Don’t Skimp On The Nap
May 18, 2017 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Preschoolers, Sleep, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Don’t Skimp On The Nap

The data just keeps pouring in on the importance of children’s sleep. Perri Klass MD, highlights the impact of daytime sleep for young children in her NYT article, “A Child’s Nap Is More Complicated Than It Looks” 

“Dr. Monique LeBourgeois, a sleep scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her colleagues recently conducted the first study on how napping affects the cortisol awakening response, a burst of hormone secretion known to take place shortly after morning awakening. They showed that children produce this response after short naps in the morning and afternoon, though not in the evening, and it may be adaptive in helping children respond to the stresses of the day.

By experimentally restricting sleep in young children, and then analyzing their behavior in putting puzzles together, Dr. LeBourgeois’ group also is quantifying how napping — or the lack of it — affects the ways that children respond to situations. “Sleepy children are not able to cope with day-to-day challenges in their worlds,” she said. When children skip even a single nap, “We get less positivity, more negativity and decreased cognitive engagement.”

At least two naps a day for the first year, at least one nap a day until age three, and for some children, even up to age five is critical. Children experience a “pressure to sleep” and need to have the opportunity to release that pressure with regular naps. Remember this when choosing between a nap and baby class. The best thing for your baby’s brain development is sleep.


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Sleep Training “What If’s”: Part One
September 11, 2014 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off on Sleep Training “What If’s”: Part One

Tips from our book, A Mothers Circle:

Parents often second-guess why their baby is crying. They feel guilty and, looking for an out, they imagine that their baby is sick or teething or hungry. Here is the first of a three-part series answering frequently asked sleep training questions.

“What if he is hungry?”

The specter of a miserably hungry baby crying out in the night hangs over most parents on the eve of their sleep work. Parents are somehow not reassured upon hearing again that a three-to-four-month-old baby who weighs at least twelve pounds can get through an eleven-to-twelve-hour period of nighttime sleep without a feeding. They have become so accustomed to feeding their baby at regular intervals through the night that this seems incredible to them.

If your baby is only taking one night feeding you might be ready to cut out that feeding completely. If your baby is like Leslie’s, needing only a minute of nursing before falling back to sleep, it is easy to see that he is not actually hungry. But if your baby has been taking eight ounces of formula or nursing for ten to fifteen minutes several times a night, he has without doubt grown accustomed to refilling his belly throughout the night. In this case, we do not recommend doing sleep work all in one fell swoop, particularly if your baby is only three to four months old. Rather, you can first help your baby to learn the skill of falling asleep on his own at bedtime. Then you can gradually cut down on his night feedings.

Some parents choose to wake their babies for one night feeding before they go to bed themselves. Having slept from 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., babies typically are so soundly asleep at eleven or twelve at night that they wake up only partially, then fall directly back to sleep after a feeding. Even though he is still getting this one night feeding, the fact that you are waking him up instead of the other way around makes your message consistent. Once your other goals are accomplished, you can eliminate this late-night snack.

Another option is to respond with a feeding only once during the middle of the night, but do it when your baby awakens on his own. Then do not feed the baby until morning. This done over a week-long period will teach your baby to fall asleep on his own and to only wake once for a nighttime feeding. After this is firmly established you can move on to eliminate the nighttime feeding completely.

Babies are creatures of habit. And they are smart. On the first night without his middle-of-the-night feeding your baby probably is a little hungry and is expecting to be fed. He cries because he knows he will be fed. But he doesn’t need to eat. Giving up the middle-of-the-night feeding is not easy for your baby; it is stretching him. But almost immediately he will naturally begin to eat more during the day and he will not be hungry at night.

Some parents prefer to gradually train their babies to expect less during their nighttime feedings. They continue to feed their babies when they cry at night, but diminish the number of ounces, or minutes on each breast, until a feeding is so minimal that it is clear their baby no longer needs it.

“What if he wakes up soon after he goes to sleep?”

Sometimes a baby will awaken forty minutes to an hour after he has fallen asleep at bedtime and parents can misread this short sleep as an early evening nap. Treat it as a night waking, not as a nap.

“What if he is teething?”

Parents regularly invoke teething to avoid sleep training. The truth is, babies are teething throughout this entire period. Unless your baby’s tooth is actually just cutting the gum, or his gums are inflamed, there is no need to interrupt or forestall sleep work. If the erupting tooth is obviously giving your baby pain, consult your pediatrician about options for relieving your baby’s discomfort.

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June 16, 2011 · Posted in Infant Development, Media, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off on #!*+!%!&$@!*
“The windows are dark in the town, child/The whales
huddle down in the deep/I’ll read you one very last book if you
swear/You’ll go the —- to sleep.”
Yay! A sense of humor about parenting! I haven’t come across a parent who hasn’t thought a variation of “Go The #!+%! to Sleep”, let alone said it out loud. Not that I am condoning it, of course! The immediate buzz about the picture book by Adam Mansbach was like a collective laughing sigh of relief.
In Pamela Paul’s article about the book, Raising Children is Heck in the NYT, she writes that
“Barbara Jones, director of the office of intellectual freedom at the American Library Association, reminds us that parents have long appreciated that message, even in (somewhat) child-friendly formats. “Down will come cradle, baby and all?” Ms. Jones said pointedly. “That’s for parents. That’s about please — go to sleep already!”

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Sleep Training “What Ifs”: Part Three
April 5, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off on Sleep Training “What Ifs”: Part Three

Tips from our book, A Mothers Circle:

“What if my baby is whimpering but not really crying? Does that count when I am timing?”

A baby’s heart-tugging but not heart-wrenching whimpers should be heard as the background noises to his sleep work, the sounds he makes as he learns a new way to settle himself to sleep. Do not count whimpering as true crying when you are timing the crying interval.

“What if my baby seems upset the following day?”

Although many parents fear that they will see recrimination in their baby’s eyes in the morning after a night of sleep work, these fears are more projection than not. However, we are not saying that this isn’t challenging for your baby. It is. He is working hard at learning a new skill. It is stretching him. And it can be uncomfortable and even upsetting to him. Some babies will seem out of sorts during the days following sleep training. Often they are in fact more tired, or somewhat disoriented by the change in their routine. Indulge your baby during the day. Hold him more. Make him as comfortable as you can. We have never seen this kind of upset behavior as anything other than a temporary response, and it will not negatively affect the bond you have with your baby.

“What if my baby is sick? Can sleep training make him sick?”

Neither sleep training nor crying can make a baby sick. They cannot bring on a fever, cold, or ear infection. Sometimes, however, a couple will start sleep work only to realize sometime in the course of it that their baby is sick. This can induce intense guilt in parents and some couples will make an incorrect connection between crying and illness. If your baby becomes sick during sleep training, this is purely an unfortunate coincidence. In this case, stop all sleep work and tend to your sick baby as much as he needs. Once cleared medically, you can resume sleep training.

“What if I’ve been true to form for two weeks and still there is no change or progress?”

If sleep training is taking longer than two weeks, if you are seeing no improvement or only consistently erratic patterns in your baby’s sleep, it’s important to check with your pediatrician. Sometimes a baby will develop a subtle medical problem that manifests itself with sleep problems. Sometimes a baby will develop intolerance for the formula he is taking, sometimes he will develop allergies, and sometimes he will suffer from mild ear infections which worsen when he is lying down. In any case, it’s important to get the okay from the pediatrician before you continue with sleep training.

Another reason that you haven’t seen progress is your baby’s reaction to inconsistency. Ask yourself if you are responding differently at different times. Is the baby sometimes falling asleep at the breast or bottle, is the baby sleeping in a stroller, swing or in you arms during the day? Consistency is key to teaching your baby this skill in the fastest and easiest way.

“What if I blow it one night, give in, and nurse him to sleep. Have I ruined it?”

This does confuse your child and it may prolong the process but most parents falter at one point or another during the course of sleep work. Be gentle on yourself. Pick up the pieces and get ready again. Your baby is still able to learn. Remind yourself of your goals, for both you and your baby. Success depends on consistency but it also depends on how whole-heartedly you proceed.

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Sleep Training “What Ifs”: Part Two
March 22, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off on Sleep Training “What Ifs”: Part Two

Tips from our book, A Mothers Circle:

“What if he is cold?”

A baby’s room at night should be kept dark and comfortably cool. Not warm. In reasonable weather windows can be left open a crack during naptime and nighttime. Typically, parents overdress their babies and keep them altogether too warm. Babies at this age are comfortable at the same temperature as their parents are. And fresh night air can actually help babies to breathe more easily.

“What if he needs a new diaper?

Changing a baby’s diaper almost inevitably will bring him wide-awake. On the nights when you begin sleep work, use a heavy amount of diaper cream and maybe even two diapers or rubber pants over the diaper to prevent leaking. If you are checking in and notice that the baby has had a bowel movement you may change the diaper. Just keep the room dark and try to keep socializing to a minimum.

“What if he throws up from crying so much?”

Vomiting during sleep training is not the norm but it does happen. As long as your baby is not sick or feverish, you can proceed in all good conscience. You do not want to reinforce vomiting in response to stress by bringing inordinate amounts of attention to it. It may help to keep in mind that when a baby vomits it makes him uncomfortable, it is not pleasant, but it is not as emotionally laden as it is for older children or adults. For babies with an easy gag reflex, throwing up is a natural response to crying. If you know your baby does tend to throw up, then prepare beforehand: keep a basin of water, washcloths, new pajamas, and baby wipes in a pile near the crib. In the crib put a crib sheet, layer of towels and then a new crib sheet on top before you put the baby to sleep.

If your baby does throw up, go to him right away. Keep the room in semi-darkness. You or your spouse can wash your baby while the other changes his crib sheets. Take a little extra time to settle your baby down again, but don’t feed him. If you react with great distress and fuss, your baby may learn that this is a surefire way to get your attention. Say goodnight, leave the room, and proceed with your plan.

“What if he loses his pacifier?”

The pacifier can be more hindrance than help during sleep work. You can try to increase your baby’s chances of finding his pacifier on his own by putting three or four of them in his crib. Or, you can retrieve his pacifier for him if you check in. Another route to consider is weaning him of the pacifier for sleep purposes, which will further encourage him to find his own self-soothing techniques. Many babies who use a pacifier during the early months naturally turn to sucking their fingers or thumb. This is a fine and ever-available way for a baby to soothe himself to sleep.

“What if he rolls over onto his stomach and gets stuck?”

In the past decade parents have been instructed to have their infants sleep on their backs to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This can be confusing advice once your baby can roll over on his own. Ultimately, babies need to learn to fall and stay asleep in any position they get themselves into. Once they have the ability to roll over you no longer can really control their sleep position. If you feel your baby is unsafe on his stomach you can turn your baby over when you check in. During the day you can help your baby to practice flipping himself over from his stomach to his back so the can get more adept at rolling over.

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How To’s of Sleep Training
February 8, 2011 · Posted in Infant Development, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off on How To’s of Sleep Training

You and your partner have decided that you are ready—or desperate enough—to try to teach your baby good sleeping habits. After endless nights of broken sleep, a new logic has emerged: This is not good for our baby or for us. So now what?

❍     Enlist each other’s support
Sleep work is best when both parents are actively involved. Talk openly about your feelings and plans and lean on each other for support and encouragement when you are faltering.
❍     Clarify your motivations
•    Write down your goals and the reasons behind them. You may well be turning for reassurance to these ideas at a weak moment in the middle of the night. For example
•    We can’t go on like this. The baby is always cranky.
•    I am overtired.
•    My husband and I are fighting.
•    The baby could be waking up every night like this until he is two or three years old.
•    Other babies sleep well. So can ours.
•    This is in our baby’s best interests.
❍     Select a day to start
A Friday or Saturday night is a good choice because you will not have the pressure of a workday hanging over you. Don’t make other plans for the evenings during the first week of sleep work. Make your baby’s sleep training your only commitment.
❍     Talk to your baby
Tell your baby about what will be happening. Keep it simple.  For example, as you sit to rock him and give him his last feeding say, “Tonight you’re going to learn how to fall asleep on your own. Mommy and Daddy will be right here and we are going to help you sleep better. We’ll see you at morning time!” The tone of your voice can convey to your baby that something new is going to happen and that he is still safe.
❍     Get your sleep chart ready
You can use the chart in the appendix of A Mother’s Circle or you can use your own to keep track of the minutes and intensity of your baby’s cries, as well as how long he sleeps.
❍     Take a deep breath and begin
This is a commitment. Recognize that it will require some unusual discipline and strength from you.
❍     Put your baby in his crib before he is asleep
On the first night sometime between seven and eight at night it’s bedtime as usual. Use your baby’s now-familiar bedtime routine to ready him for the night. Carefully watch your baby to be sure he does not fall asleep in your arms or at your breast. Put him in his crib when he is drowsy but not fully asleep. Even if your baby does not appear tired, put him in his crib. Say goodnight in a loving manner.
❍     Look at the clock when your baby begins to cry
Make a note of the time your baby begins to cry on your sleep chart and keep track of the duration and intensity of his cries. Pay attention to the intensity so you can determine whether it is escalating or calming down. This chart can be helpful. You can see your baby’s progress, however slight.
❍     Note what time the crying stops
Wait until the baby is quiet and note the time that he stops crying. If there is a pause in your baby’s cries and then he resumes, begin timing anew.
❍     Repeat with every waking
Even though this seems like a lot of work in the middle of the night, it is short-term work for a long-term goal of uninterrupted sleep. It may seem easier to just go in and nurse for four minutes and get your baby back to sleep, but in the long run you will be waking up in the night indefinitely if you approach sleep this way.
❍     To check or not to check
There are differing ideas about whether or not interval checking in on babies when you are sleep training is helpful or not. While checking in on the baby may be helpful to a small group of babies, our experience has been that the vast majority of babies over four months old become more agitated when their parents go and see them in the midst of crying. Babies are smart but not sophisticated enough to be soothed by your presence without the whole package of holding, rocking, or nursing that they are used to. It’s like a tease to them. We have found that while it reassures parents, it infuriates babies.
❍     Support one another
If it is the middle of the night and one of you is still sleeping, rouse your partner. Both of you should be fully awake so that you can support each other during the difficult process. If either of you feels yourself faltering, remind each other of your goals.
❍     Listen to your baby cry
Parents respond differently to this difficult task. You may decide you need to listen intently to every cry and gasp your baby makes. Alternatively, you may decide that you need some emotional distance from your baby’s crying. If the sound of your baby crying becomes too painful for either of you, have that person take a break: take a walk, a shower, or listen to music on headphones.
❍     Pay attention to your reactions
Make it a point to try to understand what the crying elicits in you. Is it fear? Is it anxiety? Discerning your own response can shed light on how you project your past onto your baby’s cries.
❍     If you feel you must check in
If the intensity of the experience feels overwhelming and you feel you need to check in on the baby then keep it short—no longer than one to two minutes.
❍     Be consistent
Although many families falter a few times during sleep training, try to remember that if you do give in and feed or rock your baby to sleep after a prolonged interval of crying, his crying has been for naught. As the nights continue you should see a great reduction in crying time and night wakings. New self-soothing behaviors like thumb sucking, holding a cloth blanket or small toy, or a new favorite sleep position will emerge. Anticipate, though, that on the fourth or fifth night there may be a regression, more crying or wakings. This is the night when parents typically give up and feel that their efforts are not working. However, this is the most critical night to hang in there and proceed. There will be a significant positive change after this night.
❍     Designate a wake-up time
Choose a definitive time before which is “night” and after which is “morning.” Try to stay consistent. In other words, if 6:00A.M. is your designated “morning,” any wake up before then is considered a night waking.

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How Many Naps a Day Does My Baby Need?
November 19, 2009 · Posted in Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments Off on How Many Naps a Day Does My Baby Need?

toddler_naptimeThere is nothing so beautiful as nap time. While your baby is snoozing you can breathe, check email, shower, grab a bite — and for those fortunate few who can actually “sleep when the baby sleeps” — take a cat nap yourself. Daytime sleep is also critically important for a baby’s development.  It is not just a break for you, it is a time for your baby’s body and brain to slow down, regroup and refuel.

Below are general guidelines for how many naps a baby needs at different stages. Remember your baby may not fit this exactly, nor come to it easily, but it is a good goal for your baby’s sleep.

Birth to ten weeks: Newborns are able to sustain no more than two hours of wakefulness before needing to go to sleep again.  So they may take many small and long naps during the day.

Ten weeks to six months: Babies typically require three  naps a day.  This will include usually a morning nap that begins around 1.5-2 hours after they awaken, an early afternoon nap and a late afternoon nap.  It is important to note that most babies in this age range are only able to be awake for approximately three hours before needing another nap. A typical nap schedule might be 8:30 am, 12:30 pm, 3:30 pm.

Six to eighteen months: Between six and nine months, most babies typically drop the third nap (late afternoon) and continue with two naps a day – a morning and an afternoon nap. The schedule may look like 9 am and 2 pm, 8:30 am and 3 pm, or 10:30 am and  3:30 pm.

Parentalk Take Away: Make it a prioriy to have your baby sleep during the day. The more regular you are about time and place the more regular the baby will be. You will come to depend and love your baby’s nap as much–or even more than the baby does!

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The Partisan Parenting Politics of Sleep
October 9, 2009 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments (3)

red_vs_blueIt seems when it comes to babies and sleep the discussion is as heated as the Democrats vs. the Republicans.  Your baby’s sleep should not be a pawn in partisan parenting politics! There doesn’t need to be two camps –the “cry it out” party vs. the “never let my baby cry” party.  Let’s calm down the rhetoric and just look at some very simple and gentle ways to help your baby get the sleep she needs.

Parents have been following Soho Parenting’s sleep advice for over twenty years and we have helped thousands of babies become and remain great sleepers!

Birth – Three Months:

Practice putting your baby down on her back whenever she is in a quiet, alert state, anytime from birth on.  If she falls asleep after being fed and rocked, lay her on her back swaddled up tight. The goal of putting the baby down when she is awake or asleep and comfortable is to build connections between lying down and contentedness. Experience adds up over time and becomes meaningful even in a tiny baby.

The next thing on the path to great sleep is to differentiate day from night. From about eight weeks on you can start to think of your baby’s bedtime somewhere between 6 pm and 8 pm.  This is “bedtime” even if your baby will eat or awaken many times between “bedtime” and “morning time”.  Treat every wake up after “bedtime” as a night waking.  Handle these wakings with the least amount of intervention: dim or no lights, whispering, changing diapers only when you hear or feel that it is a necessity, and keeping the goal of getting her back to sleep in the front of your mind. You and your partner need to be on board to avoid those middle of the night arguments that come hand in hand with sleep deprivation. Just concentrate on getting that baby back to sleep.  Sadly, this means not watching the Daily Show or Friends reruns at eleven with the baby after those first few months. Not feeling overstimulated by nighttime hoopla, your baby will adjust to a day/night cycle

Now it is time to establish your bedtime routine. Bath, boob or bottle and books is a typical one, but you can get creative! Put the baby down when she is drowsy and work on helping her fall asleep while she is laying in the bassinet or crib – this takes more work but will pay off in the end.  Of course some babies just can’t settle on their own or with only minimal help so do what you need to soothe your baby in these early months.

Babies often surprise us.  We have seen countless mothers in groups and individually who swear that if her baby is put down she will immediately freak out.  When put to the test – lo and behold, with a bit of patting or jiggling, the baby quiets and stays that way for a period of time. Therefore, we encourage you to keep experimenting. If your baby is crying and uncomfortable by all means do what ever it takes to calm her. Remember that in these early months the physical connection between you and your baby is primal and necessary but helping your baby feel comfortable in her own skin, with you nearby, is important as well. Finding the midpoint between closeness and helping to regulate her biological need for sleep will help your baby thrive.

Three to Six Months

Once your baby gets used to falling asleep at approximately the same time every day, the next point of focus is slowly weaning out nighttime feedings. After your baby is over 12 weeks and 12 pounds you can BEGIN to move towards the goal of not feeding during the night.

Very important medical reasons support this move — one of course being your sanity — but for a baby, night feedings after they are nutritionally necessary become too much work for her body.  Think of your baby as being see through or clear.  If you could watch the bodily processes of sucking, swallowing, digestion, peeing, pooping and getting rid of gas you would realize that what appears to be a simple activity is actually revving up the metabolism. Your goal should be to quiet the baby so the brain can cycle through the different levels of sleep.  We now have much research to prove that these deeper levels of sleep are critical to both her bodily needs and also the intellectual processing.  Begin to consider nighttime as your baby’s opportunity to digest information, not milk.

Many babies will drop one or two feedings on their own as they approach three to four months, and these techniques will help move your infant even further in that direction.  Slowly reduce the number of ounces given. For instance, if your baby takes a six ounce bottle twice a night at one and four o’clock,  start with just one feeding and reduce the amount by one ounce or minute every few days. If you are nursing you can either reduce the number of minutes or just feed on one side at the first feeding and the second side at the next waking. The baby’s stomach will adjust to having less and less milk. This is a slow and gentle way to help your baby comfortably give up a feeding. Once you reach the point where your baby is only receiving one or two ounces/minutes, you can feel certain that she is no longer waking because of a NEED for food. The night you decide not to feed – and if your baby awakens and is crying – first offer a pacifier, water or soothingly pat her back to sleep. If the baby becomes more upset, then leaving the room and letting her figure it out might result in some tears but also in her finding her own special way to soothe herself back to sleep. No doubt, this process will feel much more difficult than just feeding the baby, but it is worth the effort as the ultimate goal is her sleeping for longer stretches of time.

Remember, your job is to help guide the baby’s body toward not requiring a late night feeding. If you have followed this, your baby should be getting her last feed of the day in the 6:30 pm range, one feeding in the middle of the night, and her next eating in the morning – anytime after six. The next step will be to cut out the one remaining feeding in the same way.

Day Time Sleep

Here are some additional things to be done during the day that will assist you in reaching your goal of eleven to twelve hours of nighttime sleep and at least three hours of daytime sleep. Notice that your baby will want to go back to sleep soon after she wakes up in the morning. This can be taken as another reminder of how much sleep she needs to fuel herself while growing in leaps and bounds. A pattern will begin to develop – she will become cranky about one to two hours after waking.  Capitalize on this natural pattern and as your baby moves into her fourth month of life decide on a specific time within that range, for example 8:15 or 8:30 am.  Once designated, begin to think of this as “nap time”. Stop following patterns and use the clock to establish a daytime schedule.  Do a very abbreviated routine–change into “day clothes” sing a little song and become dedicated to putting the baby down at the same time every day.

Another tip to help the process — the more you put the baby down in the exact same way, same place and same time, the easier it is for her to count on these routines.  Your baby is quickly learning to associate and remember things in her brain and body.  Repetition is both respectful and crucial because it communicates what is to come next to your baby.  Soon, you will be able depend on this morning nap. The two remaining naps will fall into place a bit later. A typical schedule is 8:30 am, 12:30 pm and 3 :30 pm. One nap will drop out between 5 and 8 months and the two nap schedule can last well into the second year.

Prepare yourself — this transition will come with fits and starts.  There will be days that seem haywire — and days that feel smooth and wonderful. This is to be expected and is truly the essence of taking care of children. You are looking to establish a routine that you count on — most of the time — creating structure to the day. Do not fret if it all seems to have gone down the tubes after one hard day.  Instead, think of any mishap as a glitch, a ripple and stay your course.

As for crying, an issue strong enough to birth a parenting divide, it is a part of human life. A communication, a release, a sign of discomfort when we go through big transitions. Some crying is inevitable as your baby learns to soothe herself but if you follow these guidelines she will cry the least amount of time possible. Just enough to learn something very important and fundamental.

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Soho Parenting’s Sleep Philosophy
August 24, 2009 · Posted in Discipline, Infant Development, Parenting, Sleep · Permalink · Comments (4)

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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