Time magazine advocates “tough love” approach to infant sleep

Time magazine recently published a section called The Year in Health, A to Z in the Dec. 7, 2009 issue. The letter B is for Babies and what Time advised regarding babies, “tough love” and sleep has many people shaking their heads in disagreement.

The article states:

When a baby has repeated problems falling asleep, Mom and Dad may need to show some tough love. Lingering with cranky babies too long or bringing them into the parents’ bedroom can make them likelier to become poor sleepers, according to psychologist Jodi Mindell, who gathered data on nearly 30,000 kids up to 3 years old in 17 countries. “If you’re rocked to sleep at bedtime, you’re going to need that every time you wake up,” she notes. Her advice: have children fall asleep 3 ft. away. “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better,” she says.

Parents, pediatricians and proponents of attachment parenting strongly disagree with Time’s advice.

On Attachment Parenting International, Samantha Gray, executive director of Attachment Parenting International, and Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of API, published the letter to the editor they wrote in response. Here is a bit of it:

Contrary to the very unfortunate and detrimental advice on sleep in Time magazine, API’s Principle outlines the need to be responsive to children during the night and not to brush aside their needs as inconsequential to them or to their development in the name of “tough love.” The magazine and this proponents’ advice is framed in such a way to alarm parents into unfounded fears about their children being poor sleepers if they respond in loving ways such as rocking their child, breastfeeding, or lying down with the child. We know, in fact, that these practices are not only healthy for the child, but, for the very short period of a child’s life that needs are met in this way, parent and child benefit.

Science indicates that a comforting nighttime approach helps children achieve healthy sleep habits. Research and the experience of parents throughout the ages have proven that effective nighttime parenting includes prompt, calm response, as well as holding, cuddling and soothing touch.

We pray no one takes to heart this advice you have quite surprisingly chosen to publish, all the more in the midst of the availability of substantial quality parenting information. This advice goes against parents’ good instincts to care for their very young child in the ways their inner knowing tells them to.

We implore Time to urgently correct this harmful information in such a way to command even greater attention than received by the original article. Our children are worth it, and so are their parents.

At the time of this posting, Time had not responded to API nor published any sort of correction.

Pediatrician, father of eight, and author of numerous parenting books Dr. William Sears suggests in his own letter to the editor to Time:

Rather than issuing rules or cautions about being “over attached” concerning nighttime parenting we should be encouraging parents to sleep safely and closely with their babies. In my experience and that of others who have thoroughly researched the issue of co-sleeping, namely Dr. James McKenna, babies who sleep close to their parents sleep physiologically healthier and a mutual trust develops between parents and child.

Remember, we have an epidemic of insomnia in this country necessitating a mushrooming of sleep disorder clinics. When babies start out life with a healthy sleep attitude, that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a fear-less state to remain in they’re more likely to grow up with a healthy sleep attitude and both children and their parents will sleep better later on.

On his website, Dr. Sears has 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know including:

  • babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults
  • there are developmental and survival benefits of nightwaking
  • and as babies grow, they achieve “sleep maturity.”

Kayris who blogs at The Great Walls of Baltimore said, “considering the amount of adults who suffer from sleep problems or use sleep aid medications, I’m truly surprised at the amount of people who expect sleep to also be easy for children.”

Micki AKA ADDHousewife is one of those people who has trouble sleeping and said in response to the Time article, “That’s pure crazy. Some kids are just lousy sleepers. Plain and simple. I am still a bad sleeper!”

Hannah Gaiten, owner of Natural Choices, had this response to Time’s article:

That type of position is based on what is perceived to be best for parents, not taking into account what is truly best for the kids, in my opinion. Heaven forbid a child need to nurse to sleep…why is it regarded as such a “problem?” We do it everyday, every time my daughter needs to sleep, she needs to nurse. Sure, it’s not the most convenient at times, but if I were looking for convenience, then perhaps being a parent wasn’t the best road to take.

To make a blanket statement like, “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better” is unwise, in my opinion – each child is different and instead of this author telling parents how to parent their child, they should give unbiased information and encourage the parents to do what is best for their family (not just what is in the best interest of the parents).

Susan, who blogs at Two Hands Two Feet agrees, “I hate it when ‘experts’ tell parents what is best for them and their kids. You need to do what is right for your family, not what an expert says. This stuff caused me a lot of grief when my girls were tiny. I read books because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. But what I really should have done was just gone with my instincts.”

Suzanne at The Joyful Chaos who co-sleeps, but also says she’s “not actually an advocate for co-sleeping,” drives the point home that you have to do what works best for your family in her post The Cosleeping Edition of my Attachment Parenting Freako-ness and sometimes that may very well differ from child to child.

A Mother In Israel Hannah asks in her post Sleep Training at the 92nd St. Y:

Are our babies robots? Or dogs that we need to train? No, they are very small people who can’t understand why everyone ignores them once the sun goes down, even when they cry hard enough to throw up. A baby’s cry is intended to be disturbing. If we train ourselves to ignore it, we lose our instinctive rachmanut (compassion). And a baby whose cries are ignored learns that his feelings don’t count for much. Eventually he will give up and go to sleep, but pay a steep price.

Who are we to say that our need for a solid eight hours (which we usually don’t get anyway for all kinds of trivial reasons) trumps the baby’s needs? Adults can learn to cope with less sleep and babies need concern and sympathy no matter when they are in distress. Trust your baby; she will tell you when s/he is developmentally ready to fall asleep without your help.

As for my opinion, I think it’s very irresponsible for Time to make a blanket statement like that, especially when there is evidence that proves the contrary is true. I do believe it is up to each family to decide what works best for them and their children. While I don’t think it’s for everyone, co-sleeping worked for my family for years. Nowadays my children are still co-sleeping with each other at age 3 and 5 and sleep side by side in a room together. Just as they have different personalities, they are very different sleepers. My daughter has a harder time falling asleep than my son, but both are parented to sleep in a way that works best for them.

There’s nothing that is convenient about being a parent. It is a physically, emotionally and mentally taxing job. Parenting doesn’t end just because the sun sets. It’s a 24/7 365 days of the year job.

Instead of trying to put more distance between parents and their children, I think Time should be encouraging more connections. The time that our children are infants and toddlers is so fleeting in the grand scheme of things, we should be embracing them, not pushing them away.

Jan Hunt, director of The Natural Child, points out, “As the writer John Holt put it so eloquently, having feelings of love and safety in early life, far from ‘spoiling’ a child, is like ‘money in the bank’: a fund of trust, self-esteem and inner security they can draw on throughout life’s challenges.

Children may be small in size, but they are as fully human as we are, and as deserving as we are to be trusted to know what they need, and to have their voices heard.”

There is a wealth of information about infant sleep on Attachment Parenting International’s Baby Sleep Strategies page, including infant sleep safety, co-sleeping, nighttime parenting and more.

Annie at PhD in Parenting also has an informational post Gentle Baby and Toddler Sleep Tips that “provides tips for sleep deprived parents that want their babies to sleep better and… do not want to use the cry it out approach.”

If you’d like to respond to Time about “B” for Babies, please do so online using their letter to the editor web form or snail mail to:
TIME Magazine Letters
Time & Life Building
New York, N.Y. 10020
“Letters should include the writer’s full name, address and home telephone and may be edited for purposes of clarity and space.”

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

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Why I’m trying to let go of the mommy guilt & focus on myself & my marriage

Tomorrow I am dropping off my son Julian at his first day of preschool. He’s not even 3 yet – he’ll be 2 until the end of November. Sigh.

Although my heart wants to home school or unschool Ava, I’m not giving in and instead am leaving her in public school for kindergarten (in a class of 25 kids) this year. Sigh.

Why am I doing these things and going against my heart instead of following it? Because my head tells me they are the right things to do – for now.

I’ve spent the past five-plus years of my life pouring myself into my kids. They have been my world. Although intellectually I knew having balance in my life was important, I always seemed to neglect the idea. Instead of taking care myself or my marriage (things that would have required a good deal of effort), I distracted myself with my children. That’s not to say I regret putting my kids first because I don’t, but I wish that I would’ve found a way to make myself and my marriage a priority during this time too. My mental health has suffered. My marriage has suffered.

Many of you know I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder earlier this year. I’ve been going to individual therapy for months, as well as on a low dose of Zoloft. My husband Jody and I have also been going to couple’s therapy off and on for a few months. We both have a lot of work to do, and while I’ve doubted in the past whether or not we can make it, I’m feeling more confident that we can. It’s not going to be easy, but the things worth fighting for never are.

All of this to say that I’ve decided, after talking to my psychiatrist and doing some serious soul searching, that it’s time for me to stop focusing only on my children and time for me to focus on myself too. That means Ava will stay in public school this year and Julian will attend preschool (the same Waldorf home-based preschool Ava attended) one day a week. It will give me a little time to myself. I know the temptation to catch up on housework or waste the day away sitting on the computer will be great, but I hope to use some of that time every Wednesday to nurture myself (as well as volunteer in Ava’s classroom for two hours every other week – see, I can’t give up focusing on my kids that easily).

While this might not be exactly what I wanted or envisioned, it is what I believe will work best for us – for now. I will try to put my mommy guilt aside and focus instead on getting myself healthy and my marriage to a better place – both of which will benefit myself AND my children in the long run.

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To spank or not to spank? Study says early spankings make for aggressive toddlers

Photo credit: Stock Exchange

A new study of 2,500 white, Mexican American and black children from low-income families suggests that early spankings make for aggressive toddlers. According to the study, which is published in the journal Child Development, “Children who are spanked as 1-year-olds are more likely to behave aggressively and perform worse on cognitive tests as toddlers than children who are spared the punishment, new research shows.”

“Age 1 is a key time for establishing the quality of the parenting and the relationship between parent and the child,” said study author Lisa J. Berlin, a research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University. “Spanking at age 1 reflects a negative dynamic, and increases children’s aggression at age 2.”

“The study also found that mothers who said their children were ‘fussy’ babies were more likely to spank them at ages 1, 2 and 3. But children who were more aggressive at 2 were not more likely to get spanked.

‘The implication or the suggestion in past arguments is that some kids who are more aggressive or difficult to control might elicit more spanking, but that’s not what we found,’ Berlin said.”

The average number of spankings for 1-year-olds in this study was 2.6 per week.

I am by no means a perfect parent (if such a thing even exists) and I’ve definitely felt the urge to spank my kids on occasion. I’ve raised my voice and not always parented the way I planned to but I cannot imagine a situation where I’d ever conceive spanking a 1-year-old – especially more than twice per week on average!

Alma from Always on the Verge


Why are we spanking one year olds? My next question is, why are we spanking one year olds almost 3 times a week? What are they doing that deserves physical punishment?

I wish they would have told us that in the article because I cannot for the life of me understand what a one year old does that requires physical punishment. This goes back to something that I preach a great deal about.

Forcing unrealistic expectations on children.

I have heard reasons as to why people spank their young children and they range from not wanting to eat, not wanting to sit in a carseat for extended periods of time, and not wanting to go to sleep when the parents want them to. All of these common reasons are things that children should not be really expected to do…. but our society has said that they are. What needs to change here? The kids or the expectations?

Alma also notes that this is certainly not the first time a study has showed the negative effects spanking has on a child. CNN posted Spanking Kids Leads to Long-Term Bad Behavior more than 10 years ago.

On the Attachment Parenting Blog API Speaks, Sarah wrote about the one and only time her now 7-year-old son was spanked (back when he was 18 months old and by the hand of her mother-in-law) in her post His Only Spank.

Carina spanked her 3.5 yr old son after he made a colossal mess of her living room (don’t believe me? check this out) and said in the comments:

I have mixed feelings about the spanking (don’t we all?). I have tried a lot of alternate disciplinary tactics. Today was the first day that we did a bare-bum and open hand spanking. The good thing is that I was not angry, it was not a release, it was done calmly. Afterwards I made him sit on my lap and talk about it. I probably wouldn’t have done it, except that he poured out most of the chocolate syrup on the carpet yesterday, after which he lost TV privileges and had a long time out. With the escalation today, I felt like we needed to step up the discipline.

Carina also told me, “It’s rare that we use it [spanking] as a discipline (hate using it when there is any other alternative). We’d tried everything else and nothing else was working. I think I come down on the side of ‘if it’s rare and appropriate.'”

LilSugar wrote Did Your View on Spanking Change Once You Became a Mom? and confesses that her’s did.

I was adamant that I would use spanking as a method of punishment in our home… before I became a mother. When it came time for me to teach my daughter right from wrong, I popped her tush a couple of times and found it completely ineffective. She actually enjoyed the quick tap and giggled her way to more mischief. Eager to try a new plan, I gave her a time out in a not so fun part of the house — the dark guest room. In 60 seconds, I discovered that the new system was more compelling than making physical contact.

A commenter MissSushi said:

I will probably spank, but only for very severe things. Sometimes you need the shock of it as a wake up call. We hardly ever got spanked as kids, but the few times it happened because of severe and usually dangerous transgressions, it really made an impact. I got slapped across the face as a teenager when i was totally going over the line and it shut me up and kept me from doing it ever again. I needed the reality check to realize how god awful I was behaving. None of my siblings and I really ever misbehaved, and anywhere we went people raved over how well behaved we were. My mother used consistency, manual labor, spanking when necessary, removal of privileges and taking away our toys/electronics. Taking our things away worked for us because she didn’t give them back. We weren’t allowed outside, and we weren’t allowed to play with anything. A few weeks of trying her patience out staring at the walls when you aren’t scrubbing the floors and doing laundry for a six-person household was miserable. I will be using a similar method.

Debs from Muddy Bare Feet said:

My opinion on the matter is very clear – children should never be hit because they are people, just like adults, and have the same human rights (or should have) not to get hit anytime they do something “wrong”. On the list [message board she is a part of] I gave the example of an adult who was doing something “wrong” (I do not believe that a child’s behaviour is ever “wrong” but that’s another discussion), or who refused to do what you wanted them to – would you hit them? Of course not, so why is it seen as okay by some people to hit a child? Hitting out of anger, i.e. not in a premeditated way, is loss of control on the part of the parent and not the child’s fault, yet they become the victim of it. Premeditated hitting, counting down, saying, “If you do that again, you’ll get a smack” is just plain cruel to me. I cannot imagine doing that to another human being.

She references some websites and books about “nonviolent parenting,” such as Children are Unbeatable. (Speaking of nonviolent parenting, I found it interesting to learn that in Sweden it is against the law to spank a child.)

Debs then goes on to say:

I hope it doesn’t sound too stupid, but I’m kind of hyper-aware that this is the only chance I’ve got to get it right. This is the only childhood R will ever have, and I keep having a little panic that I’m going to mess it up for him! I’m also very aware that, as we can’t have any more children, this is my one chance to do this parenting thing right. :)

Annie at PhDinParenting notes that one of the 10 things all new parents should know is “Discipline means teach.”

New parents worry that they need to ‘discipline’ their child. But often when they say discipline, they mean spanking or punishing. However, the word discipline means to teach. That is what parents need to do. They need to guide and teach their children. In the same way that we do not expect a first grader to learn calculus, it is important to understand what age appropriate behaviour is and to shape your expectations of your child and your discipline (teaching) according to what a child can reasonably be expected to understand at any given age.

Annie also has a lot of information for parents who want to find other methods of disciplining their child in her Best Anti-Spanking Resources post.

In a post from April, Summer from Wired for Noise raises awareness about SpankOut Day. “SpankOut Day USA was initiated in 1998 to give widespread attention to the need to end corporal punishment of children and to promote non-violent ways of teaching children appropriate behavior.”

Summer is against spanking as a form of punishment.

Despite the cute names people may like to use taking your hand to another human being is hitting. Hitting. Children should not be hit.

I’ve written before my thoughts that spanking does not equal discipline. Some people have the mistaken idea that a parent who does not spank simple lets their kids run wild without correcting or guiding them. This black and white, one way or the other type thought often prevents them from seeing the benefits of choosing not to hit my children, and the dangers of them choosing to hit theirs. I believe in disciplining children, not punishing.”

Commenter Susan of Lil Mom That Could admits that she used to spank, but doesn’t anymore. “Okay I hate to say this but I have proof that spanking does not work. I will admit it I spanked- hold my head in shame. Moreso because I was spanked – a learned trait – I didn’t work. Yes I got the behavior to stop for that minute but never for good. Now I have been giving my son a stern voice and a time-out. This has done more for him and me – he respects me more – we resolve our problems verbally, work out why he was being naughty.”

A few commenters on the Strollerderby post, They Say: Spanking Makes Your Kid Mean, a Bit Dumb, question how scientific this study was and if other variables could have played a role in the aggressiveness of the children.

Another commenter (Manjari) from the Strollerderby post said, “Whether or not the study is sound, I don’t think children should be spanked. I don’t want anyone to hit me, and I think kids should have the same protection from violence that I do.”

What do I think about all of this? (I know you want me to chime in.) My thoughts are that a very occasional spanking is not likely to cause a child any permanent harm (though I still can’t imagine or condone spanking a 1 year old). That doesn’t mean I believe in spanking for my children, because I do not. However, I know that even parents with the very best of intentions sometimes do things they regret. What should a parent do if that happens? I think explaining to the child why he/she (the parent) acted the way they did and apologizing to the child and telling them you love them is a good course of action.

I think that children who are spanked are more likely to grow up into adults that spank because of the argument, “I got spanked and I turned out OK.” But the cycle of spanking – hitting another human being – violence begetting violence – continues. How is that a good thing to teach?

I read a lot today about the argument (in favor of spanking) that kids today are out of control and disrespectful and I think the vast majority of that comes down to how they were raised in the early years. Were they treated with love and respect? Were boundaries firmly established? Were they given consistent and loving care? Resorting to spanking at a later age seems like what parents do when they’ve lost all control. I think, however, that if we are raising our children with empathy from the very beginning, starting with birth, we are less likely to get to the point of no return and have to resort to spanking. I could go on, but that could be another whole post entirely.

Additional resources:
Gentle Christian Mothers
Best Anti-Spanking Resources (it’s worth repeating down here)
From API Speaks, there are several post about how to Practice Positive Discipline
From the American Academy of Pediatrics: What is the best way to discipline my child?
From CNN: Spanking detrimental to children, study says

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Trusting my parenting instincts

Welcome to the October Carnival of Breastfeeding hosted by The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. This month’s theme is a little different than past carnivals, in that this month we all wrote “This I believe” essays on topics related to breastfeeding and parenting. Please visit the participating bloggers listed at the bottom of this post.

Trusting my parenting instincts

I believe in attachment parenting or – a name that I like even better – parenting by instinct.

I believe in breastfeeding my children for the countless health benefits as well as the emotional benefits to both me and them. I also believe that children know when they are ready to wean from the breast and I’m doing my best to allow that to happen for us. There are times I’ve given a gentle push in the weaning direction (with Ava, not at all with Julian yet), but I’m hoping I can allow my children to give it up completely when they feel they are ready.

I believe that co-sleeping with my kids and nighttime parenting helps strengthen the bond between my husband Jody, myself and our kids.

I believe in wearing my babies or holding them in arms. I believe that the closeness and security stimulates them far more than being left lying alone does.

I believe in responding to my baby’s cries. I believe that babies cry because they have a need that is not being met – either they are hungry, uncomfortable (wet, too cold, too warm), or they simply need comforting and reassurance. I believe that meeting their needs helps them to develop into emotionally secure children. I’ve seen it work with Ava. When babies aren’t spending their energy on crying and seeking attention, they can use that energy to grow and thrive.

I also believe in gentle discipline. It is challenging and hard at times, and I can’t say I haven’t lost my temper before, but I strive to discipline gently. I try to think about how I would want to be treated and honor my children with that same respect.

Just as I trusted in my body and my baby when I gave birth to Julian at home, I trust that I will instinctively know how to parent my children. That’s not to say that it’s always easy, but all of the above things have felt instinctual to me. If it feels right and makes sense, then I go with it. That, I believe, is parenting by instinct.

I believe that the time investment I make in my children’s lives while they are young will pay off tremendously as they grow older, and that by doing all of these things, I am creating a solid foundation on which to build a lifelong relationship.

I know some people question how attachment parenting can create independent children, but I have two children who are being parented in this way and they both are very independent. In fact, Ava is sometimes even more independent than I would like. ;) I believe that by meeting their needs, they come to learn that they can trust Jody (their dad) and me to be there for them when they need us and so they feel safe to venture out on their own.

Parenting is a challenging and amazing experience that takes time, energy and patience, but I believe this investment is all worth it. They make it all worthwhile.

Ava hugging Julian - Oct. 2007

Please take a moment to read some of the other carnival participants’ blogs (more will be added throughout the day):

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