Co-Sleeping Clarified

Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that infants sleep in their parents’ room for at least six months to a year in order to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  I was very happy about this as the research done by advocates of co-sleeping show that it reduces the risk of SIDS.

The reason why co-sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS, when done safely, is because being near the parents helps infants to regulate their body temperatures, heart rates, and breathing.  And they don’t sleep quite as deeply and can even sync their sleep patterns with their parents, which may help them awaken easier to prevent them from dying.

In fact, for countries where co-sleeping is the norm, SIDS is virtually non-existent.  Most mothers in these countries have never even heard of SIDS.  That should say a lot about the benefits of co-sleeping!

Also, cry-it-out raises the infants’ heart rates and causes them to shut down eventually which can lead to a very deep, unhealthy sleep because it’s unnatural.

Yet, despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics is finally acknowledging the research showing the benefits of co-sleeping, when I shared this on my Facebook pages, many assumed that it meant bed sharing only and rejected it.  So I want to clarify what co-sleeping is in the hopes that parents will follow this advice and find the right sleep situation for their family. After all, it could just save infants’ lives!

Therefore, let me clarify that co-sleeping is having the children sleep nearby.  It can include bed sharing, but many parents use co-sleepers that attach to the side of the bed, a crib next to the bed, a playpen near the bed, a bassinet near the bed, or a cradle by the bed. You don’t have to bed share to co-sleep.  I am a big proponent of co-sleeping because, not only does it save lives, but it also makes nighttime parenting easier because the baby is right there.

Co-sleeping also aides in attachment. Being near their parents makes infants feel safe and secure.  They usually don’t have to work themselves up into a full-blown cry when they awaken in the night because Mommy and Daddy are right there to comfort them and meet their needs.

If you’re worried that they will never move out of your bedroom if you allow them to sleep with you, how many teenagers do you know who still sleep with their parents every night?  Yeah, none!  When you and the child are ready, you can transition him/her to his/her own room.

Please co-sleep with your babies in a manner that works for you.  It may save their lives!

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Why Interdependence Is Better Than Independence

As we celebrate Independence Day, I think about how our culture is consumed by independence.  We constantly push children from birth to grow up as fast as possible. We don’t value interdependence at all.

The first thing most parents push their infants to do is hurry up and sleep through the night. Now, I understand that it is exhausting to have to parent a child throughout the night, but sleep is a need, not a skill.  No one can force children to sleep.

As I have written about many times, some parents try to force their infants to sleep “independently” by letting them cry-it-out.  Since crying is an infant’s only way of communication, leaving an infant in a dark room to cry alone releases huge amounts of stress hormones to his/her brain.  Sure, infants eventually stop crying and “sleep” when left to cry-it-out, but it’s not the healthy sleep people believe it is. Rather, their brains are literally shutting down from stress.

Then the learned helplessness sets in. Infants learn to mistrust themselves and their caregivers when their cries are not consistently and respectfully responded to. Just because allowing them to cry “worked” and they appear fine, doesn’t mean damage didn’t occur. As an early childhood professional, I cannot recommend cry-it-out ever. Plus, just because they no longer cry out at night does not mean that they still don’t wake up hungry, scared, cold, hot, sick, in pain, or with a soiled diaper in the middle of the night.  They just don’t bother to cry for help because nobody will come.

Infants need a response when they cry. A little fussing with our support as they fall asleep is ok, but ignoring their outright cries is not. Keep your babies close and create a bedtime routine based on your and their needs.  The time you spend parenting at night will pay off and soon enough they’ll be sleeping on their own and you may miss the quiet time at night with your little one.

Another way that we push independence on infants and young children is that we manipulate infants’ bodies to crawl, sit up, and walk before they are ready. I strongly believe God created infants to develop naturally without our “helping” them along. We don’t need to push infants or young children to do things that they’re not ready to do. Don’t hold them back, but don’t push them either.

Also, when children are forced to obey out of fear of being punished, they further learn that their parents cannot be trusted. Plus, we force them to become independent before they’re really ready by expecting too much of them. Another thing is that they learn to hide stuff from their parents. They learn that they “themselves” are the only ones that they can truly depend on. This can negatively affect their adult relationships as well as their relationships with God.

We need to do our best to show our children they can depend on us and God.  I believe encouraging teamwork and interdependence within the family is the best way to grow independent children and adults.

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Permissive Parenting Hurts Gentle Parenting

My husband and I recently took a family trip to Florida. It was an absolutely wonderful trip.  I got to meet a couple of my gentle parenting Facebook friends and their children during the trip.

It was interesting though because there were a few conversations about parents not “controlling” (I hate the word “control” when it comes to children.  Children are not for controlling!) their children by a few people who don’t completely understand about gentle parenting.  It did seem though that what they described, children running around a restaurant with no boundaries, was permissive parenting.

Sadly, many people mistake gentle parenting for permissive parenting. These two styles of parenting are completely different!  Let me define them before I talk about why permissive parenting is hurting the gentle parenting movement.

There are actually three parenting styles.  These three parenting styles are authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. If parents physically punish their children, they are authoritarian, even if they do some of the things that authoritative parents do such as listening to their children at times or offer some choices to the children. This is because authoritarian parenting stresses obedience without question, first-time obedience, strictness, and the use of punishment, especially corporal punishment, with their children.

Authoritarian parents also have very high (usually beyond what the children are developmentally capable of) expectations for their children. While authoritarian parents, in general, love their children very much and simply want the best for them, these parents tend to focus more on keeping control of their children than on using effective discipline strategies that respect the actual needs of the individual child.

Authoritative parents are firm but gentle with their children. They take the time to learn about child development and know at which stage their children are developmentally in order to gain a better understanding of their children’s behaviors.

Authoritative parents set firm, realistic boundaries and limits for their children based on the developmental stage of their children. While these parents stick to their guns on some things, such as bedtime and not allowing their children to eat cookies before suppertime, they always listen to all of their children’s feelings and validate those feelings.

In situations where negotiation can occur, such as allowing five more minutes of playtime before having their children clean up, these parents do so. These parents also give their children simple choices when appropriate, but they are not afraid to let their children know when something is not a choice and cooperation is absolutely required. When children don’t cooperate, authoritative parents will gently but firmly help their children cooperate. And these parents use natural and logical consequences with their children instead of punishment.

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Permissive parenting, on the other hand, is the direct opposite of authoritarian parenting. Permissive parenting is just as harmful and abusive to children as authoritarian parenting, even though these two parenting styles are on the two polar ends when it comes to parenting styles.

Permissive parents do not set limits or boundaries for their children. And when these parents do set limits and boundaries for their children, they often don’t consistently enforce them. Some permissive parents allow their children to “walk all over them,” to have whatever they want, and rarely do these parents give their children appropriate consequences when necessary.

Other permissive parents outright neglect all of their children’s needs. They do not even give their children appropriate and necessary care. All of permissive parenting, as I said above, is abusive because either type does not provide children with what they need to thrive. It also exasperates and frustrates children not to have any discipline just like spanking them does. Permissive and authoritarian parents break God’s charge for parents not to frustrate or exasperate their children in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21.

So when I hear about parents letting their preschool children run around in a restaurant, I cringe.  Everyone there was probably thinking, “Parents today let their kids run wild.  I wish they’d spank those brats.”  Spanking/hitting those preschoolers would not teach them how to behave in a restaurant.  Rather, spanking/hitting them would teach fear which is not a good thing.

Plus, referring to children in a derogatory manner is never good. But permissive parenting brings out the authoritarians with force.

So, how would a gentle (authoritative) parent handle this situation?  First, they would have been practicing in a fun, playful way how to eat at a restaurant.  They would have been modeling manners from the time the children were infants.

Second, they would know that young children can’t sit quietly for long periods of time and would have brought crayons and paper for the children to color.  They also would have engaged the children in the family conversation.

Third, they would have ordered the food as soon as possible so the children didn’t have to wait as long.

And finally, if the children would have gotten antsy and started running around, the gentle parent would have stopped them and perhaps they would have left early.

Yes, gentle parents allow their children to be children, which for authoritarian parents, this may look like permissiveness because the children aren’t being “controlled,” but it isn’t.  It’s respecting the children for who they are.

I had the pleasure of going out to eat with a gentle family while in Florida and the children were excellent!  They were allowed to play quietly at the table.  They were included in the conversation.  Not once did they act up.

Respected children are better behaved because they are seen and treated like the little people that they are.  Their needs are met.  They are taught right from wrong without it being scary.  They are aware of limits and consequences.

Permissive parenting does not treat children as little people.  Children are not taught right from wrong.  And they crave limits and consequences.

Worse yet, people mistake permissive parenting with gentle parenting!

If these people could hang out with children who are gentle parented, they would never confuse it with permissiveness.  They also would be against spanking/hitting and other forms of punishment because gentle parented children are amazing!

Yes, all children have their not so nice moments, but hey, so do I.  What I see in children who are respected is that they have empathy and can eventually put themselves in other’s shoes as that is how their parents teach them.  They also don’t need to act up to get attention because attention is automatically given to them.  And they don’t regularly get put in situations where it’s too much for them to handle.

Permissive parenting creates self-entitled and struggle in life just as spanked/hit children do.  They don’t learn self-control either which can lead them down a bad road.

Gentle, authoritative, attachment parenting is truly the best way to raise children.  Yes, there will be times when gentle parents lean toward authoritarianism or permissiveness depending on the situation, and that is okay.  But people should be able to look at a family and tell if they are gentle.

I’m asking all parents to please look at your parenting and make sure you are in the authoritative, gentle, respectful parenting style.  Stop making people confuse the three parenting styles.  Make authoritarian parents want to come to the middle and become authoritative.

Respectful adults come from children who were respected throughout childhood!

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Guest Post: To The Mom Needing To Hear This Right Now By Christina Driggers

There is a mom today reading this and needing to know: You don’t have to hit your child to make them obey and listen to you. In your heart you *****know***** it’s not right…your instinct is telling you it’s not right, but the teachings your church or your family or whomever is pushing you to act on tells you to cause your child pain so that they will know that God loves them or so that through hitting your child, your child will obey you and God. I could go on and on all the reasons because in my past, I was that mom.

I was that mom who began as an attachment parent (though in the mid 90’s I had no clue that’s what it was called).  I just knew I didn’t want to spank my kids like I was spanked and hurt. I didn’t want that for them. However, I had no clue what to do otherwise and there was no internet, there was no support. Spanking in the south is the thing to do. You are a bad parent in the south if you don’t spank. So, I succumbed to hitting my child and calling it “discipline.”  But it did not work.

My child still had unwanted behavior. The book, To Train Up A Child, was suggested to me and I tried the things in there…breaking the will. All I remember about the day I tried to do that was:

1) I didn’t want to spank my child so much and so hard that it would hurt him and leave bruises.

2) How can parents actually spank their child so hard and so long that causes their will to break?

3) My child was still looking at me with confusion and hurt on his face. And this momma could not take it any longer.

I could not do what ‪the book, To Train Up A Child, told me to do. I could not hurt my child like that. My heart was telling me it was wrong. I had all the ‪doorpost charts and books…but it was the same thing. None of it worked.

I would have been spanking my kids 20 times a day according to their advice. Their teachings, and many like them that are touted as “Biblical and Christian,” and they required escalation of hitting and punishment.

I have found a better, loving, gentle, respectful, and truly Biblical way. My 4-year-old is not spanked and we have not spanked. Sure he’s a normal 4-year-old with lack of impulse control and all that, but overall, I have none of the behaviors with him that I had with my oldest.

When I began to view his unwanted behavior as a need not being met, and it was up to me to meet the need, it changed my view of him completely.

I am so thankful for all this awesome information and so grateful for how it has changed me and the tone in the home. It’s funny because I used to be that mom who mocked peaceful parenting and touted all the arguments that pro-spanking parents use. I quoted all those Bible verses in support of spanking kids. There is not one single Bible verse or one single argument a punitive Christian parent can tell me that I have not believed and used in the past.

And I’m going to tell you this: You have been lied to. We have been lied to. We have been misled. It’s wrong. Those beliefs are wrong and I’m putting my foot down and calling them out because I have seen too much damage in families by these so called Christian teachings.

Beating your child and leaving bruises and welts is NOT God’s love. Hitting your child and calling it discipline is NOT God’s love. Demanding instant obedience from your child is NOT God’s love. Demanding that your child speak only when spoken to is NOT God’s love. Telling your child they have an attitude when they are trying to be heard is NOT God’s love. Controlling your child is NOT God’s love.

What is God’s love? It’s supposed to be I Corinthians 13, but I see so few Christian parents actually practicing it towards their child. We all have choice. I’ve been on both sides and for real…Peaceful parenting wins hands down!!!!!!!!!!!!! It produces the Fruit of the Spirit without hitting, without anger, without frustration!

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Cry-It-Out: What Is It? Why Is It Harmful?

Cry-it-out means to leave an infant to cry alone without any type of response from us in order to sleep train.

Allowing infants to protest while we quickly do something that takes us away from them does not constitute cry-it-out especially if we communicate with them about what we must do. Our aim is not always to stop or prevent crying. Our aim is to validate them, support them, and be responsive to their needs.

Since crying is an infants only way of communication, leaving them in a dark room to cry releases huge amounts of stress hormones to their brains. Sure, they eventually stop and sleep when left to cry-it-out, but it’s not the healthy sleep people believe it is.

Rather, their brains are literally shutting down from stress due to crying so hard. Then the learned helplessness sets in. Infants learn to mistrust themselves and their caregivers when their cries are not consistently and respectfully responded to. Just because allowing them to cry “worked” and they appear fine, doesn’t mean damage didn’t occur.

As an early childhood professional, I cannot recommend cry-it-out ever. Infants need a response when they cry. A little fussing with our support as they fall asleep is ok, but outright ignoring their cries is not. Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. William Sears, and many others have done research showing that cry-it-out is extremely harmful.

Infants should have consistent bedtime routines such as a warm bath, nursing or bottle feeding, singing, and a book read to them. Children thrive on routines because routines are flexible in order to meet the children’s needs. Schedules are not designed to meet children’s needs. They are more for adult’s convenience. Eating and sleeping should revolve, mostly, around the infants needs. Catching infants before they become over tired can help them fall asleep easier. Also, some families may find safe co-sleeping helpful in nighttime parenting.

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All About “Gentle Firmness!”

As an early childhood professional and Christian, it is important for me to dispel the widely held myth that God wants us to spank our children. Leaving infants to cry-it-out is another big trend within some Christian circles. Neither of these practices are Biblical, and are actually quite damaging to the young brain. This is why I wrote the book, Gentle Firmness. Christian parents need to be informed that the mainstream Christian parenting advice is not only not Biblical, but it deeply scars their children.

With my deep love of young children, I have always struggled with the rod verses in the book of Proverbs that seem to advocate spanking children, because seeing how children react to being spanked, and knowing what I know about how young children learn, it just never made sense that God would want children to be spanked. For example, I saw the heartbreaking event of a wonderful Christian mother who truly wanted to do the best for her children, slap her toddler’s hand for the first time because he kept touching something she didn’t want him to. It took a couple slaps before he confusingly looked at his stinging hand then at his mom to try to figure out why she hit him. I’ve also seen children “lovingly” spanked and still freeze up when they disobeyed. Interestingly, when positive discipline was used with these children, they cooperated.

Let me briefly explain that the Biblical rod was a huge heavy walking stick with spikes on one end of it. Shepherds never hit their sheep with it nor did they break the sheep’s leg. The rod was used to protect the sheep from predators. The Hebrew word for the rod is Shebet. This is symbolic for authority and discipline. It was never intended to be used to hit young children.

Another thing is that if God truly wanted children to be spanked, there would be zero neurological, psychological, or spiritual harm done to the children. But research shows otherwise. Even so called “lovingly” spanking is very harmful. And if some Christians are wary of research, many researchers actually are Christians. I cover this research in depth in my book. Romans 1 says we can learn much about God by looking at His creation.

I can also attest that leaving infants to cry-it-out always harms as crying is the only way infants can communicate. Sure, they eventually stop and “sleep” when left to cry-it-out, but it’s not the healthy sleep people believe it is. Rather, their brains are literally shutting down from stress. Then the learned helplessness sets in. Infants learn to mistrust themselves and their caregivers when their cries are not consistently and respectfully responded to. Just because allowing them to cry “worked” and they appear fine, doesn’t mean damage didn’t occur. As an early childhood professional, I cannot recommend cry-it-out ever. Infants need a response when they cry. A little fussing with our support as they fall asleep is ok, but ignoring their outright cries is not.

Understanding child development is crucial to disciplining children appropriately. When we see that God actually created children to go through each developmental stage, we can figure out kinder, merciful ways of guiding them through each stage. The Bible says that children are blessings from God in Psalm 127:3. Yet, more often than not, they are treated as little sinners in need of the devil beaten out of them. Jesus says we are to be like children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 18. Jesus raised the status of children. I also discuss attachment theory in my book as God created infants to cry in order to communicate with us. Crying is never manipulative for infants 12 months and under. God always hears and comforts us when we cry out to Him. We must do the same for our children.

The reason I named my book “Gentle Firmness” is that discipline must be gentle but firm in order to be effective. If discipline is only gentle, then it’s too permissive. If discipline is only firm, then it turns into punishment. Children need gentle but firm discipline. The principles of Attachment Parenting encourage gentle but firm discipline for all children. All children deserve sensitive, respectful care.

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Why Talking to Infants is So Important

I taught the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Approach at a community college a few years ago, and they have a child development lab where early childhood college students learn how to work with young children. After one of my RIE sessions where I discussed talking to infants and toddlers before doing things with them, some of the students got to see RIE in action at the child development lab.

The infant room had just gotten a new infant. She was just 6 weeks old. *6 weeks.* I always emphasize the 6 weeks part of this story every time I tell it. You’ll see why in a moment. Anyway, the teachers in the infant room told the college students that every time someone tried to pick up this child, she’d get very startled and scream. The teachers didn’t know how to help her. The college students decided to give RIE a try.

They went to the baby, got on her level, made eye contact, and said, “Hey —–, I’m going to pick you up. Are you ready?” They held out their hands to the baby as they said this to her and waited a few moments before slowly picking her up.

Guess what?!  The baby didn’t cry!  It worked!

A 6-week-old cannot yet understand words. But they do pick up on speech innotations and body language. This is why talking to infants and toddlers is so important!

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Taking the First Step in Your Gentle Parenting Journey

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I love this quote so much. For many Christian and secular parents, turning away from punitive parenting and corporal punishment to gentle and firm parenting is a huge first step in faith. It means rejecting what most of the culture is teaching and doing. It also means getting ridiculed and told that your children will turn out as “brats.”

It means for us Christians rejecting a very prevalent church doctrine that is touted as “Biblical truth.” While the Church is ever so slowly coming to the realization that God never intended for children to be spanked/hit, many are actually afraid to come out of the closet due fear of being told that they and their children are going to Hell.

And though the gentle parenting movement is growing and there are a ton of resources on the Internet for how to truly discipline our children, it is often still a lonely journey as sometimes finding other local gentle parents is very difficult.

Often parents moving from punishment to discipline don’t know what TO do instead. They’ve only experienced painful corporal punishment. Taking a first step despite not being able to see where the staircase leads is a a huge leap of faith. It’s scary to go against the grain. Children are viewed as property and burdens in this society. We who are standing against this must have faith that we are making a difference even though we don’t always feel like we are.

Yes, we must have a lot of faith in this gentle parenting movement. I often get weary trying to teach and advocate for the respectful treatment of children. There are many days I want to give up. But then I’ll look into the eyes of an innocent child and think, “If I don’t speak up for them, who will?”

This verse also encourages me to keep going. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9). Yes, God and Martin Luther King, Jr. are right. Faith is taking that first step when we cannot see where we are going.

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