Toddler Behavior: Fabulous Fraiberg #6: Why Won't My Toddler Sleep?

zzzzzz.......Excuse me, I was just dozing off. I haven't been able to get much sleep over the past, say, 10 years or so (I keep having babies, what can I say) -- and the pursuit of sleep, because of unwilling babies and toddlers, has become an obsession for me. Unfortunately, there's no holy grail, but at least there's a good explanation for it. As usual, I turn to the Fabulous Fraiberg for a little support over my sleepless children. I always get goosebumps when I reach the end of this section:

We began with a baby in the first month of life....His world was a chaos of undifferentiated sensation from which he slipped gratefully into the nothingness of sleep...

At 18 months this baby is traveling extensively and has acquired a small but useful vocabulary (just enough to get a meal and bargain with the natives). He has encountered some of the fundamental problems of the human race -- the nature of reality, of subjective and objective experience, causality, the vicissitudes of love, and has made promising studies in each of these areas. We could easily forgive him if these first encounters with our world should create a desire to go back to sleep twenty hours a day. But this fellow upsets all notions about human inertia by forging ahead like a locomotive right into the densities of human activity. Sleep?...Let us try to take it away from him and put him back into the darkness. Sleep? But look, he can't keep his eyes open! He's drunk with fatigue. He howls with indignation at the extended hands, rouses himself with a mighty exertion from near collapse to protest these villains who take away his bright and beautiful world. From his crib, in the darkened room he denounces these monster parents, then pleads for commutation of sentence in eloquent noises. he fights valiantly, begins to fail -- then succumbs to his enemy, Sleep.

Sleep -- at last

From Selma Fraiberg, The Magic Years, pages 63-64

Don't blame the toddler for resisting sleep. But notice, Fraiberg doesn't suggest we take him out of the crib and let him keep up his explorations -- no, Fraiberg asks us to understand the toddler's dilemmas, to empathize with him, but to put him to bed nonetheless, when he needs it. A toddler can be "pushed" to go to sleep. A 6-month-old baby shouldn't (yet). It's this major disparity in the developmental needs of young children -- 3 months, vs. 6 months, vs. 9 months, vs. 12 and 18 and 24 months -- that confuses us, as parents. But the more we understand the unique needs of the specific age of our child, the better we will be at negotiating their needs.

And now, off to get a cup of coffee -- the baby needs me :)

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink