Book Report: Bedtiming

I’m so glad I read Bedtiming, by Dr. Marc D. Lewis and Dr. Isabela Granic. I’m not super into parenting books, although I make the following exceptions:

  1. Books that are by someone whose non-parenting books are very good (e.g. Alfie Kohn; I read Punished by Rewards years before I read Unconditional Parenting, and highly recommend both).
  2. Books that are actually about education (like Maria Montessori’s books, of which I have read many).
  3. Books that are really developmental psych books.
If I were going to title this picture, I would call it “irony.”

This book is the last kind. Both of the authors, who are married to each other, are psychologists. They have twin boys. When their boys were babies, the authors were surprised to discover that all of the sleep training books they read completely ignored the baby’s cognitive and emotional development. From their education and their direct lab experience, they knew that there were windows of time during which a baby is likely to be more fussy and needy and times when a baby is likely to be pretty mellow. They used this knowledge to identify ideal times for sleep training, and other changes, like weaning and potty training. Conversely, there are other windows during which parents should just back the heck off. These are based on age and are fairly consistent for most children up to around two years old, at which point individual differences overcome the timeframes of brain development.

It turns out that both of my children are in windows of … discord. Petra, just shy of eighteen months, is in a window of amazing development, both in terms of her language skills and her relationships with other people–and this requires lots of reassurance and love. Separation reactions tend to be at their strongest at this age, and she’s always been pretty shy, even at the best of times. Silas, at three-and-a-half, is in the last window they describe. Children of this age begin to understand that there is a lot they don’t know. They also discover that it is possible for someone to be thinking things about them and they don’t know what those thoughts are. Again, lots of reassurance necessary. One nice thing about these “windows” is that their ends are as predictable as their beginnings. I can mark on a calendar when thing should settle down for them–for Petra, probably July. September for Silas. Perhaps they will pleasantly surprise me by getting through earlier, but being able to imagine the light at the end of the tunnel is helpful.

This explains why nightweaning (and magically also sleep training) Silas went pretty well at 15 months–a relatively stable age–but has been a serious challenge with Petra at nearly 18 months. It also affirms what I thought for a long time–Silas was at an especially challenging phase during the two months we spent in Michigan. And here I thought he was just showing off for our kind, long-suffering hosts.

So, although I’m continuing to wean Petra, I’m being pretty gentle about it (and also sleep training). I’m choosing to avoid leaving her with unfamiliar people. I’m giving her opportunities to be apart from me (like at the church nursery), but not forcing it (she ended up coming to help teach the teen class with me this week). This is, do not get me wrong, incredibly inconvenient and annoying, especially since Silas is in a rather “high-needs” (this is a euphemism for “whiny”) phase right now, too. I am choosing this because forcing her out of her comfort zone is not going to make the stage end any faster and might prolong it. I am also choosing this because of my relationship with her. I know that I’m supposed to be a parent and “not a friend,” as so many people put it, but I do often think about how I would feel if someone treated my friend the way I treat my child. I love my friends. I work to meet them where they are and walk alongside them to wherever they are going. I think that doing the same for my children is healthy and right, and not indulgent. When I take my children–their needs, their fears, and their feelings–seriously, I know they understand that. If nothing else, I can give them my respect. A book like Bedtiming is a great guide to their needs right now. It’s helping me figure out the best help I can offer. As is so often the case with children, the best advice is — wait.

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