What I’ve got against sleep trainers

Quarter to 11 on a Saturday night, and I’m wondering (as usual) whether my child is going to have to collapse with exhaustion before he allows himself to get to sleep.

Sleep is this monster topic with parents. Are you getting any, are you getting enough, is your child sleeping through the night – it’s enough to make you wish for self-induced narcolepsy that activates automatically when other parents (OPs) are around.

Eyebrows tend to shoot up when OPs hear that K goes to bed sometime between 9.30pm and 11pm. (I don’t like freaking them out completely and therefore hold off saying that sometimes it’s closer to midnight.) And I must admit, there are times – usually after 9pm any given night – when the sheer Duracell-bunny neverendingness of it makes me want to cry or scream.

For those OPs about to rush to the comments box with suggestions: yes, I’ve tried rearranging his daytime naps so that he doesn’t have one in the late afternoon. And yes, I’ve tried whittling them down to one a day. (In fact, I’ve even tried seeing if he could go a whole day without napping… that went fine til about 3.30 when he crashed for 2 hours and emerged both energised and in a horribly fretful overstretched-and-overslept sort of mood.) And if one more person tries to persuade me of the Power of Routine, I think I might throw something. Routine and me are simply not buddies. We rub each other up the wrong way, and then someone leaves the room. Routine fills me with dread and unease, and the word itself makes me think of the dehumanising legacy of the Industrial Revolution. I don’t mean to diss routine for those who find it fruitful. I just don’t.

But, whilst I will not judge the advocates of routine, I must admit that I do cringe when I listen to the parents that allow themselves to go the route of The Sleep Trainer. It came up today when I chatted briefly to some OPs at the park. When you hear parents talking about The Sleep Trainer, it always goes something like this: “He was a really bad sleeper… and eventually we got in a sleep trainer. And it’s amazing, the power of a really strict routine. It doesn’t work the first night, or the second, or even the fourth or the fifth, but after a week, that’s it. You put him down for the night, and he just goes to sleep. It works.”

I can see why it would be desirable to parents to have kids that go to sleep, like clockwork, at bedtime as designated by mummy and daddy. And I’m sure it does work. The way solitary confinement works for prison warders. The way Pavlovian training works on dogs. Show them who’s boss. Show them that if they don’t do what we want, when we want it, according to our rules and times, they will get No Response, so they might as well learn the rules and play by them.The short-term result is that they will do what the more powerful people in the dynamic dictate. But what is the deeper message that we are training into our children? I believe there is a severe message being wired in with sleep training: your needs come second to the demands of those in authority. And: if you choose to privilege your needs over the demands of the authorities, you will be abandoned or punished.

Am I being extreme here? Perhaps. Too harsh? I don’t think so. What I notice around me is an epidemic of people who are entirely out of touch with their own needs. The norm seems to be: get on with your life, meet the expectations of your parents, your boss, your friends, and whatever other institutions and systems that create the treadmill of your life. Let others dictate what you do and why. Sublimate your frustrations, your sense of feeling invisible, ignored, overlooked, untended, uncared for. Entire lives can be muddled through in this way. Or – and I see this all around me – eventually the dissonance becomes too great, and something cracks. Relationships split open; affairs, obsessions and addictions seep in to fill the cracks. Or we just live with a constant baseline degree of pain and disconnection.

There are many explanations, of course. There are the pressures of modern life. There are the anomalies of personal change, shifting needs, the vagaries of the human heart. But somewhere in there, I feel that notions of “training” children, “disciplining” them and steering them with strictness into routines for our own convenience, all constitute part of a frighteningly dehumanising discourse whose effects may be further-reaching than we know.

In the meantime, it looks like K’s late nights aren’t going to change anytime soon. The payoff is that he does sleep fairly late in the mornings. And sometimes, when the OPs hear that, they admit that they might trade the quiet evenings for a long, lazy lie-in. Yet another reason I won’t be asking for the Sleep Trainer’s number.


About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
This entry was posted in observations, parenting, society and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What I’ve got against sleep trainers

  1. Ravinder Jagdev says:

    That’s fascinating, I see what you mean, but I’m not sure I agree.

    To me, good routines are tied in with healthy lifestyles. But if K’s sleep patturn isnt affecting his eating patturns or his overall wellbeing, I cant see the point getting a sleep trainer. I think I could use one though, end my bouts of insomnia once and for all, LOL!


  2. Rae says:

    Sleep training is evil. I wrote a blog post once where I likened “crying it out” to “child abuse.”

    I do, however, believe that children crave routine and it’s comforting for them to be able to expect the same thing at around the same time, almost every day.

    Again, on the other hand, I once read (probably on Sandra Dodd’s website) that *we* don’t go to bed at the same time each and every night. Sometimes we are exhausted at 9PM from a day full of activities and other times we’re busy “playing” until midnight. Why do we expect different from our children?

    Can you tell I’m conflicted? LOL.

  3. Ravinder Jagdev says:

    OMG. I just read about “controlled crying”. 10 minutes is a life time to a child, that could scar them couldnt it? Minimum attention? *shudder*

  4. Lisa says:

    I think there’s a difference between ritual and routine. You may have a ritual, say, of having an evening meal, then a warm bath, then reading then bed. Or the ritual of the morning coffee and paper. (Just examples) But the best rituals are flexible – when they get followed for the sake of sticking to them in a regimented sort of way, they become hollow, oppressive. To my mind, routine too often gets used as a code word for controlling-through-inflexible-regimentedness. And yes, I think controlled crying (or any ignored pain) is tantamount to abuse.

  5. Jeannine says:

    Great post, and like you I’m not a lover of routine. Having two children has allowed me to compare, my youngest is a creature of ritual – bath at 7, in bed by 7.30 and asleep by 7.45 (he insists on it.)
    My eldest of 9 needs very little sleep, he spends an hour or more in the bath reading, reads when he gets into bed, and often only falls asleep at 11.
    The eldest wakes at 5.30 and leaps out of bed, the youngest has to be dragged from under his duvet after repeated rousings.
    K is probably a person who doesn’t need a lot of sleep, a speedy metabolic kind of creature – it just seems mean to force him into a rythem prescribed by a Dr Spock world.

  6. edenwild says:

    Hey, I haven’t been to your blog for a while. I popped on and this caught my eye. My little guy (13mo now) goes to bed late and people are shocked that he sleeps in so late (and they seem so dismayed when their LOs who go to bed at 6pm wake up at 6am!). What do they expect? Anyway, I think of a “schedule” as strict and regimented, but to me a “routine” is simply an order of events–no time constraints necessary. But whatever, the idea is the same.

    Anyway, following a LOs lead in terms of sleep is hard. Sometimes I wonder if he is really not tired, or if he is over-tired and therefore wired, or if he just needs to relax first or what??

    Did I have a point?

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