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  • Joanna Shtrosberg

How attitudes around baby sleep have changed during the Queen’s reign

As we celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this week, has it crossed your mind how she was brought up 96 years ago?  Have you ever wondered what her childhood was like?  Did sleep routines for babies exist at that time? And going forward to when she ascended the throne in 1952, how were babies and children brought up during that period when she was raising her own family?

It seems to me that every era and every generation has its fashions, ideologies and beliefs of what is right. This can influence every aspect of our lives. The next generation often has a tendency to rebel against the previous one. It’s their way of asserting their own ways of doing things. And which generation doesn’t want to make their world a better place than their parents’ generation?

Our Queen

But learning about how things were done in the past, can teach us about why we do things in the present.  When Queen Elizabeth was born in 1926, she was 3rd in line to the throne and was never expected to become Queen. Of course, she had a very privileged upbringing as a member of the Royal Family. It would have been a very different upbringing to the average British child. Her parents needed to be free for official engagements and travel abroad. This meant that she would have been left in the care of her nanny and nursery staff. Of course, we could never know exactly what the Queen’s very early upbringing was like. However, by the norms of the day, it is likely that her nanny would have ensured a strict and structured routine with a focus on good behaviour and manners.

In the 1920s and 1930s parents believed that children should be grounded in hard work, resilience and self reliance. There was also an emphasis on outdoor play. The aim of all of this was to develop children with “strong characters”.  It was thought important that children should not become “spoilt”. In fact, it might shock you to learn that too much cuddling and kissing was thought to lead to a spoiled child. So parents would resist showing affection as that would “weaken” their child’s character and not prepare them for the challenges of adulthood. In short, the way to bring up a child revolved around firm discipline which sometimes also resulted in physical punishments.

How did child rearing become more relaxed and child-centred?

By the time the Queen came to the throne 70 years ago, things had started to change significantly. In 1946 Dr Benjamin Spock published a hugely influential book, Baby and Child Care which would change the course of childrearing practices and our attitudes to childhood to this day.

“Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense.”

Dr Benjamin Spock, Baby and Child Care, 1946

Just one sentence in his book changed everything. He said, “Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense”. Essentially, he was telling parents to follow their instincts. He explained how it was a good thing to hug your child, to show them love and affection, to make them feel special and valued and treat them as an individual. He did not abandon discipline. But it had to be within the context of a loving family and strong bonds between parents and their child.

Royal babies

Thanks to Dr Spock, this message is something that we hold on to today. Discipline and routines still have a role today in how we bring up children. However, we have learnt to incorporate more flexibility, compassion and understanding in our decisions. Dr Spock‘s ideas shaped our thinking about how to raise our children. As a result, practices have evolved over time and are constantly revised and refined.  The aim for all parents is surely to incorporate the best of everything past and present.

Safety in the nursery

Unlike, in our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, in today’s world we have a heightened awareness of safety. A parent’s first priority is to create a safe environment for their child. The cot, the baby bouncer, the bedding, the buggy and everything else relating to a young baby or child have to be safe.  It’s not that previous generations weren’t concerned about dangers in the environment and safety. However there simply wasn’t the knowledge, awareness and legislation of today. For more information about sleep safety, read my blog here.

What has changed; what has stayed the same

Over the decades, the demands on parenthood have changed enormously. Family lives today are totally different to the lives that parents lead when Queen Elizabeth became Queen in the 1950s.  Today, there are more women in the workplace, and men are increasingly adopting a hands-on role at home and in childrearing. Then there is the ongoing juggling between the responsibilities of work and home. These changes have had repercussions on how parents want to bring up their children. If their days are structured, it follows that a child’s day and sleep routines must be structured too and fit in with the adult world.

The 1950s emphasised the importance of children playing and experiencing the outdoors. It was believed that fresh air was vital for the health of babies and children. My mother told me about how she was encouraged to put her baby out to sleep in the pram outside whatever the weather. I think most mothers would hesitate about doing this today. Yet the value of the outdoors is coming back. We have actually realised that children can’t get enough fresh air and outdoor play. Even if you push a buggy on a cold frosty day with your baby sound asleep, it is so beneficial to both you and your child.

The value of sleep

Our understanding of sleep has changed as there has been more research into the science behind sleep and the benefits on our wellbeing and health. Having said that, already in the 1920s and 30s a child’s physical and emotional health was being linked to sleep quality. It was believed that a child with poor sleeping habits would suffer from illnesses and there could be long term emotional and physical problems. Childhood was thought to be the best time to promote sensible sleep training. This would be the start of a lifelong preparation for healthy sleeping patterns in adult life.

There are elements of this thought process that we can take on board today. As a child grows up, they have to be taught the value of sleep. They have to understand that good sleeping habits are just as important during childhood, as they are in adolescence and adulthood. Sleep is just as important to your health, as the food that you eat and the amount you exercise. Sleep is an essential component to our wellbeing.

A celebration to remember

In years to come, we will remember the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Whether you have a street party, a family get together or just enjoy the long weekend and watch the festivities on the television, it will be a time you will be able to recount to your children when they’re older. It’s a milestone in history which you witnessed or were a part of.

Joanna Shtrosberg
Joanna is a certified level 6 holistic sleep consultant and founder of Sleep Superstars. Her vision is to help parents navigate the challenges of parenthood by helping them and their children get the sleep they need. Before setting up Sleep Superstars, Joanna graduated from Cambridge University and the College of Law after which she practised in the legal profession for several years. She is also a mother to two young boys so fully understands the difficulties in balancing a career with family life.