Sleep issues. They are probably one of the most challenging parts of parenting. Not only is each child different, but their patterns can also change unexpectedly and unpredictably, leaving us sleep-deprived as well as frustrated and confused. There are many, many books out there providing suggestions on how to get your child to sleep – Co-Sleeping, Crying It Out, Not Crying It Out, Attachment Parenting, Hiding In the Bathroom With a Glass of Wine… oh wait, that was just my strategy. I’m not here to give advice on that. What I am here to talk about is the importance of helping a child learn how to put herself to sleep.
Obviously this is not a skill a child is born with, nor should it be. An important part of infancy is for the baby to feel comforted and supported while going to sleep. But as children get older, they should be encouraged to fall asleep on their own, in their own bed.
Learning to fall asleep on your own is an important milestone. Think about what it entails: you have to have the awareness that you are tired, the ability to self-soothe, the comfort and reassurance of knowing that nothing is going to harm you while you are sleeping, (being asleep can feel very vulnerable to some), and the independence to do this by yourself. On the flip side, if a child is not able to do this by his or her self, this implies that they don’t have much self-awareness, they do not feel safe when falling asleep, and they are struggling with independence.
I know many well-intended parents lay with their child in bed (or on their floor) until the child falls asleep. Or they bring the child into their own bed to help them fall asleep. And while these parents mean well, and I know there often seems to be no other way, especially at 3am- this is setting their children up for a potentially long road of bad sleep habits.
A lot of parents will argue with me, and say things like, “But they just don’t want to fall asleep,” or “they’re scared to be by themselves”, or “I like to be able to comfort them or get one last snuggle before they fall asleep.” Believe me, I hear you. But to be honest, lying on the floor of our kids’ bedroom while they fall asleep is not doing them any favors. And to me, it indicates a deeper problem: this child does not feel comfortable falling asleep by herself. Which begs the question, why not? What kind of comfort is she seeking that she can not provide herself? And moreover, what are we, as parents, doing to potentially enable or encourage this behavior?
Now to be fair, there will always be nights when a child needs extra help going to sleep. Maybe they are sick, or had a really difficult day, or are having one of those times when they just need you to be with them. These are obviously instances when we as parents should comfort our children, and if they need our presence to fall asleep, of course we are there for them. But when it starts turning into a nightly habit, that is when you might want to talk to your pediatrician about what is going on and how to help encourage them to fall asleep on their own.
Part of our job as parents is to help our kids develop crucial skills that will set them down the path toward becoming secure, confident, independent adults. So think of instilling good sleep habits as a gift you’re giving your child. Because as we all know, a solid night’s sleep can leave you feeling like you can take the world by storm.