Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Which I Talk About Sleep

Yes, I know this will probably upset some people, but it has been grating on my mind for a while and I just need to get it out.

When the girls were born, Aba and I made the concious decision not to cry-it-out, sleep train, Ferebrize, self-soothe or whatever other lingo is used to describe allowing your child to cry themselves to sleep in an attempt to make them able to fall asleep on their own. We made this decision knowing full well that it would be hard on us and we would be spending many nights waking up multiple times. We did this without help other than a few times my aunt or my my mom came up to give us a break. We didn't have a nurse, nanny, housekeeper, maid, doula, or other person there most nights. Why would we do this, you ask?

Simply put, we believe that children are children for a short time and have needs that we aren't able to fully understand. They understand their needs and we simply work to provide for them. By responding to our children's needs in a timely matter we believe that we give them the groundwork to build a healthy and happy life upon.

While the theory of allowing a four, six, twelve-month old child to learn to fend for themselves sounds wonderfully relaxing for the parent, there are many studies and anecdotal experiences that show that it isn't necessarily the best for the child.

One of the most compelling, in my opinion, examples of the potential harm in sleep training comes from the "Kibbutz experiment" where parents volunteered to have their children sleep in communal quareters away from them. Necessity caused the attendants to ignore most cries from these children. Lawrence Kelemen describes the results in his book To Kindle a Soul.
The ill-fated trial produced horrendous results. A barrage of studies found that the graduates of kibbutz children’s facilities suffered disproportionately from a range of psychological disorders, including attachment deprivation traumas, major depression, schizophrenia, low self-esteem, and alcohol and drug problems. By 1994, more than half of all children on Israeli kibbutzim exhibited symptoms and psychopathologies associated with insecure attachment. Professor Carlo Schuengel, an investigator from the University of Leiden, Netherlands, echoed the findings of many earlier researchers when he identified the cause of the psychological disintegration kibbutz children experienced: “Although collective sleeping may allow for sufficient monitoring of children’s safety, it leaves children with only a precarious and limited sense of security.

As data poured in revealing the damage that had been done by children’s sleeping facilities, kibbutz leaders abandoned the experiment. The last of the kibbutzim’s 260 children’s facilities was finally closed in 1998. Professor Ora Aviezer, director of the Laboratory for the Study of Child Development at the University of Haifa, summarized the disaster:

Research results indicate that collective sleeping arrangements for children negatively affect socio-emotional development in the direction of a more anxious and restrained personality. Collective sleeping was abolished as it became clear that it did not serve the emotional needs of most kibbutz members. Its disappearance demonstrates the limits of adaptability of parents and children to inappropriate child-care arrangements.

I often think of Ferberizing as a symptom of the push we give our children to grow up faster and leave the simple joys of childhood behind. We want them to sleep through the night, eat solids, wean from all nursing, get out of diapers, play quietly by themselves, watch TV, read, play video games, use the computer, take a host of classes, rush off to school, load them up with extracurricular activities and homework and dress them in miniature copies of the latest fashions. Then, in their prepubescent years we lament their lack of innocence.

I'm not saying that all sleep training is bad or that we need to ask how high when our child says jump. I am saying that we need to be responsive to our children's needs and add them to the mix when we make our parenting choices. Any parenting method only works if your family can implement and success with it. That said, I am hard-pressed to believe that it is in any child's best interest to have their needs be ignored and that a lot of parents have no problems with Fereberizing.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to leave the house while your child cries or you sit on the other side of their door weeping along with them can you honestly say that this method "works for us"?