I have been thinking about this and meaning to share my thoughts so here goes.
The advice of pretty much all of the adoption books I had read was to answer our children's cries immediately, pretty much at all times, until they learn to trust us to meet their needs. I understand the reasoning behind this advice; many (probably most) PI children have never gone through that cycle of learning to trust, where they cry because they have a need that is not being met and an adult answers their cry quickly, takes care of the need and soothes them back to happiness.
Just to properly set the stage here, I am a new mom and most of you already know that. However, I do have a lot of experience with nieces and nephews and babysitting with children of friends, or even just hearing about their experiences.
As I have mentioned before, our two sons are sleeping very well and I am so very thankful for that. I'm sure some people will not agree with this approach but, I did not listen to the advice of answering the cries immediately, when it came to sleeping.
Here is why: I have seen so many cases where parents (mostly parents with their first child) could not stand to hear their baby cry so, every time their baby cried, they immediately responded. They did this at night also. OR, the parents decided that it was so sweet and nice to rock their baby to sleep at night (and it is, we all love doing that) that they did it every night. OR they put the baby to sleep with a pacifier or a bottle or something like that.
My belief is that this type of behavior by parents leads to children who don't sleep very well, because they don't know how to fall asleep without the help of their parents or without the pacifier or bottle. When the child wakes up during the night, they immediately cry because they are alone and they don't know how to go back to sleep on their own. I have seen this happen so many times and it is such a painful struggle for both parents and children to go through. Because eventually, the parents want the child to learn to go to sleep on their own, without being rocked. And eventually the parents want the child to go to sleep without the aid of the bottle or pacifier because the parents are tired of being awakened during the night and having to go back into the child's room and put the pacifier back in the child's mouth.
I was very anxious to see how our children would do with sleeping. I had heard so many various stories about PI children and sleeping habits so I was not sure what to expect. I have more experience than my husband, in this area, so he pretty much looked to me to decide how to handle the sleeping situation. I was very careful because I know that a very caring parent can so easily ruin a child's sleeping pattern simply by responding too quickly to a cry.
Our boys have now been home for over a month, so I am having a hard time remembering how things went when we first took custody of them. I know there have been times when they have cried, when we put them into their cribs. In fact, they normally both cry for at least 2 minutes after we leave the room, which is very normal for small children, as they don't like to be separated from their parents.
I don't think they have ever cried more than 30 minutes before falling asleep. If one of them does cry for 20 to 30 minutes, I normally go in and check him to see if he has a dirty diaper. If so, I quickly and quietly change him, I don't talk to him a lot and I immediately put him back in his crib and leave the room.
When we first took custody of the boys, I slept terribly because I was always listening for them. I am a very light sleeper anyway, most of the time, and I heard every peep they made and frequently jumped out of bed and started to move towards their room. Our room is downstairs and theirs is upstairs and I never made it that far before they would quit crying, fortunately. I think if I had gotten there too quickly, I probably would have been setting myself and my son up for a repeat situation the next night and every night afterwards.
There was one night, not long after we got home with the boys, where Nicholas started crying after he had only been asleep for maybe an hour or an hour and a half. I knew by his cry that he was scared. I could just tell and I knew he had woken up and probably did not recognize his surroundings and he was scared. I had heard his scared cry before so it was easy to recognize, plus it was not a cry that he normally used during the day. It was a different, louder, more like screaming kind of cry. I immediately rushed to his room and picked him up. I held him, standing next to his bed, in the semi-dark room, for just a few minutes, whispering in his ear softly. Then I handed him his little stuffed animal that he loves and put him back in his crib and I didn't hear another peep from him.
He woke up crying a couple of other times though, when it was clearly not time to get up, and I could tell by his cry that he was not scared. He just woke up and was trying to get back to sleep. In these cases, I did not go into him right away. I let him cry for a while, watching my watch and listening closely to the tone of his cry. He went back to sleep within 15 to 20 minutes. He did this 2 or 3 times and then he quit doing it.
Again, I know that there are a lot of people out there who will not agree with this approach. My advice is to be very careful about how you handle sleeping because it is so very easy to ruin a child's sleep habits and make him/her depend on you too much, which is not good for child or parent because neither of you will be getting good sleep and sleep is so important for everyone.
On the other hand, I have been very careful about making sure I answer the cries of my children during the day. As a mom of two toddlers, there are times when I just can't physically do it. For example, there have been times when Benjamin wanted me to hold him when I was trying to fix them something to eat. He would get very frustrated with me because I would have to put him down to do certain things. He seems to have gotten past that for the most part.
I do give the a lot of attention though and am frequently sitting in a rocking chair nearby when they are playing, so they frequently come to me and want to sit in my lap and rock for a few minutes and then it's back to playing again. I also respond immediately to any injuries and I hold them and talk softly to them and they respond well to this and look for me when they hurt themselves. I am careful though not to make a big deal over a bump that obviously did not hurt them much.
Speaking of injuries, our little Benjamin has a black eye. Last night he was standing next to this round end table, which is between two chairs in our living room. He is just tall enough that he can just see over this table; I think it comes to probably just below his nose when he is standing next to it. I did not see it happen but he either bent over or fell and hit his cheek bone just next to his eye on the edge of the table. It actually cut him on this cheek and immediately started swelling. Poor little guy. I felt so badly about it and I felt even worse that I was in the middle of changing Nick's dirty diaper and could not go to him immediately. His daddy went to him immediately but babies need their mommies when they are hurt like that:). Nothing against daddies; they are very important in a child's life. But mommies tend to softly speak sweet, caring, understanding words in babies ear, while holding him close and it helps them to feel better. I quickly finished the diaper changing and went to wash my hands and my husband even said that he could tell that Ben was watching me as I went to wash my hands because he wanted me. I took him and held him close as soon as I could and I think he got over it faster than I did. He was ready to go play, while I was still feeling terrible about it. He woke up with a black eye this morning. Bummer, huh?