Self-soothing gets a bad rap these days. I read an article recently, 'What Really Happens When You Teach A Baby To Self Soothe To Sleep'. It made me feel awful, as though I somehow damaged my child by allowing her to self sooth. In fact, for an entire week after I read this article, I would obsessively watch the video monitor and sneak back into my daughter’s room just to make sure she wasn't sitting silently in the dark in “shutdown mode” as the article suggests,
article got me thinking that there is such an extreme discrepancy these days when
it comes to babies and crying. On one
camp, there are the extreme attachment parents who believe that any amount of crying
will traumatize a child (One woman who I was a nanny for said she didn't know
how to spray hydra sense in her daughter’s nose without it being emotionally
damaging to her.) On the other camp are
the extreme ‘Ferber’ followers who let their babies cry for hours. I mean there has to be something in the
middle right? Something somewhere
between letting your kid cry it out for hours and jumping at any little squawk.
Crying is communicating in a baby’s world. I don't think you should let a newborn wail without soothing or feeding but I do think it's ok to let a 6 month old baby have a five minute cry.
I think self-soothing evolves as our child ages. I started with a two minute maximum which evolved to a 10 minute maximum. Now, 17 months later, I use the type of cry to assess when to intervene. In the middle of the night if my daughter wails at the top of her lungs, I'm there in a second. If she sounds like she's moaning a little or crying softly for a few minutes, I often leave her. Sure, if she cries softly for 10-20 minutes then I go in for a cuddle.
My point is, depending on the situation, I'm no longer at a ten minute maximum when it comes to letting my daughter self-soothe.
For a week my daughter fought her afternoon nap and I started thinking maybe she’s done with 2 naps. As the weeks went by and I suffered through a few weeks of constant emotional meltdowns, it was clear she wasn’t. In order to get her back on two naps we basically had to duel over the second nap everyday. I’d put her down and she’d wail for 5 minutes and then she’s wine a little and cry a little on and off. Once, I left her to cry for 40 minutes and felt awful. I went in to get her, feeling lie the worst parent ever, only to discover she that didn’t have a single wet mark on her face. No tear, nada. So the next time, I left her for 45 minutes and then she fell asleep. This went on for a few days and then we were back in business for two naps. She was 14 months. I would never have dreamed of letting a baby fuss for that long at 1 month, 6 months, or even 12 months, but my trust in what she was telling me when she was crying evolved as did my willingness to leave her longer.
Self-soothing isn't awful. It doesn't mean letting your kid cry it out for hours. I think of sleeping as a skill we teach our kids and I don’t see a way to do this without a little self-soothing.