If I Need To “Train” My Child to Sleep, Do I Also Need To “Train” Her to Walk or Eat?

We talk about teaching our children to do something, when in fact the majority of children will find their own sleep patterns when developmentally ready.

My daughter is 7 and sleeps a solid 13 hours a night – who would have thought it considering she bed-shared until she was four and occasionally still gets cuddles at bedtime?

When we talk about sleep training today, we talk about it as though it is a must, when it isn’t. We talk about teaching our children to do something, when in fact the majority of children will find their own sleep patterns when developmentally ready.

Sleep training is becoming so prevalent in our society that we ignore our instincts as well as the instincts of our young babies.

Speaking to a friend who used the “controlled crying” method with her son, we compared our children’s sleep. As they are getting older we have found that her sleep-happy toddler has turned in to a sleep-deprived school child, whereas my daughter has gone the opposite way and would live in her bed if she could. I remember asking her if she thought sleep training had been successful. She said it absolutely had, she told me her son slept all night after she completed the training. I asked her how she knew he slept through and she replied that he didn’t cry for her anymore…

But how do we know that the baby didn’t still wake up at night but simply chose to not call out for his mum as he knew it was pointless? How do we know that he didn’t feel scared and helpless stuck in a cot in a room with a closed door? How do we know that he didn’t just simply give up on crying for communication as it was never responded to?

There are so many studies undertaken on sleep.

Some say that sleep training isn’t harmful and many of these have been disputed strongly. Some say that sleep training is detrimental and have found more support as time goes on. The World Health organisation and UNICEF both recommend responsive parenting at all times.

There are as many studies as there are interpretations in regards to sleep training, and how you decide to proceed is of course a personal choice; however, consider that although it has been stated that there is “no evidence of harm”, when it comes to sleep training there isn’t any evidence that it’s harmless either.

I decided as a parent to treat sleep just as I approached crawling, walking, running, eating and talking – these developmental stages take place when the child is developmentally ready.

So before you decide to attempt to “train” your baby, take a step back and ask yourself – “is it really worth the risk”?


Sofie Thomson is a writer, breastfeeding advocate and (breastfeeding) peer supporter from Sweden, now living in the Scottish Highlands with her husband and children. Since completing her degree in Child and Youth Studies, she has focused on encouraging parents to follow biological norms and trust their natural parenting instincts via her blog – The Gentle Mum. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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