Is sleep training harmful? Will it damage my child's attachment?
The simple answer is no, not if done in a gentle and responsive way.
Read on for how you can do this, and what NOT to do if you want to avoid distress for you and your child.
You've probably heard horror stories about sleep training, where children are so traumatised by the process they give up and learn to stop communicating. Well, this isn't exactly true. This 'giving up' outcome is based on decades old studies from Romanian orphanages where children experienced severe cruelty and were not responded to at all. They experienced the effects of 'institutionalisation' which affected both their physical and mental development.
Image: Children in a Romanian orphanage in the 1990s
Modern sleep training
Sleep training should not cause distress for you or your child, especially if you find a method that you're comfortable with, that suits their personality and your unique family situation. The most important thing is that you respond in a timely and appropriate manner.
'Cry it out' or 'do nothing' are no longer the only options when it comes to sleep training; in fact a recent study examining a range of responsive sleep training methods found:
"Despite concerns regarding the potential harm of BSIs (behavioural sleep interventions ie sleep training), implementation of these approaches was not linked with negative outcomes, providing additional evidence for their safety and effectiveness." (Kahn et al 2022)
As a sleep consultant, I offer the families I work with a range of options, from the very gentle and gradual 'Micro Steps' method right through to the Ferber method for very alert little ones (which allows them a few minutes of space to settle), often combining approaches to suit the individual family.
The main thing that these approaches have in common is that they are all responsive, and don't involve leaving your child to cry alone all night.
As a parent myself, I understand the anxiety around sleep training. The idea of your baby crying is awful and we're hardwired to hate it. BUT.....your baby will want to express their feelings - just as a toddler has tantrums, a teenager sulks and an adult moans - they will cry. As humans we don't like change, so it's important to understand the reasons behind their crying.
If they're warm, dry, fed, clean, comfortable and surrounded by love and support, are they likely to be crying in distress? Probably not. Could they be crying from tiredness, frustration, even anger that things have changed? Much more likely.
Plus, what's the alternative? I've contributed to articles and worked with mums who are suicidal due to sleep deprivation. (Trigger warning - suicidal ideation).
Surely a better alternative is for everyone to be well rested and feeling good?
Modern methods of sleep training will not harm your child, and I'd go as far as to say it's good for them to learn healthy boundaries and enjoy sleep from an early age.
Find out more
Free guide: 'Teach your child to self-settle in 5 easy steps' available at lavenderbluesleepconsulting.com/free-guide
Book a free call with Daisy Ferns, founder of Lavender Blue Sleep Consulting at calendly.com/lavenderbluesleep/free-evaluation-call
Follow Lavender Blue Sleep Consulting at instagram.com/lavender_blue_sleep_consulting