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.