One of the most common questions I get from parents when we are discussing different sleep training methods, is, “Won’t they feel abandoned if we leave them to cry?” In response to this question, there are a number of other questions that we can ask:
- Will they feel abandoned when you leave the room to go to the toilet?
- Are they going to feel abandoned if mummy leaves them with daddy, but they would rather be with mummy?
- Will they feel abandoned when you put them to bed and they don’t cry?
And this brings some more questions:
- Have you ever abandoned your baby/toddler?
- Have you always gone back to them, whether it is after a few minutes or in the middle of the night or in the morning, whether they are happy or sad?
- If they have never been abandoned, how are they going to know what being abandoned feels like?
As adults, it is very easy to put our adult emotions on our children, assuming that they are feeling how we would feel in certain situations, because we have been through a similar situation that we’ve not enjoyed, and as a result have a particular emotional response to that situation. As a baby or toddler, they probably haven’t had the same experience as you, so won’t have the same emotional response as you would have in that situation – emotional responses are learned not innate.
I’m sure we can all remember getting “lost” at the shops (or off piste up a mountain in my case) when we were between 4 and 10 years old, or our parents being the last to pick us up from school or a club, by a long time, and we felt scared, confused and possibly even abandoned, thinking that we would never be found. And those few minutes felt like hours because we were small people in the big UNFAMILIAR world full of adults we didn’t know, and something different to normal was happening. Even though our parents found us, those few minutes of fear stayed with us, making us scared of it happening again.
But when it comes to sleep training, the situation is very different! You aren’t putting your little one in an unfamiliar environment – you’re staying in their home, probably in the room where they have slept/been dressed/played etc many times before. And whatever sleep training method you decide to do, you will always go back to them. But I do understand why, as an adult and a parent, we have the fears, worries and guilt that we do.
The important thing to remember is that however you decide to sleep train your child, you are doing it so that they get better sleep as well as you. You are doing it because it is better for them to sleep well than wake up several times a night and spend day after day feeling overtired and grumpy. When they are awake you fill their days with love, fun and laughter – something that is much easier to do after a good night’s sleep. You attend to their needs – you feed them when they are hungry, give them drinks when they are thirsty, keep them warm when it is cold, ease discomfort when they are ill. Even if you leave your little one crying for a few minutes, or 20 minutes, you will always go back to them and love them and reassure them, so why would they feel abandoned?
It is so important to find the sleep training technique that is right for your child as well as you, and thankfully there are many techniques out them. The difficult part is working out if your child is protesting or genuinely upset. From my experience of working with children for over 20 years, nine times out of ten, the crying we get at bedtime is protest because they would rather be doing something else.