Just seen this piece by the psychologist and parenting expert, Tanya Byron on how sleep deprivation is affecting the behaviour of today’s children and teens. Actually, she says it’s “ruining their lives” – but I suspect that may have been a bit of poetic licence on the part of the journo, rather than a direct quote as I can’t find it anywhere in the article.
As any regular reader of this blog will know, sleep is a subject very dear to my heart – although one very unfamiliar in recent years. Her argument – that parents are doing children no favours by letting them stay up late, allowing screens (mobiles, laptops etc) in bedrooms and giving them snacks, leading to behavioural problems – is sound. I can totally understand why ensuring children have a calm bedroom routine and aren’t allowed to stay up until they want to makes sense. And yet, I suspect it’s not as easy as she says. None of this parenting lark is.
I imagine that if I read about my children’s sleep habits in a newspaper, I would be appropriately shocked and disapproving. Your two year-old has milk from a bottle? In the night? And a dummy? And gets to share your bed? Shall I book his place in borstal now, or would you like to wait a little? Are you some kind of weird martyr to motherhood?
I’m actually pretty far from it, but it has only been until now that I’ve felt confident that I could approach my youngest son’s sleep issues in a “traditional” manner. 10 days ago, I started a “gentle” version of controlled crying with him at bedtime, as I knew he wasn’t in any pain from his reflux at that stage. He now goes to sleep on his own every night, and only wakes during the night about one night in three.
Do I wish he had done this earlier? Of course – the last two years have been a blur, with plenty of undesirable consequences of his poor sleep (PND, etc). But I genuinely don’t feel I could have intervened sooner as I wouldn’t have felt comfortable about the cause of his crying. Now he can tell me if he’s in pain – or if he just wants a cuddle.
The point I am trying to make is that sometimes circumstances get in the way. Yes, I have an “excuse” for the way I have approached my child’s sleep issue (his reflux). But I’m sure plenty of parents of older children have legitimate reasons for the “crimes” Tanya Byron accuses them of. In the current economic climate, people don’t always have the luxury of working near their homes, and this often means parents arriving home late and, quite understandably, wanting to see their children before they go to bed.
Or what about other extra curricular activities – I’m sure most people would approve of young children going to Brownies, Scouts or doing some swimming or music lessons if that’s what they enjoy. But these are often timetabled in the early evening, and parents have to make the choice between their children doing something healthy and character-building – and having them tucked up at an “acceptable” hour.
Of course, we shouldn’t let kids completely rule the roost and choose their own bedtime if they can’t sleep in the next day. And it is good to aim for early nights and predictable routines. But this just feels like more scaremongering for publicity (yup, she’s got a TV show out) – and yet another stick wielded at (mainly) mothers for not getting things “right”.