In our culture it is quite common for young children to resist when we put them to sleep. They make up various excuses – that they are not tired, that they are hungry, thirsty, that they want another story – all just to delay going to bed. They are afraid of the dark and the monster in bed. Children who do not yet speak can express their protest by crying.
Where did so much resistance to sleep come from? Many years ago, the famous psychologist John B. Watson found that the parents who cared for their children were to blame. Such an attitude is still prevalent, and parents are advised to be firm and not to give in to their children’s pleas. Experts say it is a matter of the will of the parents that parents must come out as winners.
However, something is clearly lacking in this explanation. Why do children choose to test parental patience on this one? They do not revolt against toys, sunbathing, hugs. Why are they against sleep that is so good for them?
The answer begins to loom as we leave the Western world and look at children in other cultures. Opposing sleep is only for cultures with western lifestyles. Elsewhere, children sleep in the same room and generally in the same bed with their parents, and do not rebel against it.
So it appears that what children are facing is going to sleep in darkness and loneliness.
When people from non-Western cultures hear about our custom to send our children to bed in a separate room, they are usually shocked. They say, “poor kids! How can parents be so cruel?”
Hunters collectors are most puzzled by this, as they know that young children do not tolerate being left alone in the dark.
Until 10,000 years ago, we were all hunter-gatherers. We’ve all lived in a world where leaving a child alone in the dark meant giving the predators a delicious snack. The monsters from under the bed really existed, sneaking through the jungle or the savannah, around human settlements. Straw huts did not provide protection, but the proximity of adults, preferably more adults. Throughout the history of our species, weeping babies and toddlers crying to adult attention have been more likely to survive and pass on their genes to future generations than children who have accepted their destiny peacefully. In the company of hunter-gatherers only a mad or extremely careless man would leave a small child alone at night, and at the slightest protest of the child, an adult would come to his rescue.
At the point when your child cries since you have just put him to sleep, it doesn’t test the quality of your will! She truly fears for her life. He cries since we are for the most part still tracker gatherer qualities, so his qualities reveal to him that being distant from everyone else in obscurity is equal to suicide.
This is an example of an evolutionary discrepancy between the conditions in which our ancestors lived, at the time our genome was formed, and the conditions in which we live today. The living conditions of our ancestors were such that only a child in the dark was in serious danger of being devoured, whereas today there is no such danger. Throughout the history of the human species, no normal parent or relative or other adult member of the community would allow a young child to sleep alone. If it were by accident that the child was left at night far from adults, his cry would immediately warn them.
Today, that childish fear seems irrational to us because there is no danger anymore, so people assume that the child is portraying nothing. Or, if they read the advice of “experts”, they conclude that the child is only testing their will and being pampered. And then they ask the child to think, rather than believe their intuition that tells them that the weeping child wants to be with them.
What is left for us to do on the occasion of this evolutionary step? We can act as experts advise us to do, and we can do the will of our genes or find a convenient way for a child to sleep near us.
In the past, when people here and there were more people in the same room, there were no such dilemmas, so it turns out that in a way, when you are poor, life is simpler than when you can afford an apartment or a house with more rooms.
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