A conversation about sleep training caught fire yesterday in our group. I realized that I need to make it more clear that we are 100% anti-child training of any sort. Here is our official stance and the evidence to support it. I was going to keep this within our group because it got a little heated but I had many requests to make it public. I think people who are shamed for being responsive, often feel comfort in this type of information. However, I am also abundantly aware of it’s ability to make others feel shamed. It is hard to take a hard stance on something like this because you always leave someone feeling judged. For that I apologize, I hate that some information I share may make someone feel judged, that is never my intent, although I understand how the information may be perceived that way.
This is our official stance on sleep training:
Sleep Training definition as per Responsive Parenting: Any method that tries to train the child to meet the needs of the parents in regard to sleep time, instead of the parent meeting the child’s sleep needs. The extreme is CIO, we still consider Ferber, sleepy lady shuffle and many other “gentle” training methods still to be sleep training.
Sleep trainers prey on exhausted parents by taking facts and theories about child development and twisting them to suit their agendas. I have a degree in child development and a diploma in Early Childhood Education. In both programs we were taught NOT to leave a baby to cry, ever. Responsive care was the focus in both programs and a lot of our education is about children 12 months + and we STILL never leave a child to cry. I was unaware of the sleep industry upon becoming a parent and it still baffles me that people are permitted to recommend what I consider damaging advice. During some of my research I found out that we know virtually nothing about the workings of an infant brain. About 7 yrs ago a new MRI machine was invented that can now watch what is happening in an infants brain while they are awake, previous to this, all children under the age of 2 were sedated for brain scans. The point is, what happens in a child’s brain during CIO is relatively uncharted territory. Within the next ten years our information about infant brain development is going to explode and the approach WILL change to being responsive and parent support, rather than sacrificing the health and well-being of the voiceless, powerless, child for the mental health of the parents. The field of neuroscience and trauma-informed care all support an Attachment focused approach to parenting which includes night time parenting. I think people need to know that not only is it “ok” to not do sleep training, it is optimal. Also we took multiple classes on attachment, relationships, brain development, infant development and care but not one on teaching a child to self-sooth. For something that seems to be soooo important to the sleep training supporters, we don’t even discuss it really because it seems ridiculous to us.
I hear people often cite mental health as a valid reason for training a child to behave in a certain way. Responsive Parenting is about parenting through the hard times. Not giving up just because you’ve had enough. I have C-PTSD, anxiety and major depression. I am well aware of the need for self-care but I do not believe our children’s needs have to be sacrificed. I really think we can meet everyone’s needs, if we are flexible and think creatively. I know this is a somewhat foreign concept that goes against the societal narrative of training children to be compliant and obedient. I believe that approach is damaging. I believe it may be at the root of all the pain in this world. This is what I advocate for, a world free of training children. You ask why we are so inflexible about this, it is at the core of our ethos. Children are perfect just the way they are. We need to adapt to them, not the other way around.
I understand everyone needs a break sometimes. Responsive Parenting believes you should be prepared for those moments, either with calming strategies, self-care strategies that can be done with a child or ask for help. If I get overwhelmed, I call my husband, I go outside with my kids, I put on a show and give them a snack and take a yoga moment, I strap the little one to my back, we have dance parties, singing helps a lot; we just believe there is a way for everyone’s needs to get met (or at least somewhat met) with flexibility and creativity.
Our perspective can change over time
I am dreading the sleep training advocates that will inevitably have to chime in when I post this. It is one thing to make a not so optimal choice, it is another thing to go around advising others to do the same. Sleep trainers are very manipulative. They seem to be able to convince people that they are doing a good thing for their baby and themselves. 40 years ago we could have had the same conversation about spanking. The truth is, a lot of abuse and neglect is not intentional. Many people spanked their children not out of anger or a need for retribution but a true belief that this is the right thing to do to make them successful in life. Sleep training has a similar narrative that sadly has been created just to market sleep training, sleep products and formula to unknowing parents. Their game is strong and uses avoidant attachment strategies to prey on adults who were often also neglected. That is the reason I say I do not judge people who have sleep trained. I realize it is usually a decision made with both parties in mind. I am sorry that advocating against such a method makes some parents feel judged. Many people also feel judged for responding to their children’s needs. We are here to support those people. To show them the evidence that supports their choices.
If you were to say you sleep trained and now question your choice, that would be a very welcomed conversation. Advocating for any type of sleep training always gets the post/comment deleted. It’s confusing for parents because we all feel like we are at the end of our rope. By saying it’s ok under certain circumstances is still saying it’s ok and it is not, at least not in this group.
Also, if you did sleep train, I really don’t care, I do not judge you, as I hope you would not judge my choices. We just cannot have any conversations that support any training in this group. Maintaining a completely child-training free environment is necessary for parents to feel supported in being responsive at all times.
“Why did my doctor recommend sleep training if it’s so harmful?”
Medical professionals often will recommend sleep training. I have no idea why they are so grossly misinformed about child development but many of them are. My own GP laughed at me for breastfeeding my baby at 9 months. We all know breastfeeding is recommended for 2+ years. Dr’s and even paediatricians get very little training in brain development, child development, early trauma. They might take one course amongst tons of technical information they NEED to know. My degree in child development was 4 years long. Four years focused completely and totally on child development. I can confidently say your doctor is likely less informed on this topic than me. I do not hold the belief that a dr is a god. They are not the keepers of all knowledge. Same as I don’t know what drug to give you for bursitis, they don’t know that much about child development.
Here is the article I wish all the medical professionals would read:
Here is research to support a responsive approach (this list was given to me)
Evidence to support responsive day and night parenting
What does the current research tell us?
Long term cognitive development in children with prolonged crying http://adc.bmj.com/content/89/11/989
Effects of crying on cerebral blood volume and cytochrome aa3.
Infant crying: nature, physiologic consequences, and select interventions.
Maternal behavior as a regulator of polyamine biosynthesis in brain and heart of the developing rat pup
The Neurodevelopmental Impact of Violence in Childhood
The experience-dependent maturation of a regulatory system in the orbital prefrontal cortex and the origin of developmental psychopathology
Selective depression of serum growth hormone during maternal deprivation in rat pups
THE EFFECTS OF EARLY RELATIONAL TRAUMA ON RIGHT BRAIN DEVELOPMENT, AFFECT REGULATION, AND INFANT MENTAL HEALTH
Children with serious illness: Behavioral correlates of separation and isolation
The Mother-Infant Interaction as a Regulator of Infant Physiology and Behavior
Control of sleep-wake states in the infant rat by features of the mother-infant relationship
Persistent Infant Crying and Hyperactivity Problems in Middle Childhood
The Effect of Excessive Crying on the Development of Emotion Regulation
Transition to Child Care: Associations With Infant–Mother Attachment, Infant Negative Emotion, and Cortisol Elevations
Effects of early stress on brain structure and function: Implications for understanding the relationship between child maltreatment and depression
The neurobiological consequences of early stress and childhood maltreatment
Disorders of attachment in infancy
Asynchrony of mother–infant hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep
Nighttime maternal responsiveness and infant attachment at one year
And it’s absolutely unnecessary.
A baby’s needs are meant to be met in the first 6 months or so (object permanence doesn’t develop until 4-6 months – and is relevant to the self soothing notion). Meredith Small is an excellent writer, anthropologist who’s studied human infant behavior (Our Babies, Ourselves). Check her books out if you’re interested in further reading.
This article saved my sanity…. Good luck, our babies are normal!!