You most definitely can sleep train your child and still have a strong, trusting bond. Sleep training will not harm that bond.
Attachment theory states that, "Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space." (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969)
Attachment theorists and psychologist define four types of attachment between parent and young child.
The attachment researchers merely stated that a parent should be emotionally responsive to her child approximately 2/3 of the time. This leaves lots of room for us normal parents who make mistakes. It also leaves plenty of room for sleep training.
"The 'attachment parenting' philosophy promotes a lifestyle and a specific set of practices that are not proven to be related to a secure attachment. As a result, the movement has sown confusion (and guilt and stress) around the meaning of the word 'attachment.'" https://www.developmentalscience.com/blog/2017/3/31/what-is-a-secure-attachmentand-why-doesnt-attachment-parenting-get-you-there
Rest assured, you can most certainly sleep train your child and maintain a strong emotional connection with him. In fact, there are many ways to do so.
Some of my clients choose to stay in their children's room while the child falls asleep. At first, they start out sitting next to the child's crib or bed and touching the child gently as the child drifts off to sleep. After a few days, the parent moves the chair further away and uses just their voice to reassure the child. The chair moves further and further away until the parent is eventually out of sight. Once they are out of sight, the parent can still call to the child to reassure him, if necessary, but by that poiint, it rarely is.
This method can be reassuring to even the most anxious of parents, because the child can see the parent throughout the sleep training period.
Some parents, though, don't want to be so involved, or fear their presence may be too stimulating to their children. Some kids are more mad than comforted to have a parent so close by but not rocking them to sleep. In that case, some parents choose timed checks, where they check on a child at ever-increasing intervals until the child is asleep.
And another group of parents believe that it's easiest for their children -- though not necessarily for themselves -- when they simply don't go back into the child's bedroom during the night unless there's an emergency. I have seen through countless clients as well as my own parenting experiences that these children can easily maintain a strong, loving bond with their parents through a few nights of short-term protesting.
What matters for creating a strong bond is being a loving and consistent presence in your child's life most of the time. Rest assured, evolution has made sure that children can survive less than perfect parenting.
The phrase "good enough mother" was first coined in 1953 by Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Winnicott observed thousands of babies and their mothers, and he came to realize that babies and children actually benefit when their mothers "fail" them in appropriate ways.
"The process of becoming a good enough mother to our children happens over time. When our babies are tiny infants, we try to be available constantly and respond to them immediately. As they get older, though he believed that the way to be a good mother is to be a good enough mother. Children need their mother (or primary caretaker) to fail them in tolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world. This teaches them resilience. Building our children's resilience is the gift of the good enough mother."
Children are built to survive and thrive in this unpredictable world. They are best equipped to do so when they eat nutritious food (most of the time), get great sleep (most of the time) and get unconditional love from their caregivers (most of the time).
If you would like help getting your family great rest -- through any approach -- set up a free chat and see choose the option that works best for your family.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.