Q: Our newly adopted, 1-year-old daughter wakes often throughout the night, crying and wailing. If I rub her back or pick her up, she stops almost immediately. She will also go back to sleep after just a minute or two of crying, and she can put herself to sleep at bedtime with about five minutes of crying. We thought this was great until our social worker told us that, in order to bond well, we should respond to her every cry (even if they’re frequent) and rock her to sleep at night (which could take hours). What is the right thing to do to optimize her attachment at this time? And what is reasonable for parents to do?
A: Your long-term goal is to read her a story, kiss her goodnight, and have her sleep all night. To get there, however, she needs to know that whenever she needs you, you’ll be there. Normally, newborns learn this during nighttime feedings. Since your daughter didn’t learn it as a newborn, she has to learn it now. Remember, too, that she probably has never slept alone, and that her whole world has just been turned upside down.
I suggest that you put a mattress on the floor next to her bed, and let her sleep on it with you or your husband. When she starts to sleep for longer periods, move her into her bed, while you remain on the mattress. As she continues to improve, gradually move yourself out of the room. Most kids will sleep through the night consistently within a few months, often sooner.
It’s a labor-intensive approach, but it seems to work. I believe its a good way to tackle both her short-term need—to feel secure with you—and your long-term goal of helping her sleep through the night.