I happened across a blog post this week reacting to a recent episode of Panorama which was centred around sleep training.
On first read, the article really hit some nerves with me, as it tackled some points that I have often thought about and regretted, in terms of how I dealt with Amelia’s sleep. I went back to read the post later in the day, and while I still agreed with lots of points the post made, there were a few points that I didn’t entirely agree with.
Sleep Training is Wrong
The post talks about sleep training, and why it is not the right appproach for children, as it can be harmful to their mental health, well-being, and confidence. My concern is that in saying this, this post went from offering another view on the matter to becoming another voice telling us what we should or shouldn’t be doing, or that what we are doing is wrong. The truth is that there are arguments both for and against, and both arguments have research to back them up.
I agree with the post that sleep training is not the only way to handle so-called sleep issues. However, I do believe that sleep training is one of many options that we have as parents and is something that, with the right knowledge and advice we should be free to choose as a parenting option. I’m not sure that I am entirely comfortable with comparing sleep training to forms of child abuse, as this post does. I think that comparison is unfair, unjustified, and not reflective of good sleep training practices.
Is Sleep Training the Only Way?
With that being said, I regret the times that I left Amelia to ‘cry it out’. For the most part, she was a great sleeper, and what this meant for us was that when she had bad nights or even bad weeks, it was a shock. Following the advice of the hundreds of articles I had read, I would often try the ‘cry it out’ method in order to ‘re-train’ her to sleep. In hindisght, I hadn’t ‘trained’ her to sleep in the first place, so why was I trying to re-train her? I also found it mentally painful to leave her crying the way she was, and felt guilty when she did fall asleep, knowing that she had just exhausted herself rather than falling asleep peacefully.
Leaving a child to ‘cry it out’ however, isn’t the only form of sleep training, and maybe with better advice I would have found an approach that didnt make me feel awful as a mother. But maybe I didn’t need to, because at nearly 3 I think Amelia sleeps just fine now. She likes to have her cheek stroked while she falls asleep at around 7pm, and more often than not she crawls into our bed somewhere between midnight and 5am, and I think that’s ok.
But some would say this isn’t sleeping well at all. She needs me to fall asleep, and she doesn’t stay in bed all night. Who is right? She has no trouble falling asleep, in her own bed or in ours, she gets enough sleep (between 10 and 11 hours per night with the occasional addition of a midday nap), and she is developing just fine. Maybe I would sleep a little bit better if I had my bed to myself all night, but I’m not exactly suffering either!
Sleep Is Supposed to be Peaceful!
I agree that a stressful bedtime invariably leads to stressed children, stressed parents, and poor sleep all round. But I do also think that there is a difference between leaving a child to scream, and leaving them to whinge and whine for a bit.
The post I read also brings into question the use of modern technology affecting children’s sleep. In fact , the post compares using tablets etc to reading books in bed, which again I’m not entirely sure I agree with. On the other hand, I do agree that turning the TV and tech off a while before bedtime can only be a good thing. Yes, our kids watch TV, use tablets, play with our smart phones, and yes we shouldn’t be beaten with a stick for allowing them to do those things. BUT it’s fairly reasonable to suggest that these things being used right before bed might be impacting on childrens’ ability to ‘switch off’.
I do agree that the Panorama episode only covered one option for parents, and almost went so far as to portray that one option as the only option, and I think it’s great that the post I read offered another angle. I don’t, however, agree with the way this post came across, as though any parent who chooses to use one of the many sleep training methods is damaging their child forevermore, and needs to be told how wrong their choices are with regards to sleep.
It’s Not My Job to Tell You What to Do
No-one should have parenting choices thrust upon them, or be made to feel guilty about the choices that they make for their children, as long as the best interests of the child are always at heart. We should all be capable of forming our own opinions and making informed decisions as to how we choose to parent. Simple, fact based and well-reasoned arguments for all angles, put out there in easily accesible forms should be enough.
The post that I read this week came across as judgemental and superior, whch is a shame because it made some quite valid points that have been overshadowed by its tone. The last thing that we need as parents is another voice out there telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing, and that what we are doing or have done is totally wrong. Advice is invaluable, but that advice needs to be entirely fact based, clear, and unbiased in order for us to make reliably informed choices for ourselves.
Wouldn’t it be better if all the answers were just there?! But they’re not, so for now why don’t we all just get on with doing what we do, muddling through like our parents did, and theirs before them, and rejoicing in whatever works for us and our kids?