume that a parent was expected to grow up earlier than their age. They can expect the very thing from their child without even noticing. They may expect their baby to sleep on their own before they are ready for it. They may excessively focus on the baby’s development so that they walk in no time, when crying may expect them to immediately self-soothe. If the parent has developed an awareness of their unmet childhood needs but failed to mourn or say goodbye, they may behave just the opposite. In spite of the baby’s readiness they may continue to hold them in the arms, fail to separate from the child, keep on providing more than needed support throughout the years, in short the parent may display a type of parenting called ‘helicopter parenting’. Therefore, if the last thing we would like to give to our baby is a disconnected self and life, the best thing we can do for them is to work with ourselves.
You are telling parents to turn inward and take a look at their hearts so that they can make room for their babies there. So what will they hear from their babies once they make such room for them?
The real needs of their babies. They are not just physical for sure. We have said that the mind, body and spirit are one. Beyond daily needs, what they can also witness is how the hardships their babies experience before, during and after delivery resonate with them.
So the baby experiences and feels things once it is conceived and can bring those into the next life scene. Can you please give an example?
Let us talk about a baby delivered with a c-section or a much too invasive vaginal delivery: Birth is an essential journey from a place we feel safe to a place unknown. Under normal circumstances it is found in the collective memory of babies and takes place in the light of the babies’ knowledge per se how to be born. When this journey fails to take place in the way the baby instinctively expects it, baby goes through a difficult experience. Following the birth if parents cannot show responsive approaches to baby’s first encounter with the breast, in particular skin-to-skin contact, we may encounter a baby fussy during the first night of the delivery, too many crying during the first months, too much gas and colic. It is possible to heal those difficult experiences if the baby receives good enough care, if mom and other caregivers are well included. In the lack of such inclusive care during neonatal period, the experiences can be triggered again and again with each separation moments. Even in adulthood, there may be traces of birth experience in daily life and how it affects our relationship with life. For instance, a baby born with a nuchal cord may develop a speech disorder or grow up to be a person who cannot wear any necklace or foulard, cannot even bear a car seatbelt and feels as if there were always things that prevent them from taking steps when embarking on a new project. It does not necessarily mean that each nuchal cord case ends up like this. Psychology is a science where you solve equations with multiple variables so instead of rudimentary analogies, it is important that we look at things with a deep and holistic view.
Well then let’s move to sleep from here. Assuming that the mind, body and emotions of a baby are one, how do sleep trainings affect the baby?
As I’ve given in details in my book, sleep can neither be “trained” nor “learnt”. The whole life of the baby starting from the very moment she has come to mind of the parent determines the sleep issue -that’s why we start our interviews asking whether the baby is the parents’ first baby or not and if she is planned. Baby’s story thus far, daily ups and downs, attachment style with the parent, her development level, even the society and climate the baby lives in. These all reflect in the way the baby falls and stays asleep. In such a matter that needs a comprehensive and in-depth assessment, if you try to gain control over your baby through preset and mechanical steps like, ‘you should do this and that on the first day, and something else on the second. Don’t you ever look them in the eye, do not hold them or nurse to sleep’ ignoring their story and signals, what you will end up with is an individual who feels the gap between the real self and the ideal you are trying to depict, who is told that they do not exist and has unmet needs and unheard feelings. Of course it is not to say that sleep training will absolutely lead to such a conclusion, however the more this perspective is found intensively and repetitiously in the parent’s caregiving, the more probable all this insecure attachment style will have such conclusions.
In addition to your book ‘Sleep, Attachment and Your Baby’ you have written a book entitled ‘Playing with My Infant’. Is play as essential as sleep for babies?
That is why I actually call it EATPLAYSLEEP. During eating, play and sleep that make up the infant’s life, the attachment relationship first with the primary caregiver -in most cases the mom- and then dad and other caregivers determines the baby’s relationship with life. So each of these areas affect baby’s life and each other. Play is as important as sleep and feeding or eating. Play not only supports baby’s development but it also supports their relationship with the parent. Yet infant play is an underappreciated field. That’s why alongside the book I organise monthly infant play workshops where I explain relationship play.
What has challenged you the most as a mom?
What challenged me the most, I guess, is to see my own ghosts reflecting on my kids. The early years of my motherhood was tough as I did not have enough support. Just like every mom I have my own regrets and desperations. But the most precious and special path I’ve ever taken -and am still taking- is to see that there is always a chance to mend, that parenthood is the unmatched and miraculous opportunity to find yourself and focus on the moment rather than yesterday and on what’s there in my kids’ eyes. Difficult, yes, but its gifts are so sweet.
Your last remarks please.
If we want the world to be a better place, I think the best thing we can do is to use our best endeavour on early childhood whether in the role of a parent, an expert or a policymaker ☺ May your path fill with light!