Fostering Children’s Independence

Q: My baby is 10 months old. He got used to sleeping in my bed when he grew out of his cradle and I didn’t have a cot for him. Now that I do have one he refuses to go in it. He uses me as a comforter to relax and fall asleep in the same way that my other children used their blankets. I have tried giving him a teddy bear or blanky when he sleeps in my bed so that he should get attached to it, and then be able to use it to fall asleep on his own. But he is not interested — he just throws it away.

Is it fair to make him sleep on his own when he cries as though I have abandoned him, even when I stay in the same room as him? And how should I go about it?  Should I allow him to sleep in my room or rather put him in another room?

I also want to thank you for your column. I enjoy reading it every week and have learned a lot from it.

A: While I have addressed these questions in the past, for the benefit of new readers, such as you, I shall review these primary parenting principles.

You ask if it is fair to make your son sleep on his own even though he cries as if he were being abandoned. The same question could be asked when he is ready for school. Will it be fair to make him attend even if he cries when you drop him off as if you were never going to return? To put it more bluntly, is it fair not to teach your son to sleep on his own?

When children are held back from completing developmental tasks just because they cry, their retarded development can impact them negatively for the rest of their lives. Parents do not do their children a favor by shielding them from life’s vicissitudes.

The answer to your first question, therefore, is a most emphatic, “yes.” And the answer to your third question is that, by all means, you should not allow your child to continue sleeping in your room even if he is not in your bed. Giving him the crutch of sleeping in your room will cripple his ability to adapt properly through future separations such as attending overnight camp, moving into a yeshivah dormitory and, eventually, getting married, b’sha’a tovah u’mutzlachas.

Finally, to answer your second question, the first step is to show this column to your spouse. Your son will cry as if, “My father and my mother have forsaken me.” (Tehillim 27:10) And you will not be able to tolerate the tears without giving each other emotional support and encouragement.

Next, you will have to be prepared to devote much more time to getting your son to sleep than you have until now. You also must be prepared to approach this challenge with a combination of firmness and gentleness. These are qualities, by the way, which will stand you in good stead with many other parenting projects down the road.

Last, but not least, do not postpone the implementation of this plan. The longer you wait, the colder your feet will become. And you will run the risk of chickening out altogether.

Here is what you do. Put your son to bed in his own room. Pull up a chair next to his bed and talk to him in a soft, soothing tone. Even though he is screaming, he still hears you. Do not take him out of bed unless he has injured himself, chas v’shalom. Periodically, get up, reach into his bed and gently stroke his cheek or his back. You may also try singing to him softly. Remain in his room until he falls asleep, no matter how long it takes. If he wakes up prematurely, go into his room and repeat this procedure.

It will take a few nights. If you maintain your resolve, however, he will eventually get used to this routine and fall asleep without much fuss. When that happens, you must continue the process of weaning him off the excessive reassurances. First eliminate the repeated physical contact. Then sit with him while remaining silent. Finally, withdraw yourself from his room for 2 – 3 minute periods. Once he tolerates one level, move up to the next until you reach the final stage of putting him in bed with a hug and kiss and then leaving his room. It may sound inconceivable to you now that you will ever reach that stage. If you follow this plan, you can and will succeed, b’ezras Hashem. And when you do, please write back. I and my readers would love to hear the good news.


 

The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.