Monday, November 26, 2012

The Guru of Sleep: Who's He 'Ferberizing' now?

Dr. Richard Ferber: now doing what he wants
As a young physician, Dr. Richard Ferber came up with an idea so compelling, so popular, so marriage-saving, that his name became a verb. His landmark book,  Solve Your Children's Sleep Problems, published in 1985 (and a second edition in 2006) taught frazzled parents a technique for getting their infants and toddlers to sleep through the night. Parents called the method, eventually tried by tens of thousands if not millions, "Ferberizing" their baby.
  What seems so natural -- to lull the baby to sleep in a rocking chair then tiptoe him into his crib, or to let her always fall asleep with a pacifier at bedtime and again in the middle of the night – can thwart a child’s ability to learn how to fall asleep alone.   Imagine the shock of waking up in the middle of the night with no rocking chair or no pacifier. It would be like falling asleep in your bed and waking up on the kitchen floor. 
Ferberizing taught parents how to give up what were often their own bad habits, so their children could learn good ones.

Two babies that Dick Ferber hasn’t Ferberized are his own twin grandchildren, 9 months old, though he now has the time to do it. Fourteen  months ago, he retired from his longtime post at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and relocated to Washington, D.C. to live with his new wife of 6 months and be near his youngest son and grandkids.

It’s hard for me to believe that more than 40 years ago “Ferbs” (as he was then called) and I ran in the same social circle at college. To my delight, he still recognized me when we met at a recent gathering of the New Jersey Sleep Society, where he spoke about the formative moments of his career in pediatric sleep medicine, most of which had to do with being a good listener.
As for his new phase of life, Dick seems to have moved into it with the joy one might feel after waking from a good night’s sleep. For some people, particularly those in medicine, their whole life is their career, he explained,  “and there just isn’t a life outside. They give up running the department, they still keep coming in and they get a smaller office further and further away and one day they just disappear.
“I had always promised myself that I would not do that, and I would leave when I was still healthy and able to do other things.”
One day, as he contemplated some of the administrative aggravations at work, it just came to him:  it was time to step down. The decision felt right. Just thinking of staying on made his chest tighten.
Now he is only as busy as he wants to be with lectures, writing, and some committee work.  He keeps a balance with a skill I have yet to master. 
 “I can say no. That’s the thing I like,” Dick said with a broad smile.  “I was asked to write a chapter, which actually sounded good, but I hate writing chapters, so I said no, I’m not gonna do it.” 
He loves the unscripted time. "It’s terrific getting up and doing what you want to do that day, and being with the kids."
But he’s staying very clear of one thing -- telling his son and daughter-in-law how to manage their children’s sleep issues.
”I absolutely, absolutely, for many reasons don’t want to be their pediatrician.”

For tips on sleep issues in kids:

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