An accepting look at sleepless nights…

“But the first steps to dealing with the fact that your young child doesn’t sleep through the night, or doesn’t want to sleep without you is to realize that:

  • (1) Not sleeping through the night until they are 3 or 4 years of age is normal and healthy behavior for human infants.
  • (2) Your children are not being difficult or manipulative, they are being normal and healthy, and behaving in ways that are appropriate for our species.

Once you understand these simple truths, it becomes much easier to deal with parenting your child at night. Once you give up the idea that you must have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, and view these nighttime interactions with your child as precious and fleeting, you get used to them very quickly.” ~Katherine Dettwyler, PH.D

Sleeping through the Night

This understanding helped my sanity immensely when my daughter was an infant and wobbler. I have had this gut feeling that forcing children to sleep alone was counter-intuitive.  When I did it to our first-born son, I frequently felt torn. I thought how hard and confusing for him as his parents went to sleep together every night. I love cuddling with another soul at night, how could I deprived him of such a simple and wonderful comfort.  I also think having separate rooms is a luxury that many civilizations have not afforded. He must feel alienated and alone. Every night, around 1 AM, he would bump through the dark hallways to climb a ladder to our bed and I allowed him to stay there. Then I worried if he would ever learn to sleep on his own.

When he was 3 yrs old, I learned that 85% of brain connections were made by age 3 and 45% of the connections that were not made are gone. This is huge and pretty much explains how most our society may only be operating on a half of our brain’s potential. Up to that point, I had considered myself well-educated on child development and parenting, and I was when you consider mainstream. I am glad that I have the thirst for knowledge and embrace my weaknesses. I learn something new every day and challenge my “wrong truths”  (my son’s wording).  Along with a greater of understanding of neuroscience, I also have a theory that forcing a child to sleep through the night may cause the brain to develop out of order and/or skip crucial and formative connections.

Hence, I accept that my daughter (nor I) will not be sleeping through the night till age 3 or 4.

[Deep breaths]… I can do this and it will be worth it.

…. [A couple years passed]…

My daughter did eventually sleep through the night. I literally went 3.5 years without a full night sleep, co-sleeping, no allowance for “cry it out” and frequent night nursing. I’ll be honest, I would (emotionally) lose it about every 3 weeks due to exhaustion then I’d review my research, read new studies and reflect on our wonderful relationship and the other leaps and bounds she had made. So I continued. I had very little support. I felt I couldn’t even tell many my experiences and theory as they would think I was crazy. Fortunately, my marriage is stellar so my husband believed in me and loved me through the extremely tiring days. Her progression of sleeping through the night was extremely gradual and even getting a full sleep cycle was sporadic.  She still at infrequent times awakes in the middle of the night and stumbles to our bed for a bit of milk and wakes around 6 or 7 AM for some more milk. It didn’t happen overnight and looks more like the second “success” picture:

I wish I knew who to give credit for this picture.

I believe everything exists on a continuum and there are many ways to reach the same endpoint (equifinality). So there are babies who can and will sleep through the night sooner than later and vice versa. There are many nurturing, respectful, and creative ways to get vital needs met.  There are also many emotional, physical, environmental, and contextual variables that play into sleeping through the night too. My oldest son is a rock solid sleeper too. We actually welcomed him back full time into our family bed when he was 4 yrs old for many reasons. At age six, he was ready and motivated to have his own space where he has been ever since (well, about once a month he still asks for a family cuddle;-).

This is a reflection of my unique experience so take what fits with your lifestyle the best and leave the rest. Where ever you are on this erratic trajectory, keep in mind these moments are precious and will be over be for you know it.

To help you find a balance that works for you and your child, I highly recommend listening to this podcast: Attachment Parenting Versus The Science of Attachment, Clearing Up Misconceptions

Some online resources respond to nighttime wakings:

To deep breaths and baby steps, this soon will pass.


Positive Reframes and the energy you transmit

The energy we emit and direct at children (or any vulnerable soul) will be absorbed, internalized, and reflected back out. This process is dynamic, instant, and implicit especially when you consider the following:

  • The quality of attachment between the primary caregiver and the child during the critical and sensitive period of a baby’s development becomes the blueprint for all future relationships.  (Attachment Theory by John Bowlby
  • Much of early human development and learning is done through implicit learning, that is learning from experience without intention or awareness 
  • Children (under age 6) are process most information using delta and theta brain waves which allow input from all senses to enter the brain unconsciously like in a hypnotic trance (see

We are all born full of goodness and inherently want to be helpful yet don’t have all the skills to do so. All negativity (i.e. acting out behavior or conflict) comes from a state of stress and/or unmet needs.  More times than not, kids are feeling overwhelmed by big and conflicting emotions that they don’t know how to identify or handle. They might be tired, scared, hungry, or confused… If we think children have negative intentions, then we tend to react from a negative frame and end up adding more stress to an already stressed out soul who has fewer skills and resources to handle appropriately. However, when we perceive a child as having good intentions and can see how something valid is affecting their ability, then we can better meet their needs and help them connect to the skills they do have and learn more.

To build a secure attachment, four specific needs children have are to be Seen, Safe, Soothed, and Secure (see “Four S’s of Parenting” by Dr. Dan Siegel). Focusing on their positive intentions eases stress as well as allows for greater opportunity and integration of positive beliefs, feelings, traits, and actions to manifest. What we focus on is what we will get more of. Repeatedly hearing you are naughty or lazy will take its toll. 

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” ~Peggy O’Mara

I adapted a list like this which I got over a decade ago from a Dare To Be You. This list is meant to be a guide, not an absolute. It is a work in progress and an example of how we can learn to see “negative” behaviors in children more positively by viewing the quality of their behaviors from a different perspective and/or context such as being assertive, expressive of one’s needs, and protective are actually healthy, responsible and honorable traits.

Notice when you are reacting and thinking the worst of your child. Take a few deep breaths and time to gather more information and understanding. Get down on their level and try to see the positive side of the negative behavior…Believe good intentions…Avoid criticism and blame…and Appreciate something, anything…I have found that shining a light on others’ strengths and positive intentions cultivates more love, trust, positivity, and deeper connections for all. Having this positive reframe on children’s behaviors has inspired me greatly. I am better able to be present and supportive of children and connect at a level they respond well at. I have seen over again how positively motivated they become because when they feel good, they will do better.

“Thinking of your child as behaving badly disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of them as struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through their distress.”

❤ Debra

You can learn more about me and my services here at Officite


Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. The online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA