I’ve been sleep deprived since April 2001, when our oldest was born. Since then, I’ve tried every “trick” in the parenting book. And nothing seems effective at “making” my
kids sleep better. They’ve all evolved into being better sleepers over time.
That’s why I’m so interested in the line of research discussed in this study. Penn State scientists found — despite common parenting advice — that parents’ EMOTIONAL response to their children at bedtime was much more successful than any specific behavioral “trick” in getting children to sleep.
As a shrink, I tell parents that babies absorb their emotional messages. Parents are often surprised when I tell them that even the youngest babies sense their emotions — but it’s true.
In the shrinking world, we’ve been struggling internally for years over the predominant theoretical orientation — Behaviorism, and its spin-offs — and the power it holds over the way we do our work. Those of us who work with very young children understand that simple behavioral and operant conditioning simply doesn’t apply with the little ones. That’s why “Ferberizing” and related approaches are often ineffective. FIRST, babies need to feel emotionally (and physically) safe. Other learning can proceed from there. But sleep is an inherently scary proposition, and often triggers resistance and regression in children. It’s a weird and scary thing to transition into a sleep state.
So the fundamental message of this research at Penn State is both obvious to me — and very reassuring — as an Early Childhood specialist. I’m eager to see what else they discover in this line of inquiry, and I’ll be sure to share it with you.
Here’s a link to some of my “getting to sleep” advice. What’s yours?