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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: Sleep training

QUESTION:

Did you know that "sleep trainers" claim if your baby does not get 12 hours of sleep the brain does not develop properly?! They also advise readers to put on headphones when the cries get too intense to bear.

Gwen


JAN'S REPLY:

This is another tragic instance of mistrusting nature. Babies will take the sleep they need, as long as they are in good health, they feel secure, and the environment is reasonably quiet. There are no rules that apply to each and every baby's sleep requirements, or for any other developmental need. We've known for a very long time that sleep requirements, like all other human variables, form a bell-shaped curve. Most children fall near the average, but there are always some who measure at one extreme or the other. Many babies require twelve hours of sleep, but some will require much less, and some will require more. As Joseph Chilton Pearce counsels in The Magical Child, nature "programs only for success."

Telling parents to put on headphones when their baby cries is like telling someone to put in earplugs if their smoke detector goes off. A baby cries for a reason, just as smoke detectors ring for a reason. Nature has intended a baby's cry to be disturbing for the baby's protection, to ensure that an adult will respond.

If a parent prevents a child's cry from reaching him, this is tantamount to child neglect. How will the child notify the parent of an emergency situation? Children have died in fires, choked on vomit, been bitten by pet animals, been injured by diaper pins, become severely ill, and even have been kidnapped. If this type of situation takes place while parents have taken themselves "off-duty", what can the child do? The use of ear plugs to avoid a child's crying is a dangerous and irresponsible practice that ought to be included in laws protecting children from parental neglect. A child in this situation may as well have been left at home alone.

There is another hazard - perhaps the most dangerous of all. If a child is left to fend for herself, she will eventually conclude that (a) it is appropriate to ignore the suffering of others and that (b) it is foolish to count on others, even those who claim to love her, to come to her aid. She will come to believe that it is too risky to trust and love others because they will abandon her just when she needs them the most. Because this is one of the most painful experiences a human being can have, she will begin to protect herself from the possibility of further betrayal, by not caring. She will gradually become unable to trust, depend on, or feel compassion for others. This is surely one of the greatest tragedies that can befall a child.

It is the parent's responsibility to meet the child's need for love and reassurance, not the child's responsibility to meet the parent's need for an uninterrupted night.

Parents who use earplugs to render themselves deaf to their child's cries could learn something from parents who have true deafness. Many of these parents sleep next to their children so they can be assured of the child's well-being. These parents may be deaf but their heart is open to the needs of their children, who will learn by example what it means to love someone. These children are far more fortunate than their friends whose physically able parents have chosen to abandon them to face the night alone.

Jan

Reference:

British Medical Journal, D.S. Vorster, "Crying and Non-Crying Babies,"
British Medical Journal, July 5/80, pp. 58-59


MARNIE ADDS:

Because crying is a signal, and not negative behavior, responding to that signal (the only way babies can talk) reinforces that the parents care about the baby's needs. Babies who are carried at least three hours a day have a 40% reduction in crying.

Babies are not born knowing what manipulation is - this is (unfortunately) an adult creation.

Marnie Larsen Ko

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