Why Young Children Protest Bedtime: A Story of Evolutionary Mismatch

Why do they protest going to bed, when sleep is clearly good for them and they need it? The answer begins to emerge as soon as we leave the Western world and look at children elsewhere.  Bedtime protest is unique to Western and Westernized cultures.  In all other cultures, infants and young children sleep in the same room and usually in the same bed with one or more adult caregivers, and bedtime protest is non-existent.[2].  What infants and young children protest, apparently, is not going to bed per se, but going to bed alone, in the dark, at night.  When people in non-Western cultures hear about the Western practice of putting young children to bed in separate rooms from themselves, often without even an older sibling to sleep with, they are shocked.  “The poor little kids!” they say. “How could their parents be so cruel?”  Those who are most shocked are people in hunter-gatherer societies, for they know very well why young children protest against being left alone in the dark. In a hunter-gatherer culture only a crazy person or an extremely negligent person would leave a small child alone at night, and at the slightest protest from the child, some adult would come to the rescue. When your child screams at being put to bed alone at night, your child is not trying to test your will! Your child is screaming, truly, for dear life. Your child is screaming because we are all genetically hunter-gatherers, and your child’s genes contain the information that to lie alone in the dark is suicide.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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