Friday, January 4, 2013

Let sleeping toddlers lie!

I'm sitting in a new place looking out the window at a "green scene" of trees, grass and dappled sunlight. Out of the other window, I can see sailing boats flying over the water in the afternoon breezes: this is a quiet, beautiful place to write!

I mention this because for many a young family, peace is not what they get when they have babies in the home. Babies cry at night, and it's always difficult to know what exactly is the right thing to do when their darling infant keeps waking at night and cries until their parents ears bleed!

In a recent report in Developmental Psychology, a study reported that it is probably best for "most" infants to let themselves "self-sooth" and let them fall asleep again on their own.

Apparently, by 6 months of age nearly all babies sleep through the night and will often only wake once per week - or more accurately, wake their parents once a week!

Naturally, we males are the more common offenders when it comes to attention seeking behaviour when the lights go down, but the vast majority seem to have settles into a good sleep pattern by 24 months.

Now herein lies the rub: what happens if you just happen to have 2 or three, or even 4 children in quick succession? And what if they're boys (we had 5 boys!)? How do you ignore the feral sounds of a screaming infant at 2 in the morning when the others have school in the morning and the breadwinner is working shift work? Not everyone has the comfort of a 5 bedroom, padded walled, solid brick, sprawling mansion to hush the sound of an infant that is determined not to self sooth and would rather have Dad or Mum sing them to sleep!

But behind the levity there lurks a serious issue: what is normal crying and when should parents intervene? And how can parents survive the "joys" of sleep-deprived parenthood when you still have to hold down a hectic "day job" in order to pay the mortgage etc?

Well unfortunately, there are no hard and fast answers: but it would appear that when night time comes, if your baby decides to wake and cry - control your primal urge to go and comfort them, they will probably settle with time. As long as they were safe and healthy when you put them into the cot, they probably will be OK until they settle of their own accord. It's a fine point of judgment to decide whether to persist with patience,or admit that the decibels of the crying infant are more likely to wake the whole house, and get out of your warm bed to sooth them. At this stage, no one can tell when to draw the line and each parent has to learn the what's right for them and their babe!

Common sense dictates that each parent should take it in turns to "be on call" so that at least you know that you're going to get 3 OK sleeps per week, but where there is only one parent available then my advice would be to seek help from their family, their Doctor, the local District Nurse or infant welfare person - in other words, don't' be embarrassed to ask for help and ask early.

Sleep problems can affect us all at any stage in our lives, but toddlers present their own unique set of challenges, and caring for the child who wakes frequently every night crying can put a serious physical, emotional and mental strain on the whole family.  My beloved mother-in-law used to say "All you need is a little patience" and she lived to the ripe old age of 96! So try "controlled crying", and if it's not working then ask an expert who might be able to offer some positive suggestions.

Image: he's one of my beautiful grandsons!

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Anonymous said...

In other words, there is no right answer, as I suspected lo those many years ago lol. Your grandson is gorgeous. I'm VERY happy mine sleep in a different house.

Gabriel Black said...

Okay, so more patience and we should have a child that may eventually sleep through. My Wife and I figured out early on that we need to take shifts: One night on, one night off.
Thank you. I often feel like we're missing something because she doesn't sleep through. We've tried coaching different sleeping patterns, food patterns and even diet types on our little girl to try and help her sleep through. Your blog has helped - we're not the only ones out there.

Mariodacatsmom said...

Another great article - where were you 40 years ago when our daughter was an infant. We could have used your advice. By the way, I agree with you on letting them cry when you know nothing is for sure wrong with them.