I’m very excited to be writing my first blog, although I have to admit I’m a complete novice when it comes to this kind of thing so please bear with me! It would probably help to know a little more about me. First and foremost I am a mummy to two beautiful children. Secondly I am very passionate about mental health and adult and child wellbeing. I have been working in the field of mental health for a long time and one thing that comes up in this line of work all the time is the issue of sleep…or the lack of it! So many people worry about doing the right thing when it comes to sleep…are they sleeping enough?…too much?…what can they do to improve their sleep?…the list goes on. These worries don’t change when it comes to our children and I’d probably say we worry a lot more about our children than we do about ourselves.
Having a “Good” Baby
So with my website getting up and running I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep recently. Especially given that my two have been really poorly over Christmas which inevitably has meant night wakings and requiring lots of cuddles from mummy and daddy. One of the things that always comes to mind when I think of sleep is the judgement that parents get about sleep.
It still amazes me that when people ask about newborn babies they comment what a good child they are if they sleep well, as if implying that a child that doesn’t sleep well is bad! I don’t believe that how good a child is has anything to do with how well they sleep and from my perspective all children are good!
As a sleep deprived parent of a newborn baby the dreaded question that you really don’t want to be asked is “how well are they sleeping?” And as a mother of 2 reflux babies (which if you didn’t know means your babies don’t sleep!) I used to hate those parents that answered “oh they rarely wake for a feed” and even more so those people who said “oh what a good baby you have!”. The implication that my children somehow weren’t so “good” because they woke more often really irritated me!
Should I sleep train my baby…
Whilst pondering about sleep and the different viewpoints there are on sleep and sleep training I happened to be part of a Facebook group whereby someone commented that sleep training was neglecting your child’s needs for comfort and implied that anyone who did any form of sleep training was deciding not to “parent” overnight. I always find it really hard to deal with these kinds of comments as I have seen too much of other parents being judgemental of each other without having ever walked in the other parents shoes or really knowing all the research behind what they are saying.
There are so many conflicting views out there and so much different information that I am not one bit surprised that more and more parents are struggling with getting their little ones to sleep. Every parent I know just wants to do what is best for their child and when it comes to sleep it is hard to always know what that is.
I always think about sleep like I do any other behaviour. You need to figure out the reason behind the behaviour and respond appropriately. For instance, if your child was crying because they hurt themselves you would comfort them and cuddle them and reassure them that it was going to be OK. On the other hand if your child was crying because they wanted to play with the scissors and you had said no then you wouldn’t comfort them in the same way or back down as you would know that it was in their best interests to say no. We don’t feel guilty in these situations when our child is crying in protest so why do we feel guilty when they are crying at night for no other reason than not being able to fall back to sleep on their own. Just as I wouldn’t advocate leaving your child to cry in the scissor example I wouldn’t advocate leaving your child to cry in the sleep example but in both you are teaching your child a valuable life lesson.
The key for me with any behaviour is to support and teach your child what is and isn’t appropriate and to show them that you will be there for them as they have to learn to do new tasks and challenges. For example, there may be tears when they learn to use the potty or the toilet or when they have to start school for the first time. With each of these things we would not just abandon our child but we also would not abandon the task. What we do is support and reassure our child through it so they learn they can achieve and do things that they weren’t sure of and most importantly that they will always have us to support them. This is a valuable life lesson like I mentioned above.
Am I a bad parent if I sleep train my child
It seems though that when it comes to sleep that message gets lost and we think that if we don’t just give our child what they want (i.e. to be rocked or fed etc.) then we are abandoning them and we are bad parents. This message is only reinforced by the two main schools of thoughts around sleep…that you never let your child cry or that you leave them to cry. The arguments between these schools of thoughts has gone on for years and I’ve noticed a lot of emotive messages being sent out online. Those who never let their children cry are called permissive parents and get told that their children will be clingy and needy and those who leave them to cry get told they are psychologically damaging their children and draw comparisons to abused children and Romanian orphanages! Both of these arguments always amazes me because they have no real evidence behind them. There are no strongly robust and validated research studies that show that children who have never been allowed to cry are needy and under developed just as there aren’t studies showing cry it out as psychologically damaging!
When I think about sleep I think about all the health benefits it has both emotionally and physically. I think about the wealth of research that shows that sleep improves emotional wellbeing, general mood and that sleep helps with brain development. I think about all the parents whose relationships have been teetering on the edge due to lack of sleep or who have been suffering from anxiety or depression as a result of sleep deprivation. I also think about those children who I have seen are clearly tired and grumpy as a result. My thoughts on sleep are that it is an innate skill we all have (just like going to the toilet) but that we need to have certain things in place for us to sleep well. If we are happy with the way we or our children are sleeping then there is no need to do anything about it, but if we are not then why not address the situation so everyone can get better sleep?