Scroll through Tik Tok, Instagram, or almost any Facebook mom group, and you will see the notion floating around that sleep training is harmful to a child’s attachment with their caregiver.
As a professional in the parenting realm, I’m here today to share with you that this is false information that is being spread, sometimes virally, and confuses and shames new, tired parents everywhere.
One thing I know to be true is this - you want what is best for your baby.
I’m speaking to you today as a mom, as a psychologist, as a sleep coach, and as a newborn care specialist. I’m wearing all the hats because I want to present you with all perspectives - both personal and professional.
I list these credentials so that you know I’ve invested time, money, energy, and passion into each of these areas of my life. I also want you to know that I wouldn’t have made this my life’s work if I felt in any way that sleep training was a harmful thing to do to a child. And that’s just it - so many of the negative ideas out there about sleep training exploit the language that this is something you do TO a child, not FOR a child or WITH a child. It’s fear-mongering, shaming, and just plain wrong.
So, if you’re a mom out there who has come across this, I’m so sorry.
You do not need to feel guilty if you’ve considered sleep training or have sleep trained your baby.
You do not need to feel guilty for wanting your child to sleep well.
You do not need to feel guilty for wanting to get better sleep yourself, so that you can be the best parent for your child and the best partner to your spouse.
None of these things are selfish, and I would also like to mention the alternative: Moms who struggle with mental well-being (which is often enhanced by sleep deprivation) can have more of a negative effect on a secure attachment than a positive one.
Before we get into the details of the science behind attachment, we first need to understand what it is.
What is attachment? (And what is it not?)
Attachment is basically the emotional bond you have with your baby as their primary caregiver, and is formed throughout the very first years of our lives. There are four types of attachment - one secure attachment type and three insecure attachment types - (1) secure attachment, (2) anxious/ambivalent attachment, (3) anxious/avoidant attachment, and (4) anxious/disorganized attachment. A secure attachment is what you should be aiming for with your child.
Why is the Attachment Theory one to pay attention to? Because the attachment type you form with your child will affect future relationships they have with others as they grow older as well as their overall health and wellbeing. Children with a secure attachment grow up to be happy, well-adjusted, independent, caring, cooperative, and resilient adults.
Attachment Theory is not to be confused with Attachment Style Parenting - these are two totally different things, and that’s another topic for another day!
How does one form a secure attachment with their child?
Our interactions with our child form their attachment type.
There are two words I’d like you to remember - respond and repair.
When we respond to our child consistently and correctly after they give us a signal - rooting at the breast (you feed them), outstretched arms (you pick them up), crying (you offer some comfort), they smile (you smile back), etc. - a secure attachment begins to form. How consistent do we need to be with our responses? Meeting their needs with the correct response 30 percent of the time is all that is needed to form a secure attachment. Only 30 percent! As hard as you might try to meet their needs throughout the day, you only get it right 30 percent of the time. And that’s enough! Read more about this here.
When you realize that - “Oops, I didn’t get that response right.” - you can then repair the situation. Let’s say your child throws a toy and it hits you in the head and you yell, “Ouch, baby! That hurt mommy! We don’t throw toys!” in a startling tone. It caught you off guard, after all. Your baby begins to cry because you scared them with your response. You can now try to repair your initial response by using a calm tone of voice and maybe some gentle and comforting touch: “Baby, we don’t throw toys because it can hurt someone. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I was surprised to get hit in the head with your toy and it hurt.”
No, this doesn’t mean we should be pushovers as parents. But gently leading our children is a much better option than losing our cool and yelling as a response to their behavior. And, repairing our relationships when we realized we’ve responded in the wrong manner. Modeling that making mistakes is okay - and attempting to fix them - is an incredibly powerful tool to have in your parenting toolkit.
Both responding and repairing are key in forming a secure attachment with your child, which will then convert into adulthood as a well-adjusted and emotionally intelligent human being who can form healthy relationships with others.
Your probably thinking, okay, Isabel, but what does this have to do with sleep training??
Attachment and Sleep Training
Sleep, just like nutrition, is a basic need. In order for our children to feel safe and secure (HAVE A SECURE ATTACHMENT!) we must meet their basic needs with our responses.
When we support our children through change, or through a difficult situation - like learning a new way to fall asleep at night - we are supporting this secure attachment.
At Savvy Sleep, I work with families to respond to their baby’s cues. We set your child up for sleep success by providing an age appropriate schedule. We make sure they’re getting exactly what they need during the day (love, nutrition, connection) so they can get exactly what they need at night (sleep). We implement a plan that you can have a consistent response with…something I would argue even promotes a secure attachment!
In a five-year follow up of one study of behavioral infant sleep interventions, researchers found that “behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression.”
Truthfully, there isn’t much more research being done in this area because researchers have kept finding the same results - sleeping training is a perfectly viable and reasonable option to help a child sleep better.
I’d love to continue this conversation with you if you have questions. Please feel free to reach out to me, or share this with someone who may benefit from this information.