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I will not train my child like a dog

Littler is going through a phase.

One Of Those Phases.

One of those phases that means that she has decided that she Will Not Sleep except with me within hand touch.

Which is incredibly tough.  Which means that bedtime is for the first time in her life an awful struggle.  Which means that I am questionning the wisdom of leaving her during the day – despite the fact that we have gone for the village approach to childcare*

I mean how do you go about leaving a child during the day if you can’t even leave her in her bed.

Which brings us to bedtime and the parenting battle ground that appears to be.

I read a wonderful statement on Twitter thanks to Liveotherwise that said something along the lines that you are raising a small, complete human being rather than an inconvenience.

And you see what made me horribly sad was that when I asked on Twitter what was going on – was Littler going through separation anxiety, vaguely remembering that Bigger did a similar sort of thing.  I was mostly told I should let her cry.  That I should train her to sleep in her bed no matter what.

In fact friends suggested that I should train her ‘like you do a dog’ to sleep in her own bed, to sleep apart from me.
Admittedly friends that don’t understand that I believe co-sleeping helped Little stay alive – that helped her keep breathing when her breathing wasn’t so great at first.

But either way, and putting aside the pathos, would you really want to train your child like a dog?

My mother in law tried to teach Littler to stay sat in her high chair by using Barbara Woodhouse’s techniques over Christmas so the concept of toddler = dog is obviously not one that is exceptional but really?

Do people really want to train their child that when they cry in distress they will not come?

Do people really spend five evenings in a row sat on the corridor outside their child’s room listening to them scream in distress and not go to them because it is For The Best?

Do parents really teach their children that when they are distressed Mummy or Daddy will not come to them?

Because you see I can’t.

I have come close to considering it but faced with a Littler that will not even lie down in her bed on her own, that is reduced to screaming panic, I cannot, I will not leave her on her own to cry and to scream.  I cannot teach her that Mummy will not be there when she is distressed.

So we have had nights when she has happily curled up with us in bed, when she has only slept when able to reach and touch my boobs, when she has decided that this is what she needs now.

And yes, it is far from ideal.

And yes, I know that bedtimes will be awful until this phase passes.

But most importantly I am teaching my child that I am there.

I may not be teaching her to sleep in her bed what may.  I may not have a child that always sleeps through.

BUT interestingly her sister, who had the same treatment does sleep wonderfully, so I travel in the hope that once this phase passes, I will continue to have a confident, assured, loved child who will sleep on her own in her bed when she is good and ready.

*You know the theory that it takes a village to raise a child so we work on the basis that lots of people who adore our children is the way to for childcare – people who we trust to love them. If that wasn’t the case I don’t know how I’d cope.  Simply.

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22 comments to I will not train my child like a dog

  • Superb post and one I wholeheartedly agree with.

    I get so sad when I read post after post from people asking “Should I let him/her cry it out” or “he should be in a routine by now”

    I adore my girl. We have dreadful bedtimes but they would be an awful site more awful if I was forcing her to do something she wasn’t ready for. I wanted a child – a human being and NOT a pet

    • Muddling Along

      I guess we have been slightly spoilt – we put in place a bedtime routine quite early and so have had relatively good bedtimes with both apart from these odd wobbles. I just find it hard to be told I have to leave them to cry come what may – it just doesn’t work for me and I want them to know I will come if they need me

  • MTJAM

    No, I don’t think children should be treated like dogs, but I do think children need to learn certain skills. There’s a fine line between teaching and training – I’m not quite sure what the difference is. Personally I think it’s incredibly important to learn how to self-soothe and put oneself to sleep, so I’ve chosen to teach my children that from very early on. As adults, I can self-soothe, whereas my husband can’t – he needs the television on, the lighting a certain way, the curtain’s drawn and so on. Me? I can fall asleep anywhere. My children are the same and as a well-rested child is often a happy one, I’m glad of it. There are two parts to this debate; firstly whether one should sleep-train/teach at all, and secondly what method one chooses to do so. I’m ignoring the second half of the debate, which is far too frequently blogged about, as the first half is a far more interesting topic and one I’ve not seen raised in this way before. For me, sleep-training/teaching is as important as teaching children to read and write. Of course they’ll pick it up eventually, but I’d rather help them learn it sooner. Excellent post – I read lots of blogs but so rarely comment on them!

    • Muddling Along

      Interesting point re the difference between teaching and training, I guess from my perspective the former is gentler than the later but I do agree that there are certain skills our children need to be taught (good manners being one, sleep another) and that we would be failing as parents if we don’t give them those skills.

  • Jem

    I didn’t have chance to respond to your tweet but we’re going through the same thing with Isabel. We’ve always co-slept so that’s not an issue in itself, but a combination of separation anxiety / walking / talking developments mean she’s awake basically every 30-60 minutes, and doesn’t want anyone but me. I don’t even bother mentioning it to most people because I know I’ll get the same answer you did… and my response may offend :p

  • Am so pleased to be mentioned in such a thoughtful post. It won’t surprise you to learn that smallest sleeps in a bedside cot, and never sleeps alone. She will do in time, I just accept that this phase, which comes along with such trust and closeness, means a bit less sleep for me. And I envy you your village of childcare, if a child needs to be left, it is the ideal.

    • Muddling Along

      I think one of the reasons we have co-slept is that it has meant more sleep for me – they settle quicker if they are close to us and we have all learnt to sleep happily together. It may sound smug, but having done this with Bigger she now happily sleeps for 12 hours in her own room (excepting illness etc) – I hold onto that being a sign that it can’t be bad to not leave them to scream

  • I couldn’t agree more! There is no way on earth I can stand to hear my baby in distress and if giving him a cuddle will end that distress then I’ll do it. I always know when he is jst shouting and when he’s upset. When he was really little he only slept for 40 minutes at a time and it was awful but I would rather spend two hours by his bedside than listening to him scream. Great post!
    XxX

    • Muddling Along

      I agree there’s a definite difference between chuntering (which Bigger did to fall asleep) and screaming in distress – Littler last night was standing, tears pouring down her face and I was in the room with her. No way I could have left her to cry so instead we have cuddled and comforted and coslept and tonight will hopefully be better (hopefully!)

  • I agree with MTJAM. I like to think that I am teaching my children how to sleep properly. But I’m fully aware that every child is different and what is good for one doesn’t work for another. I’ve got completely different sleep children, and we have had to use very different tactics for each of them. Ultimately, you will do what you think is best for your child – and that is the best thing.

  • Such a hard one this and I do feel for you. My thoughts on this are mixed, but I do think children need a consistent approach. I also think that they can play on you a bit, mine certainly do. They do need to learn how to sleep and how to settle, as MTJAM says it is something that is an important life skill. I struggle with it, but often I do leave them for a while and then reassure and then see how things go. However, the space is my bed and my sleep is the most precious thing for me, so Fifi has never been in our bed all night (apart from once on holiday- but thats not my bed!) If I am not rested the children suffer from grumpy mummy and if they do not get enough sleep they suffer.

    You have to be happy with your decision, if you cant let them cry, then you cant, but some people can. For me, I think I have been lucky, the kids play up and moan and shout but they are never distraught.

    If it helps, my mum told me she used to leave me for half an hour at least, moaning and making a fuss. I cant remember that, it haunt affected me as far as I can tell and I can pretty much sleep anywhere, even standing up 🙂 Once I heard this, it enabled me to leave my kids that little bit longer and this has benefited all of us.

    Can I suggest that if you have the time it might be worth going to see Andrea Grace, she was very helpful when we were having sleep issues with Fifi (early waking) and she may have some suggestions.

  • Actually my parenting technique genuinely was entirely based on dog training so I feel a bit guilty now. It seemed kinder than Gina Ford, in my defence.

    In fact I panicked a bit when I clicked on the link to read this – but I never left Flea to cry (or the dog). Phew.

    • Muddling Along

      You sound like Mother in law and her Barbara Woodhouse impression to get Littler to stay sat in her chair – incredibly it worked so I guess dog training could be the answer to more of problems… And most things sound gentler than Gina Ford (which made me cry, although I blame the hormones for that)

  • I went with the co-sleeping with two of my three children.

    One was as a result of being insecure and having brain damage, he struggled to be alone at all. When he was 2, he happliy decided to move to his own room and security.

    The other child that I decided to co-sleep with happened as the bathroom and bedroom he slept in was flooded. I was having to go up and sit with him until he fell asleep every night as it was, and go back about 10 times a night, so it was no hardship to move him through with me, and if hub needed a good nights sleep, he used sons bedroom, or slept on sofa.

    It meant we all got a better nights sleep though as he slept for longer and was more easily settled, instead of screaming every hour or so all night long.

    He had sleep apnea and terrible night terrors that I hated leaving him to. He struggled to sleep in his own bed from then on, and he was 8 before he finally managed to sleep alone.

    Was it wrong – who knows. I certainly felt more comfortable with the way things were and he hasn’t suffered from it. Yes, it has been more work long term, but by the time mine were left to sleep alone, they were old enough to understand the what and why of what happened as they had some speech so it wasn’t a lonely, dark void of hours of blackness ahead of them and no-one coming when they were stressed out.

    Lots of children grizzle and then only half wake now and again. Others don’t and are really stressed. You have to go with what you are comfortable and happy with, and only you know what your children can cope with.

    xx

  • Rachael

    I am one of those mothers who would probably (wrongly) have said “leave them to cry”. it’s difficult to offer appropriate advice without knowing the full story though, so in order not to cause offence, I would actually have said nothing.

    But I’m also currently battling with a newborn who won’t be put down and as of today, won’t sleep either. Not even if being held (though he is finally fast asleep on me in our bed now).

    I like my independence. I never realised it more. I like routine, I can’t cope with not knowing what’s going on. And I *will* teach him to sleep on his own soon. But I will not leave him if he sounds distressed. It’s easier with a newborn as they’re not testing you like a toddler may be. There’s crying. And then there’s distressed crying. And a baby (or toddler) on that much distress is not going to fall asleep.

    You do what works for you and your kids. If you’re not happy with what you’re doing then change it. Otherwise you stick to your guns and ignore people’s criticisms. They don’t know the full story. And they’re not the one who’s actually having to deal with the crying.

    • Muddling Along

      Littler’s early days were the hardest thing I’ve ever done – after all her problems inside she was very high needs and fed every hour for weeks and wouldn’t be put down. In time we realised that she had more issues as a result of her pregnancy and that her need for me was survival instinct at its strongest – fortunately I went with what she dictated and we all got through those days. I just am very wary of now letting her have more than she absolutely needs in case I’m being manipulated because of how scared we were about her to start with.

      As you say, there’s crying and distressed crying and we all know which we can cope with.

      As an aside, we treated Bigger similarly and now she happily sleeps in her own bed all night, thank goodness

  • Liz

    My daughter was like that when she was a toddler, she needed her Mum and I couldn’t bear to leave her to cry, put child gates on or anything like that. The lack of sleep was a pain, but nothing like as bad as leaving a distressed child. And you know what, it doesn’t last forever it’s a phase like all the others and I think it makes them more secure to know Mummy or Daddy is there no matter what.

  • Anna

    I had similar problems with my middle child. I found a book by (don’t laugh at her name) Elizabeht Pantly and I can’t remember exactly the title but it was about a gentle, non crying method of promoting sleep. It took time and started with making the child feel secure enough to go to sleep with you there and then progressed to helping them learn to go to sleep alone but it was a step by step gradual withdrawal over many weeks or even months. My son is now 8 and does sleep alone but still takes a long time to settle and likes a good long chat and a huggle before sleep. I reccomend the book though. And you can’t go wrong with giving a distressed child security, I don’t think.

  • Karen

    Mmm…I fear I too may have trained mine like dogs…I certainly keep them on a lead when we are out and about and occasionally can’t stop them eating food off the kitchen floor. And one of them seems remarkably amenable to doing anything for a sweet including tricks like getting dressed promptly and eating all her dinner. Flippancy aside I’m afraid mine did get left to cry, I have twins, sometimes it just wasn’t physically possible to soothe them both together, not an ideal situation just one evolutions tardiness in giving me an extra pair of hands I couldn’t get around. However I think it probably did make me realise that although it was a pretty hideous experience that they were alright in the end and they learnt that I was there – just taking my time. I think this probably did aid teaching them to self-sooth but I was also blessed with children that sleep anywhere anytime for lots of hours (like their parents!) but as yet still haven’t mastered sitting side by side in a buggy without beating each other up – ho hum…

  • I have always found that the absolute best method is the method that works for the family in question. Try to lose the guilt (if you feel it) no matter what side of the cot you are on in this debate. I was able to make clearer and more relaxed parenting decisions when I quelled the voices and listened to my own and that of my child.

  • While I LOVE the Dog Whisperer and use some of his ideas on my kids, I also completely agree with you. (I only use the things like “be a calm confident leader” and “be a better energy” – that kind of thing.)

    I am however personally unable to do the whole attachment thing, because I literally can’t breathe when I do (hyperventilation) but I don’t want to let anyone cry. The Baby Whisperer approach worked for me with my toddler. I didn’t know that was what I was doing, but it worked. I’d just go in quickly every time she was crying, calm her down completely and put her back down. She knew I was there for her and after two nights (and only about an hour the first night and half an hour the second or so) she went to sleep quite happily.

    Overall, this has made us all happier rather than sadder. She still comes/calls to me whenever she needs me and I go, but she’s happy to sleep with her cuddly toys.

    So – don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with co-sleeping or staying with children until they sleep. It’s just that if it makes you unhappy, there’s a way to stop it with minimal stress and guilt, and I believe this doesn’t harm the children at all.

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