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Weeping over sleeping.

Night falls, and across the United States the curtain rises on a classic domestic dispute. Scene one: Mother (or father) feeds baby, sings gently to baby, puts baby in the crib, and tiptoes out of the room. Scene two: Baby moans, cries, and shrieks for what seems like hours until a parent returns to the crib. Scene three: Frazzled parents race to the nearest bookstore and buy yet another manual of child-care advice.

Surveys indicate that for many parents living outside the United States, from rural Italian villagers to Japanese city dwellers, such bedtime strife never develops. Instead, infants sleep with their mothers for the first few years of life--at least in the same room and usually in the same bed.

Most U.S. parents avoid this tactic because they believe that infants who sleep alone develop a sense of independence and self-reliance that will serve them well later on, asserts a research team led by psychologist Gilda A. Morelli of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "Security objects," such as a stuffed animal, and bedtime rituals ease the path to sleep for many infants, but parents often feel obliged to avoid offering any direct comfort during the night, Morelli and her colleagues observe in the July DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY.

Maya villagers living in Guatemala provide a stark contrast, the researchers maintain. The Maya mothers allow infants and toddlers to sleep with them for several years out of a reported commitment to forge a close bond with their offspring, the researchers note. Security objects and bedtime rituals do not appear in these households. When a new baby arrives, children sleep with another family member or move to a separate bed in the same room, usually with few problems.

Morelli and her associates base these conclusions on at-home interviews conducted with 14 Maya mothers and 18 middle-class U.S. mothers. Each participant had a child between 2 months and 28 months old; most had older children as well.

Sleeping arrangements in both communities reflect a kind of "cultural imperative" perceived by parents, the scientists contend. Morelli's team does not argue that either U.S. or Maya parents should change their practices.

"U.S. parents clearly see that their kids are stressed when they sleep alone," contends psychologist Edward Z. Tronick of Children's Hospital in Boston. "But the parents seem to accept this as a way to promote a child's independence and self-regulation of anxiety in other contexts."
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Title Annotation:babies share family beds in many cultures
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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