December 13, 2006

Crying It Out

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:12 pm by emmasmom

Harvard Researchers Say Children Need

Touching and Attention

by Alvin Powell,
Contributing Writer, Harvard Gazette

America’s “let them cry” attitude toward children may lead to more fears and tears among adults, according to two Harvard Medical School researchers.Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they’ll feel safe, according to Michael Commons and Patrice Miller, researchers at the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.The pair examined child-rearing practices here and in other cultures and say the widespread American practice of putting babies in separate beds – even separate rooms – and not responding to their cries may lead to more incidents of post-traumatic stress and panic disorders among American adults.The early stress due to separation causes changes in infant brains that makes future adults more susceptible to stress in their lives, say Commons and Miller.

“Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently,” Commons said. “It changes the nervous system so they’re sensitive to future trauma.”

Their work is unique because it takes a cross-disciplinary approach, examining brain function, emotional learning in infants, and cultural differences, according to Charles R. Figley, director of the Traumatology Institute at Florida State University and editor of The Journal of Traumatology.

“It is very unusual but extremely important to find this kind of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research report,” Figley said. “It accounts for cross-cultural differences in children’s emotional response and their ability to cope with stress, including traumatic stress.”

Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently. It changes the nervous system so they’re sensitive to future trauma.

– Dr. Michael Commons,
Dept of Psychiatry, Harvard

Figley said their work illuminates a route of further study and could have implications for everything from parents’ efforts to intellectually stimulate infants to painful practices such as circumcision.Commons has been a lecturer and research associate at the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry since 1987 and is a member of the Department’s Program in Psychiatry and the Law.Miller has been a research associate at Harvard Medical School’s Program in Psychiatry and the Law since 1994 and an assistant professor of psychology at Salem State College since 1993. She received master’s and doctorate degrees in education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

The pair say that American child-rearing practices are influenced by fears that children will grow up dependent. But parents are on the wrong track. Physical contact and reassurance will make children more secure when they finally head out on their own and make them better able to form their own adult relationships.

“We’ve stressed independence so much that it’s having some very negative side effects,” Miller said.

The two gained the spotlight in February when they presented their ideas at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Philadelphia.

In a paper presented at the meeting, Commons and Miller contrasted American child-rearing practices with those of other cultures, particularly the Gusii tribe of Kenya. Gusii mothers sleep with their babies and respond rapidly when the baby cries.

“Gusii mothers watching videotapes of U.S. mothers were upset by how long it took these mothers to respond to infant crying,” Commons and Miller said in their paper on the subject.

The way we are brought up colors our entire society, Commons and Miller say. Americans in general don’t like to be touched and pride themselves on independence to the point of isolation, even when undergoing a difficult or stressful time.

Despite the conventional wisdom that babies should learn to be alone, Miller said she believes many parents “cheat,” keeping the baby in the room with them, at least initially. In addition, once the child can crawl around, she believes many find their way into their parents’ room on their own.

American parents shouldn’t worry about this behavior or be afraid to baby their babies, Commons and Miller said. Parents should feel free to sleep with their infant children, to keep their toddlers nearby, perhaps on a mattress in the same room, and to comfort a baby when it cries.

“There are ways to grow up and be independent without putting babies through this trauma,” Commons said. “My advice is to keep the kids secure so they can grow up and take some risks.”

Besides fears of dependence, other factors have helped form our childrearing practices, including fears that children would interfere with sex if they shared their parents’ room and doctors’ concerns that a baby would be injured by a parent rolling on it if it shared their bed, the pair said. The nation’s growing wealth has helped the trend toward separation by giving families the means to buy larger homes with separate rooms for children.

The result, Commons and Miller said, is a nation that doesn’t like caring for its own children, a violent nation marked by loose, nonphysical relationships.

“I think there’s a real resistance in this culture to caring for children,” Commons said. “Punishment and abandonment has never been a good way to get warm, caring, independent people.”

Jared and I have never been comfortable with letting Emma “cry-it-out” at bedtime or naptimes, and instead have always allowed her to fall asleep safe in our arms. I nursed her to sleep for each and every bedtime and nap until she was about 9 months old, and then rocked or cuddled her to sleep up until now. I don’t plan on doing things any differently in the future, with Em or with Little Bean.

A lot of our family members have opposing viewpoints to this, as well as to every other issue concerning childcare and upbringing. This weekend while at Jared’s childhood home his grandmother (whom I love dearly) brought up the fact that she thinks we’re W-E-I-R-D for never making Emma sit in a playpen and making her entertain herself. (She actually spelled it out like that, to my great amusement). G-ma argued with us that her kids were always made to play in one of those cage-things (my term, not hers) and that they all turned out fine. I rolled my eyes a great deal and bit my tongue and calmly told myself that trying to talk about attachment parenting to the crowd of Jared’s relatives would be like trying to swap personal accounts of great sex with priests and nuns. But, BOY, did I ever let loose when we were safely 450 miles away from the “tough love” family. Thankfully, despite his upbringing, Jared is in full agreement with me that children learn and grow best with loving, nurturing, empathetic parents. He’s the best daddy I’ve ever known and I’m so thankful that our children have him. Obviously, I’m thankful that I have him as well; he successfully backs me up when well-meaning family and friends attempt to tell us we’re doing things wrong by not using “tough love” methods in our childrearing.

We don’t let Emma cry it out. We hold her until she’s asleep, and occaisonally we bring her into our bed to sleep (although she sleeps longer and more soundly in her own comfy, soft crib surrounding by her music and homemade blankets). We don’t push her to eat what and when we want her to, but allow her to discover her own likes and dislikes. We’ve never made her entertain herself within a 2′ by 3′ box. We let her explore her home and her world to her hearts content, because we’re secure in the knowledge that we’ve set up safe boundaries for her. Sure, our house may be baby-proofed to the point of ugliness, and our living room is lacking all cute or decorative breakables, and…yeah…every room is littered with toys and books, but that’s all okay with us. Unfortunately for us it’s not okay with some of our family members. It’s difficult to always feel like we have to defend ourselves but worth it when I think of the great start we’re giving our daughter.

A family member once commented “I don’t understand why you let Emma run your lives. You should make her live on your schedule, not the other way around. After all, she’s a kid and you’re the parent”. Yes, I’m her parent. Exactly. Which, to me, means that it’s my responsibility and my priviledge to show her as much respect as love. I think that every parent can agree that children need love, but a vast majority of parents that I know (not any of my friends, thank goodness) think that children must earn respect and must bow down in obedience to every whim of their parent. It is my greatest desire to show Emma that we’ve respected her since conception; that we’ve respected her body, her spirit, and her independent mind.

As easy as that was to write in a personal journal, it’s almost impossible to say outloud to family. But I know that there will come a time when it will have to be said. If Bean is a boy, we’ll have to defend our decision never to circumsize our sons, which I know will be an all-out war with some family members (thankfully we’re the only ones who have a say in it!!). I’m not looking forward to any conflict with our dear family members, but it sort of feels like the time is coming to speak up for ourselves and our beliefs towards raising our children.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: