Milk in the middle of the night is a sleep, not a food, problem

PARENT Q & A

Family Matters

June 04, 2000|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,New York Times Special Features

Q. My 2 1/2 -year-old daughter will not go to bed without a bottle. After she finally does go to sleep, she wakes up anywhere from two to five times a night asking for more milk. How should I respond? Should I just let her have a fit?

A. This is not about bottles or milk. What you are describing to me is a major sleep problem. Your daughter has never learned to become independent in her sleep pattern. Demanding milk from the bottle is her way of involving you each time her sleep cycles rouse her through the night.

All children rouse every three to four hours at night, as they cycle from deep sleep to light sleep. To sleep through the night, a child needs to learn how to get herself back down into deep sleep. When you are part of her pattern for getting herself back down, she becomes dependent on you (and the bottle).

I urge you to face the problem you have established and begin teaching your daughter how to separate from you at night. She needs to learn how to get herself back to sleep without milk. (There is also danger to her future teeth from having milk in her mouth all night.)

My book "Touchpoints" (Addison-Wesley, 1992) outlines ways to help a child learn to comfort herself and get back to sleep -- without milk. For your daughter, the first step could be a bottle filled with water. You may also want to encourage her to use a lovey -- such as a blanket, stuffed animal or doll -- as part of her self-comforting routine.

However, letting her cry it out is not the answer. This never really helps a child learn how to manage for herself. Leaving a child to cry it out is just a traumatic way of separating. It says to the child: "It's your problem, not mine."

Learning to get back down from light sleep to deep sleep can be achieved over time.

Q. My 5 1/2 -year-old son still sees me unclothed, as he often walks unannounced into my bedroom and bathroom. I see many articles saying this is inappropriate. I would like to know why.

My husband and I are both in the medical profession and have always used correct terminology for body parts. Our son is not overly curious when he sees me naked. He does not point or ask "What's this?" He sees me nursing the baby openly at home.

We do not have television or magazines in our home, so he does not see the sexuality that is so prominent.

It is causing more curiosity and unpleasantness to lock my doors and tell him I'll be out when I'm dressed than to just let him come in. He keeps asking why, and I am beginning to wonder why also.

A. There comes a time from the child's standpoint for stressing the privacy of one's body and bodily functions. If you do decide to set this up, do it in the rubric of personal privacy. By 5, most children are curious and are comparing your body to theirs. This can create anxiety and questions that your son may not be able to express to you.

I admire your easy way of handling your relationship, but boundaries are important. You may have to set them up sensitively so that your son continues to feel close to you -- but not too close.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Dr. Brazelton regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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