Everywhere I looked I found information about babies not becoming spoiled until 6 months old. I used to think that we had a few months to go before having to go through sleep training but when Noah began needing us to fall asleep for each and every nap things began to change. Not because I don’t like holding his sweet little body, smelling his delicious baby smell, touching his silky-like skin – sorry, got carried away- but because I felt we were doing more harm than good. Whenever he was too tired, he cried inconsolably because he just couldn’t visit the land of the nod on his own. So we began considering what everyone told us: “You have to teach him to fall asleep by himself”.
Not without researching first.
The spoiling myth came about in the 1920’s when experts believed that being “too responsive” would make a child dependent and clingy. Many years later, Dr. Sears, father of attachment parenting, observed the contrary: when we meet our baby’s needs, they see us as a trusted source of comfort. This in turn helps them feel emotionally secure, tolerate separation anxiety and trust themselves, resulting in less crying sprees.
Another study, led by Darcia Narwaez, Notre Dame psychology professor, noted that we bring up kinder, more intelligent and emphatic little people when we give them positive touch and affection during their early years. They found that kids who received appropriate reactions and whose cries received quick responses came to be more empathic. “[Responsivity] is clearly linked with moral development. It helps foster an agreeable personality, early conscience development and greater prosocial behavior,” noted Narwaez.
So what should we do with all this information? Although I do feel scientific studies hold some truth, I also think that there are too many variables. I do believe, as Dr. Sears, that we must respond to our babies’ needs as best as we can, and we also try to react appropriately to Noah’s cries and give him all the affection we have inside us, but I also believe we have to analyze each situation carefully.
Every time Noah had to take a nap we would give him his pacifier, rock him and pat him in the back until his eyes shut and he went into a deep slumber. After doing this for three consecutive months, it wasn’t a surprise that if Noah did not have his pacifier, was in our arms and felt little pats, he would just not fall asleep.
Babies learn what we teach them. If we get in their way of learning to fall asleep by rocking or holding them, they won’t have the opportunity to do so on their own. It’s about teaching them to be independent. It’s not about letting Noah cry it out, it’s about helping him create healthy sleep associations. Once he does, he will sleep for longer periods of time and when he naturally wakes up in the middle of the night, as we all do, he will be able to put himself back to sleep.
As a bonus, learning to self-soothe is a skill that will help him in the long run. Whenever he starts feeling separation anxiety or when life sends him a curve ball, he will know that he has the strength to calm himself down and that the world is a safe place.