Helping Young Children Sleep
Most children struggle at some time or another with sleeping through the night. Of course, when infants are quite young, they need to wake several times in the night, eat, and be reassured that their parents are close and all is well in their world. The need for reassurance, in addition to nourishment, is even stronger if a baby has had difficult times in his life already. I won't discuss helping infants with feelings that may stem from early life struggles in this article. I’ll focus on helping healthy children six months of age and older with the patterns of interrupted sleep that sometimes appears.
After about six months, unless your baby is ill or underweight, he is capable of sleeping through the night much of the time. Children vary greatly in how much sleep they thrive on, but by this age, most parents can hope for a good 7-hour stretch of sleep without waking. However, many children experience feelings that prevent them from sleeping through the night at least some of the time. Most parents do the expedient thing to get their little one back to sleep--they allow him to nurse or have a bottle, and hope for another few hours of rest. For some babies and lucky parents, there's a slow progression toward less waking in the night that ends in all-night sleeping. But other parents put in months of patient accommodation, followed by frustration and mounting stress because neither they nor their child can sleep through the night.
Children need us to respond to them when they waken in the night
We parents want to help our children acquire the ability to sleep through the night, but are faced with a recommended method that requires letting the child cry, frightened and alone in his own bed, without response from us. Many parents can't bear to do this. It doesn't sit well with our instinct to help, to care, and to be trustworthy and available to help when our child needs reassurance.
I think that we parents do need to respond every time a child cries. Children need to know that we will be there for them, especially when their whole system is telling them that something is amiss.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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