Would you let your child scream for three hours as part of sleep training?
The great baby sleep debate has been ignited, yet again.
On Saturday, The Daily Telegraph stirred up controversy with a feature about parents trying the methods of “Babysleep doctor” Brian Symon. Dr Symon’s method – which he only recommends for healthy babies over six months – involves putting them to bed at 7pm, closing the door, and not opening it again till 7am, even if the baby cries for three hours.
Social media response was swift. Jacinta Tynan tweeted: “Babies vomiting & screaming. Controlled crying is cruel & inhumane. All babies want is love.”
Parenting author, Dr Justin Coulson, also weighed in: “If we did something like this to anyone or anything else who didn’t suit our lifestyle we would be charged with abuse. The babies stop screaming because they realise they are helpless. Cortisol floods their system creating enormous anxiety and stress. Crying it out may bring relief for some parents in desperate straits – but there are almost ALWAYS better ways of dealing with poor sleepers than anything this article suggests.”
Obviously, sleeping is a major issue for a lot of parents. Lack of sleep can be damaging for both parents and children. But I think we need to accept that babies and young children who don’t want to go to bed on their own aren’t just being difficult.
As American psychologist Dr Peter Gray points out, once you look outside Westernised cultures, babies and young children generally sleep in the same room as parents. In these other cultures, he says, parents don't have the same problems with getting their kids to go to bed.
"When people in non-Western cultures hear about the Western practice of putting young children to bed in separate rooms from themselves, often without even an older sibling to sleep with, they are shocked," he says.
He thinks there are evolutionary reasons why children don't want to go to bed on their own. "Your child is screaming because we are all genetically hunter-gatherers, and your child's genes contain the information that to lie alone in the dark is suicide."
My two children slept in the same room as me when they were very young, and I rarely had problems with getting them to go to sleep at night. Now they're a bit older, they sleep in their own room. But I know this isn't the solution for everyone.
Clearly, some babies and young children do sleep through from 7pm to 7am, and that must be fantastic for their parents. But I think we also need to remember that every child is an individual. Some simply aren't going to sleep for 12-hour stretches, and their parents shouldn't be made to feel like they're not trying hard enough and just need to be tougher.
What method has worked for you in getting your child to sleep?
Want more? Try: