Attachment & Sleep Training
Before diving into this blog, I just want to say something:
However you decide to parent your child is 100% your decision. Do I practice attachment parenting? Nope. Do I know and love people who do? Yup. Parenting is a hard thing, and whatever we can do to support each other through it, including embracing each other’s differences, is amazing.
If you asked me what the number one reason is that people avoid sleep training their child is, it would be this: I’m worried that the protesting that comes along with sleep training will ruin the bond I have with my child. They will feel alone. They will feel abandoned. They will not feel attached to me in the way they are now.
First and foremost, I want to say I GET IT. I am a mother to 3 young boys. Did I sleep train all 3 of my boys? Yes. Was it stressful? Yes. Did I ever wonder if I was doing the right thing? Yes. Do I regret it? Absolutely not.
So before we move on to the 6 tops things to consider when it comes to sleep training and attachment, let’s consult the science…
In a study published in 2020 (feel free to message me for the exact study information) there was substantial research done comparing families who introduced some sort of sleep training method vs. those who chose to not let their child protest at all upon waking from sleep, ever. The study was done over 18 months, and at 18 months old, the children were put through the Strange Situation Procedure (weird name, right?) This procedure involves the 18 month old in a room with their parent, then their parent leaves the room and a stranger comes in… After a few minutes, the parent walks back in. If your child sees you, becomes happy and at ease, then they have a secure attachment to you.
In this study, they found that children who underwent some form of sleep training and those who did not showed no differences when put through this same procedure- they showed secure attachment at a similar rate in both groups.
This is just one study out of several I have encountered during my training. I also really loved the podcast called ‘Science Vs Attachment Parenting.’ This is not a podcast that knocks the attachment parenting style, but it introduces research/science to different practices of parenting we may feel that universal ‘parent guilt’ about. It’s a good listen!
I also want to caution you to some of the articles that claim that sleep training methods like ‘Cry It Out’ or any other sleep training method out there is damaging to your child. Most of these articles or books site studies done where the crying they are referring to is actually neglect- an uncontrolled situation where a child is being left alone for no reason at all. When we sleep train, the protesting from your child is in a controlled setting with you watching them (either over the monitor or in the room) at all times. They are not being just left and ignored for hours on end without a plan in place, their sleep environment being set, and their schedule cultivating those healthy, hormonal sleep waves.
So here are some things to consider when thinking of sleep training and your healthy attachment with your child.
1- Awake time is for attachment building.
Awake time is the time we use to cultivate that relationship with our child. We play. We eat. We sing. We read. We listen. We run. We snuggle.
During this time, we fill up our child’s cup with attention, care, bonding, and attachment.
2- Sleep time is for sleep.
Sleep time is for just that: sleep. When we use sleep time as a time to bond, snuggle, love, or even play- that’s when we see our children become overtired. When your child is overtired, they cannot utilize those awake times with you as well. So instead of spending those awake hours building that bond with you, you end up spending those awake hours with a moody child who just desperately craves rest.
3- What are ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants’
‘My child needs me to lay by them to sleep.’
‘My child needs to sleep in bed with me.’
‘My child needs to be rocked to sleep.’
These statements are not really ‘need’ statements but statements of habit or what your child is used to… They also may be statements of ‘want’ from your child and also from you. It’s not a terrible thing to want to lay by your child as they fall asleep or to want to rock them to sleep- but the question then becomes, how attainable is this for your long term?
So what does your child truly NEED at sleep time? They need to be given the space to do the thing: to sleep.
4- Sleep training is a short term solution to a long term goal.
I work with my sleep training clients for 2 weeks at a time. When we work together, is there protesting? Yes. Can it be stressful? Yes. Does it work? With consistency, YES.
When I work with clients, I typically see change start to happen within the first few days if not the first night. Then the rest of our time together is honing in on the details to make everything attainable and sustainable.
So is there protesting? Yes. Is it for hours on end for weeks and weeks? Absolutely not.
By the end of our time together, we have children who are well-rested, love their sleep spaces, and are rocking an amazing schedule.
Do they protest anymore? Nope! They are loving their new, sleep life.
5- Remind yourself of the other boundaries you set, this is the same…
If my 2 year old is running around the house with a handful of forks (which happens often), I immediately take them from him… He gets mad and screams and yells… does that mean I give them back? No.
My 3 year old doesn’t like getting into his car seat. Does that mean I don’t strap him in? Nope. He gets mad and that’s okay.
I set boundaries around sleep, because that is what will serve my child best. When I set that boundary, is there protesting? Sure. But it’s short lived and it’s okay.
6- Will they still love me tomorrow?
Sleep training can pull at our heart strings at first…. but the biggest piece of feedback I get from my clients is: They are just a different child. I didn’t know they could be happier, but they just are. There are less meltdowns. There is more fun. It’s amazing to see.
When you see the change that an age appropriate amount of sleep can bring your child, you will never look back.
Will they still love you? OF COURSE! YOU’RE THEY’RE PARENT. You are doing everything you can to take care of them, and that includes making sure they are getting enough sleep.
So did that answer your question? Ease your heart a little? Or do you want to know even more?
Whatever you need, I'm here for you as you walk through this sleep journey with your little one- it's truly an honor.