The Family Project: Infant’s sleep
Editor’s Note: ”The Family Project” is a column in the Focus features section that brings together a panel of experts to address parenting questions.
Q. My infant grandson’s parents really need help getting him to sleep at night. He is 16-months-old and has to be taken for a car ride or a stroller ride every night in order for him to fall asleep. Then they transfer him to their bed, where he sleeps the rest of the night. They can’t put him in his crib because he wakes up. They really need help.
The panelists are interested in knowing if the question about the child’s sleep requirements was coming from the perspective of the parents or the grandparents? Who has the problem, they ask?
Referring to her experience with her own child, panelist Erin Stalsitz said, “Babies like to be held and coddled. Who wants to sleep in their cribs? I didn’t have to drive anywhere, but I did have the issue of transferring into a bed.”
Panelist Denise Continenza said she would encourage the grandparent to bring up the subject by saying something like, “I notice that every night you have to do something to soothe him to get him to sleep.’’ Then Continenza suggested to see what they say. “Do they take it in stride or do they say, ‘Yeah, we’re exhausted,’ so that it presents a problem for their own health?”
“Every family dynamic is different,” according to panelist Pam Wallace. “If the goal is to have the child sleep in his crib every night, then you have to establish a routine. If he wakes up, you soothe him a bit, and then put him back to bed so he knows it isn’t playtime.”
In response to a question about whether the child’s behavior was a sign of a sleep disorder, panelist Chad Stefanyak said it was way too early to determine that, adding, “This is very cultural, very American, where we get the child out of the bed as soon as possible, the push toward independence. If your child doesn’t do it, then there must be something wrong. People in other parts of the world see nothing wrong with this at all. Children sleep in the parents’ bed for years.”
“In certain parts of the world, there’s even a large family bed where everyone sleeps together,” according to Stalsitz. “We are kind of unique in having our children sleep alone. Stefanyak clarified that there are safety concerns related to sleep that need to be addressed, such as the danger of suffocation, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
As for the technique that includes a car ride, Wallace noted that the parents have established a pattern and reinforced it so that the child now expects to be taken out for a ride before going to sleep. “The parents may have other things to do, so at times if letting the child sleep with them helps, they should pick their battles.”
The panelists discussed the effectiveness of putting the child in his crib and letting him cry. “I’ve seen research on both sides,” Stefanyak said. “If it [crying] becomes excessive, it can be counterproductive.”
The change needs to be gradual, Stalsitz added. “You shouldn’t put a 16-month-old child in his crib after a year and a half of driving and expect him to cry it out.” Stefanyak agreed. “A routine has been established, and the parents need to work to establish a new routine, but it will take time. It will need to be done gradually.”
This week’s team of parenting experts and guest panelists are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Erin Stalsitz, Casework Supervisor, Lehigh County Children and Youth; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension.
The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Leigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child. If you have a parenting question you would like answered in this column, contact Project Child at projectchildlv.org.