Many parents today seem to be confusing the terms ‘self-soothe’ and ‘crying it out’. It is easy to get the two muddled up as many parenting articles tend to get the two mixed up. Today I read a blog by Sarah Ockwell-Smith on Huff Post Parents (UK Edition) which begged parents not to teach their children to ‘self-soothe’. She believed this skill was beyond babies (although she doesn’t actually clarify what age group she is referring to) and therefore not the correct way of helping a child to sleep.
She made the point that as adults we are capable of logic and therefore can soothe ourselves while a child can’t. This is true. However, are we really helping our children by rushing in when they make even the slightest of whimpers?
I will be clear. I am not talking about tiny babies. They need our care, around the clock, twenty four seven no matter how sleep deprived we are. They are only just learning about the world and need constant feeds, changes and cuddles. However, a baby that is beginning to drop their night feed might just be ready to sleep without constant attendance (outside of the baby monitor of course).
My daughter slept through the night until about five am when she was about four months old. She dropped the night feed all of a sudden when I woke and realised I had slept undisturbed for the first time in months. A surprise and a very pleasant one!
A child who self-soothes is not necessarily one who has been left to cry it out. I know we never tried that method and our daughter does self-soothe. We didn’t sleep train beyond the usual advice of bed-time routine and put child down drowsy but awake. Sometimes she fell asleep on her bottle. We still put her down. Perhaps we did sleep train but didn’t have a name for it. Regardless we have a champion sleeper and winner of the Nap Olympics.
I have, on occasion, made the mistake of going in when she has merely snuffled or coughed. Then she sees mama – ‘oh joy’ she thinks ‘playtime!’. I try to leave the room again and she cries. Well I don’t want to be a ‘bad mother’ so I go and pick her up. I bring her into bed. She chats to me for the rest of the night while I lapse in and out of consciousness. Husband is greeted by two grizzly bears the next morning and she is wrecked for the next few days. I am obviously a slow learner as I have done this on more than once.
However, I think the real reason I rush in and pick her up is that I have been tricked into believing, through numerous online articles and debates, that I am a bad mother if I do not respond immediately. If I leave her to settle for even a minute I am guilty of neglect. She is two. She knows how to play her mama. She knows daddy won’t play ball but mama is the ‘soft touch’.
Now I guess people will say ‘oh yes they are only young once though sure a few sleepless nights isn’t the end of the world’. All very true. But I know, deep down, my intervening isn’t doing her any good. I have sat with her on nights she is wakeful while every instinct is screaming at me to leave. My mothering instincts tell me she sleeps better without me. And this is true. I have seen first-hand proof of this but all the while I tell myself ‘but you are a bad mother is you leave’. This is what reading every parenting post out there will get you; utter confusion and guilt with every move you make.
I guess the real trick is knowing your own child. Does your child really need you? Some children may very well need that attention at night. Mine doesn’t. Honestly I think we just got lucky. So my advice, for what it’s worth, is do whatever works for you and your child and your family. If self-soothing works; do it. If cuddling all night works for you; do it. Don’t let yourself, like me, be seduced into going against those instincts. Mama (and quite possibly even dada) knows best.