Aim of this booklet
Babies and toddlers rely upon the loving care and proximity of their caretaker(s) through both the day and the night. Their needs are the same around the clock and they have not yet developed a sense of time. When left alone, an infant will quickly succumb to panic and in a normal, healthy response will try everything within its power to regain the proximity of its caregiver. It will cry to alert its parents to its distress and to encourage them to come, comfort, and provide security. If their cries go unheeded, the child will experience an intense separation anxiety and a breach of trust which can negatively affect the development of a secure attachment between the child and parent, which, ultimately, will negatively impact the child’s development. Considering all this, it is surprising that counselors still encourage parents today to use sleep training where children are left alone in the dark at night, even though they are so obviously overwhelmed by the situation. The once common “cry it out” method of sleep training is rejected by all experts nowadays because it is very damaging to the child. A modified cry-it-out-type sleep training where a child is given short periods of attention from time to time between spells of isolation (so-called conditioning with adapted doses of frustration or adapted extinction), is, however, often approved, although this method is just as unreasonable for the child. The short minutes of attention which the child is given are hardly registered by it in its state of stress and anxiety and serve mostly to relieve the parental conscience. So far, there is no prospective controlled study on the possible side effects of sleep training, as for example the Ferber method; such studies would not be permissible for ethical reasons. Why then do counsellors find it reasonable to recommend these sleep training methods to parents?
From sleep research, we know that one of the reasons people have to sleep regularly is to store impressions and learning contents. Emotionally linked experiences and those that are made shortly before sleeping are particularly well consolidated. This insight should make us even more sensitive to how important loving care and the associated positive feelings are in a child's sleep situation.
In the sleep counseling we meet numerous parents who have received the advice to carry out a sleep training with their child (e.g. according to the Ferber “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” method). Those who use such a method usually feel additionally insecure by the violent screaming of their child.
The frequent awakening of a child is a challenge for most parents and can lead to great exhaustion. However, if they understand their child's sleep behavior better, thanks to professional information, and are encouraged in their sensitive behavior, they can deal with it better. There are also good ways to positively influence a child's sleep without leaving it alone and screaming.
On the one hand this booklet is addressed to parents who intuitively feel that the Ferber method cannot be good, but who lack the professional arguments, and on the other hand to all those who are active in advising parents. The use of sleep training is from a current, scientific view no longer justifiable. Such an approach can damage the development of the child and complicate a sustainable parent-child relationship. Long-term results of bonding and brain research and experiences from everyday counseling provide impressive evidence of this. I hope hereby to encourage you, with the statements of the experts, to think about these issues critically.
Sibylle Lüpold, Bern 2010 (new English version 2019)
Free download: Children also need us at night