Soho Parenting’s Sleep Philosophy
August 24, 2009 · Posted in Discipline, Infant Development, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink

sleepingbaby-main_FullFor over twenty years we have been counseling families on a wide variety of parenting issues, such as discipline, sibling rivalry, and toilet training. The vast majority of parents, however, seek us out for help with their children’s sleep problems. These parents, tense and bleary-eyed from their own lack of sleep, are in need of guidance, yet understandably wary of subscribing to a method that may be emotionally detrimental to their child now or in the future. Parents’ worries are often magnified by the controversy and misinformation about sleep circulating today. We would like to take this opportunity to clarify our ideas about children and sleep in the context of our Responsive Parenting philosophy.

We are often asked, “Do you believe in letting babies cry?” or “Are you ‘family bed’ advocates?” Although we do not ascribe to any one method of “sleep training” for all families to follow, we do hold strongly to some basic tenets about the importance of sleep.

•    Sleep is one of a child’s most basic needs. Parents should consider it primary fuel, as important as milk.

•    It is a parent’s responsibility, not a child’s, to ensure that a child gets the correct amount of sleep.

•    All children of the same age bracket require approximately the same amount of sleep.

•    Children vary significantly in how easy or difficult it is to get them the sleep they need.

•    Without the right amount of sleep, children are compromised in obvious and subtle ways that can be detrimental to their overall growth and development.

Keeping these important ideas in the forefront, how do we help parents to get their children the sleep they need? At Soho Parenting, counseling sessions are customized to each individual family’s needs. We take into account the child’s age, living situation, parents’ work schedules, child’s medical history, as well as recent events that may effect our discussion of how to proceed, such as the birth of a sibling or a recent move.  We then set up a step-by-step plan of how to implement appropriate routines and structures that will insure that the child will get the right amount of sleep and develop the ability to fall asleep with a sense of security and comfort. Parents can then be in touch by phone or by email as they proceed, to get support, report progress and make any necessary changes in the plan.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for parents is the fear of having their child cry. Crying is a very difficult issue for many parents and we often hear statements like:

“I can’t stand having my baby cry. She’ll think we’ve abandoned her.”
“He’ll stop trusting us and be insecure.”
“She’ll be afraid and all alone.”

It is understandable how this intense worry about crying has developed in parents. But in helping a child to achieve regulated sleep patterns some crying is often necessary. Crying is a natural part of the human repertoire; a certain amount of crying in the service of learning something very important will not harm children. There is even ample evidence that crying in a controlled way to learn to sleep as an infant helps with later sleep problems and reduces maternal depression.

We would like to put this worry into a historical and societal context. Parent-child relationships have been enriched immeasurably by strides made in the 1980’s and 1990’s in understanding children’s emotional lives. But there has been an unfortunate negative outcome as well − pervasive worry about emotionally damaging babies and children. Parenting advice from the previous generation was deemed old-fashioned and unsympathetic to children’s psychological needs. A mixture of popular psychology and influential childrearing advice has strongly advocated an almost constant gratification of children’s needs in order to promote “healthy self-esteem.” This has inadvertently put tremendous pressure on parents who then feel selfish and remiss if they frustrate and upset their child.

These ideas have had a tremendous impact on the arena of children’s sleep. Rather than allowing their child to be uncomfortable and unhappy or frustrated even for brief periods, parents sometimes opt instead for months, and even years, of sleepless or interrupted nights. This can deprive a child of a basic need, as well as compromising the entire family’s functioning.

At Soho Parenting we advocate responsive parenting, which we believe is a more balanced approach to childrearing. It takes into account the importance of connection and comfort, as well as the structure and limits that are essential for children’s psychological growth. Responsive parenting means that sometimes you will respond with comfort, sometimes with distraction, sometimes with explanation. Often though, it will be holding back from responding that will be the most appropriate action. Holding back can leave enough room for your child to develop a new skill of her own. Making thoughtful decisions about when to respond by comforting a child and when to respond by setting a limit is a critically important part of being a responsive and responsible parent.

We know from our own experience as parents and from the many hundreds of families we have worked with that regulated sleep habits for children makes the whole endeavor of parenting easier and provides an important structure that can carry through all of the school years. Helping a child learn the fine art of sleep is a huge gift to him and his entire family for now and years to come.

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  1. KCF
    August 25th, 2009 | 9:02 am

    As a parent who followed Soho Parenting’s sleep training advice and as a family who enjoyed peaceful nights (12 hours from 7 to 7) from my babies from the age of 3 months on, I can vouch for the power and real-life applications of your philosophy. My kids were and continue to be excellent sleepers and they’re teenagers now. And, I do believe that it set an important tone for our parenting to come. I turned my sister on to your philosophy, too, and her 2 daughters (also now pre-teens and teenagers) were successful sleepers from babyhood onward. 4 very different kids — it works.

  2. Judy Bernstein
    August 26th, 2009 | 6:14 am

    This piece provides great advice, not only regarding the specific issue of sleep, but also offers a parenting philosophy in which the parent evaluates the child’s needs in the moment and responds with wise compassion. Thank you for delineating all the facts about sleep and placing this important issue at center stage in the life of the family, because it definitely affects everyone!

  3. Stasha Hughes
    August 29th, 2009 | 10:34 pm

    Although I often wish that my husband and I had been able to follow Soho Parenting’s sleep advice, we were not able to come to the decision to let our baby cry in order to learn how to sleep on her own. I honestly wish we had been able to do it, because part of me believes she would be a much better sleeper and I would be a better mother, and her life might be more predictable and focused. On the other hand, all the self recrimination on my part for not succeeding in doing it, and anger at my husband about his lack of support for the idea, has also been detrimental. Isn’t it true that about 50% of families do not follow this type of method? That some of their children do end up learning how to sleep on their own eventually? That they do go on to live happy and successful lives? I know from personal experience that there are families that somehow thrive without doing this, and that their children are not without limits in general, that they are intelligent and happy as well. I hope so, because even now, though I might wish to “cry it out” at the age of a year and a half, I don’t know if I will be able to do it without the support I need from my husband and others. And it is not because I don’t believe in letting children cry for any reason, it is just practical and emotional.

  4. Caroline
    September 1st, 2009 | 1:50 pm

    We have depended on the soho parenting approach to teach our son the foundation of sleep at 6mos, 18 mos, and 27 months, employing different measures that all worked well. Our son understands and looks forward to sleep time, even when visiting friends and family on trips. His parent’s relationship also benefits! Less irritability all around makes a happier home.

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