I think most people, at least most people I encounter, have unreasonable expectations when it comes to their child’s sleep. This then leads to frustration and maybe sleep training (not that parents can’t be frustrated even if they don’t have unreasonable expectations, but knowing something is normal certainly helps for me). I won’t get into my rant on sleep training – suffice it to say I abhor the practice. Instead, I’d like to look at some of the expectations.
Many expect that their children will fall asleep on their own and remain asleep all night, or, if they wake, that they’ll be able to settle themselves. I won’t get into the part about initially falling asleep alone, but would like to look at the expectations with night waking. I can’t help thinking of my own sleeping patterns. Even without a child waking me, I don’t sleep straight through the night. I wake for the toilet, or a drink, or a snack, or because of a bad dream, or because I heard a different noise. So I get up for the toilet, or to get a snack or drink, or to calm myself until I can sleep again. Sometimes I just need to snuggle with my husband. In all these cases, I know what is needed and how to get, and I have the ability to do it.
But can a child under the age of two, let alone one (sleep training is often done with children under these ages), do those things? If my two-year-old gets hungry, she cannot reach the snacks. She cannot refill her water if she already has a cup, or reach the cupboard if she needs a cup. When she needs the toilet in the night, she needs help. Both of my older children get us if they have nightmares or just need the comfort of another person. All of this is normal, so why shouldn’t I expect it and, if they need help, provide help?
Sure, learning to settle themselves is a good skill, and they’ll learn it when they are ready and capable of taking care of those needs on their own. I know this because Kieran is able to do most of these things. He gets his water when he gets thirsty in the night, and goes to the loo on his own. Usually if he wakes and has trouble settling, he’ll just get on the couch, though sometimes he wants to snuggle. He has naturally done these things as he’s become ready, without us forcing it. We didn’t get discouraged, because we knew he needed food or water or the toilet or reassurance and that he wasn’t ready/able to do those things on his own yet. Now he’s quite independent, day and night, but he know we’re there if he needs us. I think us having reasonable expectations and responding to his needs play a large part in that.