Jessica Stebbins, M.S., Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
Discovery Institute, P.A. Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County
The following links give an overview of some of the most popular parenting techniques for sleep.
By clicking on the links provided, you can get more in-depth information.
During the first year of a baby’s life, their main psychological and social developmental task is to learn whether they can trust in the world according to Erikson’s psychosocial developmental stages (trust vs. mistrust). Caregiver’s can help babies to learn to trust by responding to their needs. Please keep in mind that in the first year of life, babies do not try to manipulate. Any time a baby cries, it is because they have a need, which may be for comfort. When babies become distressed their levels of Cortisol rise creating negative effects on the baby’s brain as well as their emotional, behavioral, and intellectual development. By responding to the child’s cry, baby will learn to develop a positive outlook, will feel more secure, and will have a healthier attachment to their caregivers. You can imagine that a person who does not grow to trust their world is more likely to develop excessive fears and anxiety.
Will a few nights of crying it out, especially when your child sees that you keep coming back have that big of an impact? Most parents aren’t able to respond right away to 100% of their baby’s needs and their babies still grow up well adjusted, which lends me to believe the answer is no. On the other hand, babies do not develop object permanence (the ability to realize you still exist when you are not there) until they are between 9-12 months old which can increase stress for an infant. Being left insufficiently comforted for long periods of time can be very traumatic for a baby and should be greatly minimized. Please note, however, that isolated or a few events of crying will not have an impact for most babies. Repetitive and enduring episodes of intense crying without comfort would be needed to impact the child. For those babies who get violently upset easily or quickly, however, may be negatively impacted by this method.
If we look at attachment parenting methods of nursing and rocking baby to sleep we find that although this works, for some it can be a time consuming method. Some parents cherish this time while others simply do not. Some parents worry if they parent their baby to sleep, they will have to continue this way when the child is older. Research and anecdotes show that when babies are developmentally and emotionally ready, they will learn to fall asleep on their own. Do you know any adults who have to be rocked in order to fall asleep?
Babies are constantly learning. You must think, what is YOUR child learning from each of these methods. The ultimate goal is to help them learn to self soothe and feel secure enough to fall asleep on their own. Is your baby developed enough to figure out ways to soothe themselves, able to control their movements in order to engage in these behaviors, and then to replicate soothing behaviors when needed? For younger babies, the answer is probably no.If your child is around 6 months of age or older, however, they should be able to. Some “experts” say that with the cry it out method baby learns that there is no point in crying because it will not help to get their needs met and therefore they lose confidence in you and their ability to communicate their needs. Although this would make sense if this was how you responded to your child consistently, most babies learn to fall asleep on their own within a few days, much too quickly to learn to mistrust if you respond to your child’s other needs consistently.
Each of these methods will also affect you and the rest of the family in different ways. For instance, many parents cannot handle hearing their baby crying and not being able to comfort them effectively. Others may not be able to continue the repetition required to use Tracy Hogg’s method. Or a caregiver may not be able to emotionally parent a child to sleep every night. Any of these methods may cause a parent to become stressed, which the baby senses and makes it more difficult for him/her to fall and stay asleep.
The developmental research shows that more gentle and nurturing methods such as attachment parenting and Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution are more beneficial to a baby’s mental health. If you choose this method, however, you will have to accept the fact that you may have to continue for a year or slightly longer. If you decide to use the cry it out method, I urge you to wait until your child shows signs of being able to soothe themselves and only do so if your child’s disposition is such that he/she will not become increasingly stressed as time goes on till the point that they are inconsolable. Be aware that if this happens, the distress may endure and you may have to work to negate the negative effects. When choosing a method, take all of the developmental information, your child’s disposition, and your family’s needs into account and adapt any methods as needed to fit your family.
For those of you in the Rockledge area that are looking for a therapist, please call or email me. It would be my pleasure to give you more information on my services and to work with you in the future.