Can learn a 4-year-old calculus

Child sleep - give in or fight?

If you look at the many opinions and recommendations on how babies and small children should sleep, one could get dizzy: so many opinions on the “right” way to sleep! One topic always seems to be central: how much closeness do I want (or can) allow? Or: how much distance do I want (or should) demand?

Sleep is a strange thing. Unlike most other things in life, it cannot simply be done, manufactured or even forced. Because of: I cling to it, I perform and all that - that way we don't get any closer to sleep. On the contrary: sleep must arise. As soon as there is tension and stress in the room, we are awake.

For good reason. All living things, small and large, face a security dilemma as soon as they get tired. Anyone who soon falls into a kind of coma must take precautions - otherwise they may experience nasty surprises. And that's exactly why nobody can fall asleep if they don't feel secure - who can sleep when the thieves creak? Only when we feel protected does this magical substance develop, without which there is no sleep: relaxation.

Other articles on the little ones sleep

Children have the same conditions

And it is exactly the same with children. Yes, as particularly defenseless and helpless creatures, they are perhaps even more dependent on placing conditions on the sandman. Your way to sleep therefore also leads through the well-known stations: tiredness -> search for security -> relaxation -> SLEEP.

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And here is the first nasty thing to report: little people do not feel safe on their own. Anyway, a baby can't even keep a fly off his face. Can it alone ensure that it is covered when the fire goes out? And can a toddler chase away a wolf?

No, the little ones therefore first seek security from the adults they trust. You can assume that they will give everything if the worst comes to the worst. It is no wonder that parents around the world observe the same thing over and over again: as soon as the little ones get tired, a kind of invisible rubber tightens in them. They are in need of closeness - say the parents. Your bonding system is activated - say the paediatricians. Even we grownups somehow know this rubber: when it gets dark out there and we are slowly getting tired - some people think particularly hard about their loved ones in the world. And would give a lot so that he or she is not alone now ...


And that's where things get really interesting. All parents understand that small children are easily distressed and stressed when they are alone on their way to sleep. All parents know that small children cannot actually be alone during the day. And they are also ready to comfort their children during the day if they are scared or insecure.

And yet parents end up with totally different answers when dealing with the sleep of the little ones. They have been grouped into two camps for ages: One gives in to the children's need for closeness. The others oppose this and keep their distance.

So we are in the eye of the storm that rages in parenting, new with each generation. Even in this country - and especially in the USA - the answer is still very often: You have to do it on your own. You have to LEARN to sleep - the way it is right: alone. This norm applies at least to children - we adults also like to sleep near another person


Sleep as a field of education

Miriam Gebhardt has shown with her analysis of parents' diaries and advice literature from the last 3 to 4 generations which bandages have already been fought with Miriam Gebhardt: The fear of child tyrants: A history of upbringing in the 20th century, Deutsche Verlag Establishment 2009. Until the 1960s, for example, the belt was used as an effective means of forcing sleep. According to a parenting guide from 1965, it helps "to force a lively child to lie still in its bed." Johanna Haarer, The Mother and Her First Child, 1965 A key can also be helpful. “When we got out of the hospital,” a grandfather tells his daughter, “we put you in bed and I locked the door and hid the key. Otherwise your mother would not have been able to stand it and would have run to you, you screamed so hard. ”From the blog Desired Child: und.html In the GDR, the required distance to the child was even justified medically: "In bed with an adult, the child would inhale the vapors from the sweaty body, which is not always perfect when it comes to cleanliness."

Anyone who thinks these announcements - and the hardships associated with them - are history is wrong.

“It's sooo hard,” writes an American mother on Facebook (in the USA, screaming for the clock is a normal, natural practice, especially among the white middle class): “Wait 3 minutes, then 6, then go in after 12 minutes , then every 24 minutes ... he cried hysterically the second time as well. "At least the mother gets encouragement from her friends:" Remember, as long as nothing hurts him and he is not hungry or wet, he will not be harmed! " "I cried badly back then - but I knew it was for the best of my little ones!"

The next day the entry: “Today it took him 1 hour and 7 minutes to stop crying…” And the comments: “My thoughts are with you, I pray for strength and hope that it gets better with every hour! "And:" Stay strong! "

Objectivity as a distancing aid

And what always helps with the distance is objectivity. Annette Kast-Zahn, who has made controlled screaming popular in Germany with her guidebook “Every child can learn to sleep”, which has meanwhile sold over 1 million times, recommends that vomiting should be “dealt with objectively and calmly” - and continue with sleep training. Otherwise, vomiting would become a means of pressure.

Surprisingly, the motives for distancing oneself from the child sound quite similar across the last 150 years - only the reasons change depending on the prevailing thinking (sometimes they mention the child's “animalistic instinctual nature”, other times they lean on the behavioristic Model on.) And of course it is emphasized in all methods that they are “in the best sense” of the child - and therefore correct - (education has never been justified otherwise).

Fears as the basis

Let's take a look at the main motifs. There are two parental concerns in the foreground:

  • The child could get used to the closeness - there was a risk that the child could not get rid of it and that it would be impaired in its development of independence.
  • giving in to the child's demands for closeness is unfavorable because it teaches the child that it can get its way through to the parents.

Both motives - the fear of being pampered and the fear of the child's self-empowerment - have become an integral part of today's debate on education. The advocates of controlled screaming not only promise parents undisturbed nights, for example, promises that a baby of 6 months would sleep 11 or even 12 hours straight (without meals) after completing training. If you add the naps that are a matter of course at this age, you will also see what a wonderfully easy-care creature the parents will soon have in the pram: a good sleeper., But above all educational benefit: the baby learns to regulate its emotions and help itself Consoling grief yourself - this is an important step towards independence. In addition - and this is where the tyrant motif flashes through - the child learns to curb his stubbornness by letting him scream in a controlled manner. The baby learns an important lesson through consistent treatment: "My parents still don't do exactly what I want with me." An important rule is therefore never to give in, but to counter: "The angrier the child, the shorter" the intervals in which the parents go into the room should be measured. In fact, the parents are informed that sleep training is also a "power struggle". All quotations from: Kast-Zahn / Morgenroth: Every child can learn to sleep, 1st edition 2013, GU

Riddle childrens picture

And with that we are actually faced with a mystery. If we look at a baby through the lens of its biology and its evolutionary load, we see a child who is clearly dependent on closeness and accompaniment for its sleep. Viewed through the lens of culture, however, the image suddenly splits into two completely different images: some want to meet the child's demands, others want to distance themselves from them.

Where does that come from? It is argued again and again that the distanced treatment of the child results from the child's sleep itself. It is simply so exhausting that parents sometimes have to pull the rip cord and let the baby cry. Now there is no question that parents can be overwhelmed by sleepless nights. There is also no question that tears can sometimes not be avoided with the best will in the world. But this does not yet explain why withdrawal from closeness is treated as a systematic program. And even if babies may have to cry, that doesn't mean they should be alone. In addition, practice shows that the conflicts around children's sleep often only escalate when the parents think, for other reasons, that they are not "allowed" to respond to the babies' request for proximity. Nowadays the topic of sudden infant death also plays a role. In fact, in this debate, not only the question of the “safe” sleep location, but also that of the “correct” sleep location is being negotiated. I will deal with this in another article: Review article with references

Relational languages

A real human mess! When we meet our children, we seem to speak, think and feel in very different “relational languages”. As if certain images and templates lie deep within us, according to which we interpret the world, the people and our children. Who whisper to us which way of dealing with our children is right and which is wrong.

According to one picture, we are dealing with a child who is well prepared for its way into life, who is fundamentally trustworthy and who is prepared for cooperation and cooperation. The key words of this picture: Confidence! Connectedness! Proximity! According to this picture, the child's “obstinacy” does not appear as a threat, but as a developmental resource. Physical closeness is seen as an opportunity for an intensive relationship rather than a threat to the child's development.

The other picture depicts the child in rather darker colors; it depicts the children as demanding, selfish and accordingly in need of correction. The key words of this picture: distrust! Control! Distance! In particular, the child's “obstinacy” appears threatening in this picture; it should be limited and contained.

How much these basic attitudes are at the same time the guard rails of parental upbringing knows everyone who has already argued with others about upbringing issues. It's not about better arguments, it's about internal patterns.
Let's listen to these relationship languages ​​very specifically using the example of a baby who starts to cry when we put it in bed in the evening. Some parents will say: it cannot sleep alone! The others will put it differently: it doesn't WANT to sleep alone! Some will say: it screams to indicate its needs. The others: it wants to get its way! Some will say: It depends on you! The others: it manipulates you. Some will say: it should learn to trust! The others: please stick to our instructions - my job cannot be to give in to the child, but to raise it! Some will say: Let it scream for a while, then it will change its BEHAVIOR and stop the protest. The others will ask: But what does that make of his BEING?

How do we learn our relationship language?

Where do we get these different relationship languages ​​from? I believe that we have landed here in the most exciting field that the debate on education has to offer. A field without which we can neither understand our society nor the attitudes prevailing in it, nor the many * isms * to which people so often get stuck - from fundamentalism to populism to fascism.

I don't have a definitive answer to this either, but I would like to point out a few facets. On the one hand, our relational languages ​​also come from the "relational language" in which we ourselves grew up. Was it more about control and alignment with external goals? Or were relationships experienced more as a home, as a source of unconditional appreciation? But how we feel in the here and now also influences our perception of children. Anyone who has a strong back in life at the moment also has a tailwind in their relationship with the children. Conversely: those who are under pressure and stress will also distribute dry rations in their relationships, stress is a very effective relationship killer. And that's why nobody will be surprised that the climate in society also has an influence on which »children's pictures« are currently on offer. Where adults are under stress, fear or their self-esteem is damaged, the harsh, pessimistic tones tend to dominate when it comes to children.

So much can one of the oldest and most natural behaviors, sleep, tell us about ourselves!


This article is based on the book by the pediatrician and scientist Dr. Herbert Renz-Polster: “Sleep well, baby! The gentle way to quiet nights "(together with Nora Imlau). It shows how parents can support and accompany their young children (from 0 to 6 years) with the ongoing topic of sleep without fighting and cramping.