Friday, 18 April 2008

Sleep: babies and teens and changing needs
My strange, noticing brain noticed something again. 

Parents spend a great deal of time and effort researching and experimenting and seeking advice about how to stop their babies from waking up in the night. Or, more accurately, how to stop babies from waking parents in the night.

Fast-forward 13 or 14 years. Now parents spend a great deal of time and effort researching, experimenting and seeking advice on how to stop their children sleeping so much.

First we teach children how to do things (follow orders, make choices, sleep on command, etc.) and then, in just a few years when the children really get a handle on that, we ask that they stop. Don't take orders, think for yourself. Don't make choices, do what I say. Stop sleeping all the time and get something done.

More cynical parts of my brain make comments that are uncharitable, like: parents really don't seem to like children very much, and; this seems to be about what is expedient for the parent in this moment, not what is best for the child or society. I don't know that I'd go a long way to contradict either of those sentences, but I will create a little more compassion than that:

I understand:
  • there are a squillion pressures, messages and 'experts' about childrearing, most of whom have no more idea what they're doing than the parents who are listening

  • parents never (not once) ever get up in the morning thinking 'how can I screw up my kid today?' (and children never go to bed at night thinking 'how can I piss mom off tonight?')

  • like most other egrigious mistakes, this is about a lack of knowledge and understanding, not foul motives or vile feelings ... even when the mistakes look like they have selfish motives, or the feelings that arise are vile
There seems to be a war going on: parents sleep on one side, what children need in the night on the other. Parents want to meet the child's needs 'now and forever' for the whole night before the child goes to bed. Which is a little like trying to eat 'once and for all'.

A child can't be made 'full for the night' or even 'sleepy for the night' by any means before bedtime. They cannot be made to feel secure for the night, the right temperature for the night, comfortable for the night, or adequately unlonely (what is the opposite of lonely?) for the night.
Those needs can only be met as they arise.
If the child is lonely in the night, there is nothing for it except to assure them, with a parent's presence, that she is not alone. If the child is hungry in the night, nothing will stop the hunger until he is fed. If the child is uncomfortably warm, cold, wet or sticky, leaving it until after the sun comes up will only let the child know which is more important: his needs or the location of the sun.
And, in 13 years, there is nothing except sufficient sleep that will make a rapidly-growing adolescent be well-rested. And, what outside 'expert' is going to know for this child, based on how fast she's growing, how much exercise she got and what kinds of stresses there were today, how much sleep that takes?

Just meet the needs as they present themselves...

1 comment:

  1. But if we did that, gasp, our society would have to adjust to all these people doing their own thing at their own speed instead of getting into step with the rest of the army of ants, doing what they're told...