Parenting and educational consultant, Claire Marketos, from Inspired Parenting in Johannesburg, has spoken to many parents who have tried controlled crying. She has found that in many cases “it creates more anxiety and stress for both parents and infants, which is counterproductive to what parents are actually trying to achieve. Most parents express how guilty they feel for overriding their instinctive need to attend to their child. There is also no scientific evidence or research to show that controlled crying actually works, and doesn't cause harm to babies.”
In fact Gina's methods are not based on scientific evidence, but rather on her experience with more than 300 children.
Claire says, “Research by Bells and Ainsworth shows that babies who are left to cry actually end up crying more than infants who are attended to by the end of the first year. Research also shows that by tuning into an infant's needs, not only is the bond between parent and child strengthened, but the baby also learns alternative ways of communicating besides crying, and this stimulates the infant's physical development.”
“During the first year of life, it's impossible to ignore a child. It is impossible to spoil the child, so feed when hungry and pick up when crying,” says American clinical psychologist, Dr Justine duPlessis-Nelson. If you employ selective attention, Dr duPlessis-Nelson recommends you rather try a progressive method, such as waiting an extra minute every time your baby calls out from the bedroom.
Claire adds, “Studies of children whose needs were not met in orphanages show that infancy is a sensitive period and that children who are severely deprived suffer developmental delays both physically and mentally. Although leaving your baby to cry does not constitute severe deprivation, it's significant to know that the deprivation of needs can affect his development.”
Childcare author, Tracy Hogg, better known as “The Baby Whisperer”, also believes you should be sensitive to your child's needs, observing and tuning into them and his natural, evolving routine. With this approach you can establish a structure for your day, called E.A.S.Y (Eating, Activity, Sleeping and time for You), which meets your baby's needs and yours.
To establish a sleep schedule where your child puts himself to sleep, Tracy recommends a progressive pick-up/put-down method. Pick up your baby when he cries. As soon as he is reassured and settled, you put him back down in his cot. When he cries again, try patting him and saying “Sh, sh, sh”. If he still cries, pick him up again to reassure him and then place him back in his cot. This can continue for 20 minutes until he settles.
When deciding how to approach establishing either a scheduled or natural routine, you need to consider your baby's developmental age. You won't be able to establish a routine immediately after birth. “It will take your baby three to six weeks or longer to settle into a pattern of feeding and sleeping,” reveals Dr Miriam Stoppard, author and childcare expert.
But once you've coped with the early weeks, then what?
Claire says, “Babies under 6 months of age fluctuate between states of wakefulness and sleep. They eat, sleep, and wake up when they need to. Hunger and sleep happens to them. It's not something they have control over. They respond instinctively to their needs and so should we as parents. From about 6 months of age, once the brain has reached a certain maturation, they begin showing patterns of sleep and wakefulness and so they develop their own ‘routine', often wanting to eat before they go to sleep. By following your baby's natural rhythms and cycles you will have a ‘routine' that is best suited to meeting his needs.”
Whether your family routine evolves naturally, or you nudge it along, or instil it more firmly, Claire says she believes, “As children grow older they need consistency and predictability, as it makes them feel safe and secure. Children like to know with 100% certainty what's expected of them at home and at school.”
If you work or have more than one child to care for, structure and time-constraints are particularly important, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one of a “family's greatest challenges is to establish comfortable, effective routines.” There are many routes to achieving a routine and there are many different types of routines. Choose the method or combination of methods that works for you and your child. Follow your instincts and do what feels right, for you and your baby.
Article first published in Your Baby magazine, available online at www.yourparenting.co.za
Child Development 5th edition, Laura E. Berk, (Allyn & Bacon)
Ask Suppernanny, Jo Frost, (Hodder and Stoughton)
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect and Communicate with Your Baby, Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau, (Ballantine Books)
Complete Baby and Child care, Miriam Stoppard, (Dorling Kindersley)