I’m excited to share with you today my thoughts and opinions on the book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth, M.D. What I’m most excited about is the opportunity to share with you the process that I went through as I read this book as I internally battled whether I agreed with the information or not as a therapist who treats young children. If I had a difficult time deciding whether or not I agreed professionally with the recommendations in this book, I assumed that many new parents may also have some difficulty making this decision. To be able to share with you the battle that I went through, and the conclusion that I came to by the end of the book, I hope will validate the concerns that you have as a new parent and help you to make the best decision for your child’s sleep.
Be sure to read the Recommendations section of this article. Taking only a snippet of what I’ve written here could be harmful for your child. If you want to use the techniques that Dr. Weissbluth recommends, then read the Recommendations section to learn more.
Part I: How Children Sleep
In the first section, Dr. Weissbluth discusses the benefits of sleep and why healthy sleep habits during childhood are essential to child development and ultimately, adult development and functioning. It was during this portion of the book that I struggled to decide whether or not I wanted to agree with him. In this section, he promotes the “cry it out” method of putting children to sleep and discusses that attachment therapists are way off on their recommendations to always come to a crying child in the crib because crying in the crib during sleeping times is not when attachment is built; instead, attachment is built in the wakeful hours of interaction between parent and child.
Initially, I’ll be honest that I was offended by his statement that us therapists don’t know what we are talking about. I have pretty regularly told my clients or people who have attended classes that I have taught that a baby crying alone in a crib believes that she is not worth anything and self-esteem is affected. If I was wrong about that, what else could I be wrong about? I was skeptical, but I read on.
By the end of the section, I had read various accounts from parents who believed the same thing that I did, that to leave the baby crying in the crib would make the child feel that no one cared about her, that she was abandoned and would have to take care of herself for life. But when these parents were willing to try the bed time routine recommendations that sometimes included the “cry it out” method for just one week, these parents found out that the total time of crying was actually less during this process than it would have been had the parent come to the child during the night each time she cried.
After reading these examples over and over again within this section, I was convinced that I had been wrong in the past…that I had told my clients to do something that not only caused more crying for the child in the long-run, but also contributed to sleep-deprived parents, which ultimately is very dangerous for children. Now, I needed to know how to help my clients to fix this problem that I had started.
Part II: How Parents Can Help Their Children Establish Healthy Sleep Habits
Luckily, this section of the book answered that question for me. This section discusses the methods that parents can use to put their children to sleep and develop healthy sleep habits. This section is wonderful because it provides a week by week guide for the newborn regarding what to expect and how to respond. It provides recommendations throughout childhood, all the way into adolescence, so that parents can change their techniques as the child ages.
It then provides a list of 4 possible techniques to use to help put children to bed safely according to a healthy sleep routine, depending on what views parents have regarding crying. While Dr. Weissbluth recommends the “cry it out” method for most children (except those experiencing colic or extreme fussiness) he is willing to provide safe and healthy sleeping tips for those parents who refuse to let their baby cry.
Part III: Other Sleep Disturbances and Concerns
The final section of the book discusses different sleep disturbances and what to do about them. This section includes some sleep disturbances that may not be relevant to your child, and others that will be relevant depending on the time of the year (i.e. how to handle daylight savings time or vacations). This section also includes a discussion on behavior and parenting from another contributing author, and a section that analyzes the sleeping theories and recommendations of other professionals.
Even though this book is 457 pages long, if you have the time to commit to it, I highly recommend that you read it. In a perfect world, I would say that it is best to read Part I while you’re expecting your first child and then read the relevant sections of Part II once your child is born and as he ages. All children will experience some of the sleep difficulties mentioned in Part III, so it would be best for parents to read the relevant sections of Part III as appropriate for their child. This means that if your child experiences nightmares, it would be appropriate for you to read about nightmares, but if your child doesn’t have any issues with this at this time, then don’t waste your precious time reading this section.
And in a not so perfect world, I would say that any time that you can set aside to read this book—even if you have a 4-year-old with difficult sleeping habits—do it! Dr. Weissbluth calms the fears of worried parents by saying that bad sleeping habits are hard to break, but that they are breakable. Whether you are just starting out as a parent or you have an older child or children, you can use these tips to start healthier sleeping habits now, despite the bad habits that were formed in the past.
My warning to all parents is to avoid only reading Part II because you are desperate for the “what to do” to get your child to sleep. There is a lot of valuable information in Part I of this book, and you may make a mistake if you don’t follow the recommendations in Part II exactly as written. To be safe, learn the “why” behind the “what to do” before you do it. And to do this, you need to read Part I.
Good luck and I wish you all a well-rested parenthood!