Sunday 18 February 2018

Saying no to a crying child -- are my methods too harsh?

David Coleman

David Coleman

My 15 month old daughter was fine sleeping by herself but later in the night she would wake and I would put her in the bed with me and her dad (and I now know this was a big mistake but anything for a nights sleep).

Now she has suddenly decided she will not go to bed in her cot and wants to go into our bed at the start. I am trying to get her to sleep by a bottle feeding, followed by a bath and then bedtime.

I sing songs to her and say her prayers with her but she cries, asking me to bring her into my bed or just allow her to fall asleep in my arms while sitting in the rocking chair beside her bed. This used to work but now she wakes when I move her to the cot.

I am now on night three of allowing her to cry while standing in her cot. I keep my arm around her and rub her back and eventually she stops crying and lets me lie her down to go asleep.

Can you please let me know if my technique is harming her?

My plan is to eventually get her to settle while I am in the room and gradually move slowly out of the room but return if she gets too upset. I would appreciate your suggestions.Letting babies and children sleep in our beds is not necessarily a mistake. For many families it is a chosen way to increase babies' comfort and security at night and a way of ensuring that everyone gets a good night's sleep.

We need to feel secure, warm and safe in order to sleep. If you think back in evolutionary terms, we were at our most vulnerable to attack by other animals when we were asleep and so in order to switch off we needed to know we were safe.

Think about times when you are cold or anxious going to bed and I am sure it takes you longer to fall asleep. Babies and children are no different.

Naturally, as you found, your baby likes the closeness, warmth and comfort that comes with sleeping with you.

So, if given a choice, this is what she will most likely opt for. In your case, she has had a flavour of how nice it is to be snuggled up to you and so it is no wonder that this is what she seeks.

I don't think this is a bad thing. It sounds like quite a wise choice for a baby to try to maximise its security and comfort at night.

However, children can learn to comfort and soothe themselves at night. They can also learn to sleep independently of us. If you want your child to sleep independently of you, from day one, then generally it is easier to let them always be in the habit of sleeping alone.

Regardless of how they initially learned to fall asleep, we can always introduce a new sleeping habit for them. Even if they have come to rely on us to help them fall asleep we can gently wean them off their dependence on us.

The key to doing this, with minimal distress for your child, is to approach it gradually, much as you are doing for your baby.

I don't think your approach is in any way harmful for her.

In fact, it sounds like it is the most nurturing method you could take to weaning your baby off your physical presence beside her while she sleeps.

When you wrote to me you were on night three, so I am assuming you are a little further along the process by now.

I expect you have been finding your daughter is less and less distressed over time, as she becomes accustomed to staying in her cot.

Even though she is crying at the start of the night you are, importantly, staying with her. This means you are still available to help her to regulate those feelings of distress she has.

By rubbing her back you show her you care about her and you help to soothe her upset. As you have seen, she does, in time settle in the cot and when she is asleep you can slip away.

This is as gentle a way as possible of weaning your child from snuggling up to you as she falls asleep.

I think your plan sounds good, that once she has become used to initially being in her cot, while you touch her warmly and comfortingly, you can move to the next step, which will be to stay physically with her, but not touch her as she settles to sleep.

After that you can slowly move further and further from her until you don't even need to be with her in the room as she falls asleep.

Two other important things to remember are: firstly, it will really help the establishment of each new stage if it is repeated exactly, even if she wakes up in the middle of the night.

So, lifting her into your bed, now that you are in the new process, will definitely disrupt your attempts to get her used to her cot.

The second consideration is that each child is different and some will take only a few days or a week to get used to each new step of the weaning process and others may take longer.

So don't panic if it seems to take a while for her to settle with each reduction of your support.

Be as patient as you can with her for as long as the process takes.

We all, children included, have a tendency to resist change initially, but given time and understanding, we usually adapt.

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