Not too long ago, I received several e-mails all pertaining to the same thing… A new book called Go the F**k to Sleep. I thought some of the book was funny, and I can definitely understand the frustration and emotion that sparked the title. I remember screaming in my head “GO TO SLEEP!!!!” (without the F part) when my baby was not sleeping, too!
Of course, with a title like this, it’s bound to ruffle feathers. Are you implying that our babies are purposely not sleeping to somehow get back at us or want to ruin our evenings? We all know that even in our most frustrating moments, we love our babies, so I am confident the author feels the same. While I was mildly humored by the book, the number of exhausted parents I work with daily tends to take some of the humor out of baby sleep problems, but, I was not offended by the book just the same.
The fact that the book is a best seller (whether or not you agree with the title) only reminds us again that we are not alone with our baby’s sleep problems, our frustrations from our babies not sleeping, and how it affects our daily lives.
But, do we expect too much to have our babies self-soothe to sleep?
I recently came across an article about this topic where a mom writes about her 6 year old who is afraid of many things and needs her mom to lay with her to fall asleep (and you thought they outgrew it didn’t you?). I relate well to this age because when he was six years old, my son’s fears and nightmares led to several night wakings. Unfortunately, even after we tackle our baby’s sleep problems, toddler sleep problems, preschool-age sleep problems, and even school-age sleep problems aren’t far behind.
When I first read the article (which was very well-written), I found myself nodding my head “yes.” But, then I read some of the comments and thought, “But, at what point do we teach our kids to face their fears? Are we reinforcing the fear if we “give in” to it? If we don’t have them face fears, does it mean they will linger around even longer, unnecessarily, because we are reinforcing there is something to be afraid of? Is there a middle ground?”
So, then I ask you this… “If your child ‘needs’ you to lay down with him to fall asleep every night, do you teach him that he will always ‘need’ someone to sleep with?” Will this be the same person who jumps from one relationship to another for fear or dislike of being alone? Or, will it be someone like my son who wasn’t allowed to sleep with his parents when he wanted to (and he will vow to do differently with his kids)? or the author of the article because her mom didn’t lay down with her? It is SO complicated and confusing and there is only one answer I can come up with and that is no matter what we do, our kids will vow to do something different than we did just like we vowed to do something different than our parents.
But, what about our babies?
Are we expecting too much to have babies learn how to self-soothe at an early age? Do we underestimate our children or overestimate them? When, then, is it the right time to teach our babies to self-soothe? 4 months? 6 years? Or, let them do it when they feel ready?
The point at which I decided my son wanted me to rock or nurse him to sleep (as opposed to needing me to), was when I decided he had abilities even he didn’t know he had. Once I realized he was doing what he LEARNED to do rather than what he NEEDED to do (his sleep problems were my fault, after all), that’s when I decided to help him learn how to self-soothe. He went through similar points in potty training, reading on his own, and riding his bike without training wheels.
The day YOU teach YOUR baby how to self-soothe may be different from everyone else. And, the day you decide not to lay with your toddler while she falls asleep may be another. There is no set age and they go through so many different phases. What I have found, with my son anyway, is that he needs a very balanced approach to parenting. If I give him too much help than what he THINKS he needs, it really keeps him from achieving what I know that he can. When my son is scared at bedtime, you bet I do hug and talk to him about it. If he has a nightmare, he can always come to me, we leave a light on, and I cuddle him in bed. But, do I lay down with him while he falls asleep or sleep in his bed? Absolutely not.
We need to know and empower our children, and teach them it is okay to express themselves and their feelings. We need to teach them when we feel confident they are ready, not necessarily when they think they are ready. As parents, we have the wisdom of many years to help guide them. And, we should neither ignore their fears nor coddle them. We should talk to them. Talk about their fears. And, let them face and conquer them.