When I first became pregnant and thankfully passed the worry mark well enough to know that this bundle-to-be was for real, I put my future mommy pants on (not just the maternity kind) and got to reading the endless barrage of parenting books. After surviving childbirth, I vividly remember that zombie-like fog of being sleep deprived, as day and night were one in the same.
Perhaps the most traumatic yet positively impactful stage was the moment I used the Ferber method on my first born. Admittedly, I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to survive through this alone. By 10 months old, I clearly needed the support and iron will of my husband to get me through it, and once I did I was forever grateful.
According to the Wikipedia, “the Ferber method, or Ferberization, is a technique invented by Dr. Richard Ferber to solve infant sleep problems. It involves ‘baby-training’ children to self-soothe by allowing the child to cry for a predetermined amount of time before receiving external comfort.”
This strategy seemed to make so much sense, even if in the moment felt so heart-breaking. I unforgettably recall crying behind my bedroom door, reading the Ferber paragraph over and over, while staring at the clock for the next 5 endless minutes to pass. Yes, I knew my child was ok and just learning, but it was so hard to hear my precious baby cry… until it actually worked, and I had that big ‘ah-ha’ moment.
After having four children and getting the hang of this routine a bit, I started to analyze the grandeur of this “Ferber” concept. Why do children need “training” to sleep? Well, as parents, we must “teach” our children to self-soothe through their own anxieties and fear that stem from a new experience in sleeping without mom/dad nearby. That’s just it!
Anxiety and fear just stem from a new experience, the unknown. It’s a push-back, fight/flight instinct. We help a child manage through a new experience with guided support—the immediate response is push back, then familiarity, and finally acceptance.
So why do we stop “guiding” children through unfamiliar experiences in life when it comes to proper nutrition and behavior? Many parents simply say, “well, my child just doesn’t like or eat veggies because that’s how he/she is.” This is where the genius principles of Dr. Ferber should come into play.
I agree that children are a bit harder to manage than infants, when it comes to loud tantrums and nasty-worded push-back—but in principle, it’s all the same! While you may be rolling your eyes, thinking “easier said than done,” I’ll put it this way—is it easier to never sleep properly again or put in the hard work for those 3 – 5 days using the Ferber method and start sleeping again?
Put in the hard work of teaching your child the proper path early on, even through all of the whining and disgruntling, and that new behavior will be likely be garnered as instinct—nutrition, manners, work ethic, and all.
Turning action into instinct
What if we began to apply the same Ferber principles in our parenting? Naturally, as children age, they are a bit more difficult to persuade. Most new experiences for children involve a semblance of:
Understandably, many parents typically stop this process during the resistance phase because it is too hard to hear/see your child uncomfortable or frustrated. Nobody wants to feel like the mean, unreasonable, or failing parent. We’ve all been there. But just like in the Ferber method, the consistency that you provide to your child will enable him/her to self-soothe, learn, accept, and move forward with peace and strength. More importantly, your child will begin to learn that new life experiences should not be feared, but understood, experienced, discovered, and likely approved.
Embrace the change
From the epic vegetable battle, nutrition petition, and meal meltdowns, everything needs to be tested with moderate push-back, and eventually learned. No matter what stage in parenting you may be, it’s never too late—ever.
Your experience may be harder the older, more stubborn, and mouthier your offspring may be, but everything is possible through consistent parameters and coaching. The benefits permanently outweigh the costs, just as it did when you were craving sleep desperately during the infancy stage.
Strategies to success
Here are some simple strategies for success:
- Offer an incentive that is desirable enough to tempt your child into trying a new experience (doesn’t have to be money or straight bribery, it can be an activity too).
- Let your child watch you model the new behavior, food, and/or experience.
- Communicate and empathize about the new experience (i.e., like the first day of school, riding a bike, first time with a new food) and color the moment with personal memories and testimonials that offer warmth, familiarity, and rationale to the experience.
- If you’re discouraging a behavior, then time-outs and taking something away will help to develop straightforward cause/effect expectation.
- Encourage, support, and offer plenty of praise through the new experience. Have a positive attitude after the experience, and remind him/her that the next time will be easier.
- Repeat this process and see how the push-back will dissolve.
Loving but firm
Turn action into instinct with a loving but firm approach. Just as you may hold firm on table manners and language usage at a certain point, so should a child’s nutrition not be compromised. You create the parameters and the model for your children to follow.
You set the rules. You create consistency. You manage the time and support to help through all of life’s stages. You, as parents, are the constant and the safety net—whether you’re sleep training or managing unrealistic kid expectations.
Chew on these thoughts for a bit and stay tuned for more specific parenting tips. Wishing you a happy and healthy household!