Will Cry-It-Out Change Your Baby / Child’s Personality?

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Cry It Out Personality
I happened upon an article where a woman (and husband) was against cry-it-out and specifically, The Ferber Method, but ended up doing it anyway, because it was what worked. In that article, Confessions of a Ferberizer, she said that, in the end, her son stopped wanting to be rocked or cuddle. She did not seem to regret doing cry-it-out, I don’t think, but reading the article reminded me that many of us wonder whether doing cry-it-out will change our child’s personality, so I thought I’d reflect on that today.

Will Cry-It-Out Change Your Child’s Personality?

In some ways, it might, and some ways it won’t and of course, all babies are different. And, if your child’s personality changes, it could be for the better. I do stand by the fact that I do not choose one method of sleep training over another. I truly believe that everyone must find what works for their family. For help finding the right solution for your family, check out my sleep training series. What works for your family will take into account your baby’s temperament, your temperament, your philosophy and both of your personalities.

Let’s look at a baby who is sensitive to being overtired and is chronically sleep-deprived because he is waking up every 1-2 hours all night long and only napping in 20 minute stretches. He might be very whiny and clingy all day long because HE IS TIRED! Let’s assume that mom is adamantly against crying methods, but has not yet found a no-cry method that has worked for her and her baby. Now, let’s assume she reluctantly uses The Ferber Method and her son begins to get enough sleep and is well-rested. It’s possible likely that her once fussy and clingy little boy is now happy!! This would be a “personality change” for the better. It is very common for a baby who is sleep deprived and fussy, to start being a very happy baby after he starts getting more rest, regardless of the sleep training method you choose.

So, what about the other way around? You have a baby that actually takes his sleep deprivation in stride and is, overall, a fairly happy baby. He just doesn’t sleep much. I don’t have to remind you that sleep problems can lead to obesity, depression, behavior problems, or that there are a variety of other reasons to get your child enough sleep. What might cry-it-out do to this baby?

Depending on his temperament, it can go one of two ways. The first way is that he is so easy-going that he cries for 5 minutes and sleeps all night like some books want you to believe will happen to your child. I do know that there ARE really babies like this! It isn’t a myth. My eldest son just wasn’t that way, that’s for sure! I don’t think anyone would say that 5 minutes of crying would do harm to any child. After all, you can be in the bathroom for 5 minutes.

The second type of baby does not have such an easy-going temperament and might cry, let’s say an hour at bedtime. Will this baby stop being as happy during the day? True, sometimes there are a few days that babies are clingier during the day after cry-it-out. This is due simply to the change in routine and adjustment to the new way to fall asleep and for the really sleep-deprived, they begin to catch up on their much needed sleep and therefore, are more tired during the day. It generally goes away after just a few days, if it was there at all. So, will an hour of crying make this particular baby damaged for the rest of his life? I guess we all need to decide for ourselves whether this is true, but I personally don’t believe it.

Now, back to the article. When I sleep-trained my eldest son, we did end up using a crying method, in the end, and I never regretted it. I actually did not notice any change in personality whatsoever. Not in a good or bad way. He was always pretty happy, when he wasn’t tired and he wasn’t clingier during the day, either. The only thing I saw was that he became more rested so I guess you can say he was happier for more of the day, since he wasn’t so tired. He never once seemed to “remember” the previous night’s bedtime. In fact, once he became a toddler and could talk and occasionally would have a tantrum right before bed (usually because he was overtired as he is still sensitive to that), crying himself to sleep once again, the next morning he was always bright and chipper and never even seemed to remember what happened. And, for his entire first 2 years of life, until we transitioned him into a room with no rocker, we rocked EVERY night. We cuddled EVERY night (and still do!). I nursed him EVERY night until we weaned at 13 months. Nothing changed but the fact he could fall asleep without me and continue to sleep all night. I, of course, am not saying that the woman in the article was making it up. I’m only telling my story to show that all babies are different and it’s possible her baby’s personality didn’t really change. Maybe he never really did like to rock to sleep but didn’t know how else to go to sleep. I don’t know.

As I’ve said many times before, when we were pregnant with our little ones, we didn’t decide one day “You know what. I’m going to let him cry so he can sleep, even if it takes an hour.” before he was even born. No parent wants to do that! But, unfortunately, for some of us, it truly is what works for our child’s temperament and personality. My second son started going to sleep on his own at bedtime without cry-it-out. All babies are indeed different, even within the same family.

Children are very resilient and our relationships with them are very complex. There have been no studies that show cry-it-out has long-lasting effects on our children. There is not ONE thing you can do (or not do) for your child and make THAT be what makes your relationship positive or negative (apart from the purely heinous crimes like child molestation, of course!). There is not ONE thing that will violate his trust in you. If that was the case, the ONE time you didn’t catch him when he was learning to walk and bumped his head would cause him not to trust you anymore. The ONE time you were late changing his diaper and he was cold and crying and you didn’t know would cause harm to him.

It is all the love, affection, and care you give him all day, day-in and day-out, that builds the relationship between mother/father and child. THAT is what is important. Just as your child might cry and scream he can’t put a fork in an outlet or eat a cookie before dinner, he does not really know what is best for himself and he trusts you to do what’s best for him. You are not making him cry, you are letting him cry and it’s an important distinction as he grows into a toddler and young child. Just remember, sleep deprivation is no better for him as it is for you!

One other thing to keep in mind is not to project your feelings onto your child. Your guilt might make you feel that she feels abandoned, when in fact the true reason she could be crying is that she is tired and simply would rather be asleep and is upset that you aren’t replacing that pacifier 10 times per night anymore or rocking him to sleep or whatever other sleep association you typically provide for her.

Just something to think about if the only thing standing in your way to a better night’s rest is your worry that your child’s personality will change. You may be interested in reading more about how I define cry-it-out and what it is and isn’t. It means something different to everyone and I am, in no way, recommending that you allow your baby to cry for hours on-end for anything and everything.

Read more about the lack of evidence that cry-it-out causes permanent damage, from a co-sleeper, in fact.

So, what do you think?

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44 Responses to Will Cry-It-Out Change Your Baby / Child’s Personality?

  1. tom says:

    I would loved to have read this about fifteen years ago. But we didn’t have blogging then… etc. Anyway. I have used the Ferber method for three different kids with three different personalities, and each of them retained their own personalities through it all.

    The first one was somewhat snuggly, and she stayed that way. The second one was always snuggly and stayed that way. My son, who came along just recently, was never much of a snuggler, and that hasn’t changed.

    I stand by the Ferber method – though I would never call it “cry-it-out” as some do, since that implies just turning a deaf ear to the child as opposed to conditioning him to soothe himself and not rely on others to do it. This is modified during those times when you sense that the child needs you for some other reason. As a parent it’s important to respond to that when it’s appropriate to do so.

    Great topic.

    toms last blog post..Dad’s Words of Wisdom

  2. Planethalder says:

    Is it too young to use the Ferber method on a one month old baby? My parents let me “cry it out” with intermittent calming when I was a newborn and so did my husband’s parents and we both turned out to be very contented babies and toddlers (and adults!). We leave our 1 month old to cry for a few minutes to self settle and notice that if we go in and pick her up after a few minutes of crying she wails louder and takes longer to settle. Can we leave her to cry longer then as our parents had (we tried this once and it worked a treat – after leaving her to cry for 15 mins we went in and patted her until she calmed and then left; she cried for another 10 mins and then fell asleep).

    Planethalders last blog post..Endless…

  3. Nicole says:

    @tom Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    @Planethalder Many parents find going in intermittently only upsets the baby more and opt not to go in as often or at all. I, personally, don’t recommend allowing a newborn to cry very long, but there are methods and books out there that suggest that 20 minutes or less of crying is OK for a baby, including newborns. As I stated above, there is no evidence crying does damage to babies (think of all the colicky babies that cry for long periods even in a mother’s arms). The reason I suggest waiting is more to allow you to get to know your baby better and also because some newborns simply will not have the ability to soothe themselves until they are closer to 4 or 5 months old. Every parent needs to decide for him/herself when the “right” time is. Hope this helps! Good luck!

    Nicoles last blog post..Sleep Quick Tip – Sleep Training, the (Parenting) Method

  4. Planethalder says:

    Thanks Nicole. I think we will try the Ferber method for a bit as though a month old our baby self settled again this evening after 15 minutes of crying (we had already changed her nappy, fed her, winded her).

  5. Nicole says:

    @Planethalder Sounds like you might have one of those “easy” babies I hear about! ;) That’s great! Just know that if she is swaddled (I think that’s what you mean by “winded”), her ability to self-soothe may be limited as she gets older. Around 4 months, their sleep system matures into adult-like sleep cycles (they enter sleep into non-REM like adults rather than REM as they do when they are infants — I should do another blog post about this shift). If that happens, you can always find your way back here. ;)

    Nicoles last blog post..Sleep Quick Tip – Sleep Training, the (Parenting) Method

  6. Greg says:

    There actually have been studies done at Harvard that show the traumatic effects of letting your baby cry themselves to sleep. It does permanent damage to the nervous system. Quit defending your passive parenting methods and do your research.

    Or maybe for you and other CIO advocates, ignorance is bliss? Hey, whatever helps YOU sleep at night.

  7. Nicole says:

    @Greg I am not a cry-it-out pusher if it’s not what you want to do, but other methods simply don’t always work for every child. Sleep deprivation causes many health problems in all of us. Instead of attacking in your comment, perhaps you can share your research showing cry-it-out causing so-called permanent damage. There are plenty of babies with colic who cry HOURS upon hours every single day and turn out to be healthy children. It’s ridiculous to say that crying will cause permanent damage, especially when there are some babies who literally cry for 5-10 minutes. Show me the research and I will gladly post about it.

    Unless you’ve had a challenging sleeper, you won’t know what people go through with sleep deprivation.

    The *one* Harvard study I found even touching on this subject is not proving anything. For good reading, read this article from a co-sleeper who has a great article about the lack of evidence that cry-it-out causes permanent damage: http://goodenoughmummy.typepad.com/good_enough_mum/2006/07/cio_sleep_train.html

  8. EMi says:

    Nicole – Although you are right that colicky babies cry sometimes for hours a day (interestingly that in some cultures where babies are held in arms a lot more than here in the West – colic is not as much as a problem) they are mostly being held and so they are not alone to “deal” with it. My problem with CIO is that it does not make any sense. It just happens that the babies needs are being ignored at night- if these same needs (that we really don’t know what they are) happened during the day we would not ignore them. I have a very wakeful baby (anywhere between 4-8 times per night) and she is sometimes fussy during the day because she is tired and sometimes she is fine. But we have unrealistic expectations about babies and sleep- we have a lot of sleep problems as adults in this country (US) that we often deal with medication and CIO seems to me to be more for the benefit of the adults and not for the good of the baby.

    Babies who are clingier after CIO – are expressing a need to reconnect not just dealing with an adjustment. Maybe some babies seem ok with CIO, but from an evolutionary perspective it seems like it would not make sense.. It is a “modern” way to deal with what we think of as a problem. If babies who were born to cave people we left alone in another chamber and not attended to they died or were eaten. Although those are not what babies are dealing with now, they still need to be close to caretakers day or night and deserve to be taken care of because in the end we really don’t know what the crying is about- we are just guessing.

    I had terrible night anxiety as a child and if my mother had not allowed to me sleep with her and nurse me as often as I needed to – attended to my needs- then I might not have become as well-adjusted an adult. Babies are intense and their needs are intense and I think most parents are not prepared for that and have some other expectation and needs (to sleep for those parents who have to wake up and go to work the next day). It is our “family values” society that has set it up to be difficult for babies to get their needs met and for parents to be able to meet them. If like in many European countries parents got 1 year off of paid parenting leave it might be easier to to do what is really best for the child.

    In the end if we ask the children- I think they would say “please take care of me, don’t leave my by myself, even if it means I am a little tired”.

  9. Nicole says:

    @Emi Thank you for your thoughtful response. I just want to clarify that I never advocate CIO to replace needs that your child may have. CIO is mostly about breaking habits that hinder your child’s ability to sleep. In the case of my son, robbing him of hours of sleep to try to “help” him sleep and avoid his cries, actually did more harm than good because he desperately needs his sleep, even today. If co-sleeping had worked for us, perhaps I would not have taken that route and that’s why this whole site is dedicated to helping parents find what works for their child and them. A judgment-free site to help you find what works for you, but encourages you to put your baby’s sleep as a top priority. You see, my thoughts are that just as sleep fragmentation is hard on you, it’s very hard on your child, too. And, you are right that some parents do have needs as well that need addressing.

    From an evolutionary perspective, you are right, it is not possible that we could have been cave dwellers and allowed our babies to cry. But, back then we also did not have to keep as much of a house, work 40+ hours a week and often have a 2-income household to even just be able to eat. We probably wore our babies in a sling-type carrier and picked berries, etc. Our culture was different and as our culture evolves, the method in which we deal with any type of problem has to evolve. As another example, we also probably did not have to worry as much about childhood obesity, either, but things simply change. And, we can’t ignore those changes. Back in cave days we also had more of a “it takes a village” approach where if you needed to nap, if you couldn’t do that very well with baby, someone else would help you out. We simply don’t have that as much anymore.

    And, lastly, you are right that crying does NOTHING to teach baby anything. It’s mostly about setting limits (no I won’t replace your pacifier 10 times per night) and breaking poor sleep associations (you have to rock every hour to go back to sleep). The act of crying is baby frustrated and protesting the change. It is up to the parent on how they deal with this protest and frustration. You can a) give in and do what is robbing them of sleep or b) you can help them find a new way to sleep with or without you in the room as they go through it. And, there are a variety of things you can try besides CIO (see my sleep training series which goes over all methods including No-Cry methods). I would never say co-sleeping is bad as in the case of your childhood. It’s what worked for you and your mother and that’s what the site is all about. Finding what works for YOU and your family.

    Thanks again for your comment!

    Nicoles last blog post..Cry It Out Defined and Age to Do It

  10. Laura Parker says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article, and the different views posted afterwards.

    Can I add my two-penneth??!
    I’m personally quite unconvinced by the research that purports to show that sleep-training (CIO-type methods) are harmful in the long-term. If this were true, then all parents would be harming their babies from the outset, because in my experience, small babies cry and cry in the very early days and parents have little real idea what they really want for a good few weeks. We are not really ‘meeting their needs’ during this period, although of course we are all doing our best to second-guess what these might be; we are doing the basics of keeping them clean, warm and fed, but not necessarily in the order of priority that the babies would choose were they able to express themselves in a way other than crying!

    Re (biological and cultural) anthropological critiques of CIO and sleep-training.. I have heard it said that x and y cultures do not leave their babies to cry; or that we in the west are being ‘unnatural’ by employing sleep-training methods: first, this is a generalisation and the idea that people in other cultures are somehow closer to nature and more ‘intuitive’ with babies I (and many modern anthropolgists) find an outdated idea. There is a tendency to essentialise so-called ‘tribal’ or ‘traditional’ peoples and imagine that they do things better in the areas where the west seems to fail. I think this says more about ourselves and our percieved weaknesses than other cultures. Let’s not forget that there are many childrearing practices in other cultures and in past societies that one might find very disagreeable – for example, very painful, ritualised female and male circumcision as a rite of passage to adulthood.

    On a personal note, I did wrestle with the idea of doing a modified version of cry-it-out. ultimately, it was the only thing that worked for us and while I sometimes do feel a little guilty for doing it, on the other hand I am more rested and so is my lovely daughter. We both enjoy each otehr far more. I am not pressured towork full-time, but everyone needs sleep and sanity is not compatible with being woken 8-10 times every night. My role in life is to teach my daughter and love her and give her the best, but that doesn’t mean that I always have to be a complete martyr to her apparent needs. Sometimes it is OK for us to guide them and steer them, even if it is not alwauys 100% pleasant at the time.

  11. Nicole says:

    @Laura Thank you for your perspective! I agree with you that we pick and choose what to compare against other cultures and there are things we would certainly not agree with in the same culture we might find things we do indeed agree with. Our culture is just that and it’s ever changing. And, I do believe our relationships are very complex with our children that pointing to any one thing isn’t going to prove very much. I do believe we all must find our own way to parent our children and what works for one isn’t going to work for another baby, even within the same family. My Dad certainly could not rely on the same techniques that worked for me to work for my brother. Thanks again for sharing!

    Nicoles last blog post..Baby Temperament and Sleep Series – Part 2

  12. Emi says:

    @Laura- Thanks for your perspective. I agree with you that tribal cultures certainly don’t get everything right by any means. However when it comes to babies and sleep it seems a little strange that at least it seems like so many babies are so wakeful (not all, but many) that it seems to me that it would be a natural and normal thing then- not necessarily a problem to be fixed. So by putting them in another room (which again is something that richer cultures have the luxury of having) we are not doing something that is “natural” or that meets their needs as best we can. In terms of meeting babies needs when they are so young and cry, (babies that are held a lot tend to cry less) normally we are holding then and trying to soothe them. What I object to is leaving babies alone in a room to cry themselves to sleep no matter how long it takes. I do actually think that for many (and again not all because no one thing will affect all children the same way) it is damaging to some extent – how that shows up as an adult, or toddler may vary. I would not say that we (industrialized western culture) in general have particularly healthy sleep habits and I can’t help think that this might have something to do with it. I also think that the foundation for healthy relationships and the ability to develop loving and intimate relationships is tied to our needs being met to some extent as children. Again, I don’t think we are poster children for healthy relationships (romantic or friendships). Just look at the situation through a baby”s eyes- how are they interpreting the situation? I am not discounting a need to sleep – trust me I agree, I just think we place the problem at the wrong feet. It’s not a baby’s problem, its how industrialized society is set up to not really help and allow parents the rest they need during the day. If I could nap when I felt tired, not just when my daughter decides to nap and be able to have help when I need it, being sleep deprived at night would not be such a big deal. But, when you are the primary caregiver and don’t have a lot of help during the day, then sleep deprivation takes its toll.

  13. Nicole says:

    @Emi Thank you for your additional perspective! You make some very good points! I do agree there could be a “right” way and a “wrong” way to allow your baby to cry to help them sleep. I disagree there is never a time to put their need for sleep above all else, though. At some point I do think we get in the way. For example, I’m sure in many cultures the use of a pacifier is unheard of and mothers sleep with baby, nursing all night if need be. But, when our culture uses pacifiers (and not all mothers nurse) and a parent must replace it 10 times per night, that is very disruptive to both parent and child. Of course, all of our situations are unique and we all must decide what course of action we are going to take and what works for someone else might not work for another.

    I do agree we adults have many sleep problems as well, but there is no way to know whether it’s due to co-sleeping, cry-it-out, both, or neither. My husband is a fantastic sleeper (falls asleep quickly and sleeps very well) and his mom never nursed and I’m quite sure both our parents allowed us to cry. I am not as fortunate as my husband to be a great sleeper (I take longer to fall asleep and wake sometimes with my mind running around haha) and my mom doesn’t remember having any sleep trouble with me. So, who knows? :)

    Thank you again for your comment and I appreciate the variety of perspectives!

    Nicoles last blog post..Baby Temperament and Sleep Series – Part 2

  14. christina says:

    Reading your website is slowing pushing me in the direction to make a change in our family’s current sleep situation but we keep prolonging implementing a sleep plan. My daughter is 6.5 months and a SCREAMER. Soothing, patting, etc… just does not work. From 6 weeks to 4.5 months, i would nurse her to sleep and she would wake once at 3:30a.m, nurse and go back to sleep. She totally regressed at 4.5 months and my husband and I are exhausted and at our wit’s end. She now wakes every 1-2 hours and will no longer settle with rocking, singing, etc. She HAS to be nursed back to sleep. We want to try the ferber method but dont know if we can handling the wailing ( i honestly think she could cry all night)She has NEVER been a good napper and at 6.5 months is still swaddled at night. She cannot fall asleep unswaddled and seems to think access to her hands means play time. We don’t know where to start and I’m terrified that I will see a negative change in personality. She’s such a sweet baby during the day and I would never forgive myself if that changed because she felt like I neglected/abandoned her. BUT WE ARE SO TIRED!!! Have you met/spoken to many people whose children have changed after trying the ferber method?

  15. Nicole says:

    @Christina I’m so sorry you’re having a rough time. Quite honestly, I have never had a parent tell me their child’s personality changed except that they weren’t as cranky if they were tired. I’m not making it up. Of course, of the thousands of babies born every day, I only skim the surface of knowing anything about them, but I honestly have never had a parent come back and tell me anything negative in that way. I have had parents (me included) that did not have cry-it-out be a cure-all, though, and still had problems later, but nothing relating to the child’s personality in that way.

    There is a wide range of variations to cry-it-out, so please do review all your options. I can say that many parents fear their babies will cry all night, however, I have yet to see that happen. Usually the parents are pleasantly surprised. Not trying to push you into it if you aren’t ready, I’m just letting you know.

    I do hope you find a way to find some relief, soon! You all need sleep! Just like getting up every 2 hours isn’t easy on you, it’s not easy on her either! Good luck!

  16. Helen Sands says:

    Dear Christina – It is exceedingly common for this age group to go through what you describe. This is by far, the most common age group I consult with. Between ages 3-6 months, baby is undergoing great physical and developmental change. This is usually the time when everything goes awry! You are not alone! I agree on so many levels, with almost all of the comments posted here and it has been very interesting reading everyone’s perspectives . Babies that are sleep deprived will often “appear” to be just fine in the daytime, however they really are usually very overtired and this can manifest into physical symptoms over time. Babies needs absolutely do have to be met and that is incredibly important but often, parents fall into “whatever works” to get baby off to sleep and unfortunately this usually ends up with the application of many different “aids” to get them off to sleep, eg, soothers, swings, Baby Bjorn’s, rockers, strollers, carseats, etc etc. If baby has one or all aids in place, baby doesn’t really learn how to go off to sleep himself. If baby is always placed into the crib asleep, he does not learn how to lull himself into dreamland, but is already there! Then he wakes a short time later, only to discover that he is not in Moms arms any longer and the nipple has gone from his mouth! Imagine how this feels to baby. So, teaching baby to sleep without crutches (or sleep associations) is the best route to take. All the best to all of you! Helen Sands

  17. Ingrid says:

    The ONLY reason CIO is used in this culture is because we have a culture that doesn’t support the raising of children in general. Moms don’t get paid leave to do this job. We don’t get support from family unless we’re one of the “lucky ones”… we are basically left to do 4 full time jobs back to back all by ourselves. Seriously – if you’re a stay-at-home mom dealing with a newborn by yourself, you are working 4.5 FULL TIME JOBS every week. This is completely unrealistic – for any person to deal with – and so we reach for a solution to give us more sleep/more rest/more time- and sadly that solution comes at the expense of the baby.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that babies cry for a REASON. I don’t care if you don’t like any of the studies that show the long term negative affects on people who were left to cry-it-out. Just listen to your gut and common sense! Or have YOU lost your sense of maternal instinct amongst all your justifications here? Babies want to be held and comforted when they’re crying. This is natural and appropriate. It’s CRUEL and INHUMANE to leave a baby to cry by themselves. It is not at all natural for a mom to ignore her baby’s cries – if you’ve ever tried it and felt pangs of pain, you can see how much it goes against human nature to do this.

    But this happens because we live in a weird world where we are already going against human nature – we don’t support moms and the raising of babies. There’s a reason for the saying “It takes a village…” IT DOES. We expect one person (with maybe some help from Dad) to do it all – 24/7 – and that’s what’s unnatural. And it leads them to do very unnatural things – like ignore their babies.

    Since we have such a messed up culture, we end up with messed up practices like letting our children cry without comfort and crazy blogs like this one where you come up with all sorts of reasons to justify going against common sense.

    Find a way to get help with raising your baby – don’t just stop caring for it. Sad sad sad.

    And btw- if a baby can’t put in their own pacifier – they need your help, not your “limits” – my God. “That’ll teach ‘em to spit out his pacifier one more time…” I feel really bad for your children. I think you need to get back in touch with your maternal instinct… you are waaaaay off track, ma’am.

  18. Ingrid says:

    Also – people tend to be confusing crying, with crying without being held or comforted through it. Crying is not the problem – it’s a natural response to stress/pain/etc…. not being comforted is what’s messed up…

  19. Nicole says:

    @Ingrid Thank you for your perspective. You are absolutely right that if we had a village to help care for our children, we would have a lot more help and maybe not resort to cry-it-out. But, the truth of the matter is we don’t. And, yes, it is unrealistic to expect every mom or dad to get up all night every night for months on end. People simply can not function. But, I still disagree that just because you decide that replacing a pacifier 10 times per night or nurse every hour is not only too disruptive for you, but more importantly, your baby who needs sleep, too, that allowing them to learn a new way to fall asleep will damage them forever. Some would argue that a pacifier itself is not “natural”, either.

    Our relationships with our babies are very complex. There is nothing wrong with my maternal instinct and I resent your judgmental attitude in your comment. My maternal instinct has told me time and again just how important my eldest son’s sleep is. My son NEEDS his sleep to function in the daytime. I learned that very early and our bond is very strong, indeed. He is thriving and loves me to pieces as I do him. You won’t ever convince me that my son has been damaged forever and ever because of something I did for a few nights way back when. I love him day in and day out and am very dedicated to his well-being in all aspects.

    Every family has their own unique situation and I definitely don’t think every situation warrants cry-it-out, but I also understand that there are some that do and it is not up to us to decide for any one family what the right solution is for them. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach that will fit every situation.

  20. Theresa says:

    Hi. I am not an advocate of CIO, and spent most of my baby’s infancy doing everything I could to soothe her crying. But I recently discovered ”Tears and Tantrums” by Aletha Solter, and have changed my views somewhat on the whole issue of crying. She discusses the importance of crying in babies and young children for emotional release, however, she advises strongly against ever leaving a baby to cry alone. You can hold your baby, or lie down with your baby as she cries and releases, knowing that she is safe.

    Her advice felt a lot better to me than the option of leaving my toddler to cry alone. And since following it, my baby is sleeping a lot better. Not perfect yet, but much much improved.

    Theresas last blog post..Let it never be said that I am totally thick-headed.

  21. Nicole says:

    @Theresa Thank you for sharing your discovery! I am going to have to try to check that out!

  22. Theresa says:

    I would love to read your perspective on her book. Please let me know if you do ever get a chance to read it :)

    Theresas last blog post..Live and Learn # 37654

  23. Kerry says:

    Thank you SO much for your blog. You are insightful and show much grace under fire. I am a mother of a 5 month old and swore I would never use CIO or “Ferberize” my child. Well, tonight will be my first official try. Why? Because using my motherly instincts, I truly believe this is what is best for my child. I am a stay at home mom, who is blessed with help, and spends plenty of time holding my happy son. FIRSTLY, why do naysayers ignore that this effort does not involve extended periods of not attending to a crying child? That it is not just about the parent? Sure after 6 months of not getting a full night’s sleep my thoughts are for…MY CHILD. Not only will he benefit physically from longer periods of sleep, but yes he will also benefit from me getting longer periods. Twice I just let him cry for a few minutes in the early a.m., he went back to sleep on his own and awoke even happier than usual, and more content in his crib. Everything I have experienced so far is that his personality is more POSITIVELY affected. He was also also more playful during the day. Am I nervous about tonight? A bit, because it will be tough on ME. It would be easier to keep letting his sleep be disrupted, but I want to raise a healthy sleeper. I ask those who espouse their tunnel vision, since I struggle with my son crying when he gets his shots, should I stop those? Of course not, because it is what is best for him. It greatly bothers me that myself, Nicole and others are talked about as though we are being selfish and not trying to do what is best for our children when we are not doing it their way. I am sorry for their children that they are being raised to be closed minded citizens. Nicole says it best when she talks about what may work for some… Nicole you are killing your critics with kindness and I admire you for that. Say a prayer for me and my son tonight, and again thank you!

  24. Nicole says:

    @Kerry Thank you so much for your comments! I believe naysayers would say that when your baby is crying when he gets shots, you are there with him while he cries and comfort him and that’s why it’s different. This goes back to the different definition of cry-it-out that everyone has. Is 5-10 minutes of crying truly what people think of as “cry it out”? Some babies literally cry just that long. Some people feel visiting ever so often like “ferberizing” is “good enough” to be “with” your child and comfort periodically. This just goes back to all our different philosophies and our unique baby, too. What works for one baby or one family won’t work for everyone. I hope it went well and good luck! I’m very happy you have found my site so helpful! :)

  25. CM says:

    It has been very interesting to read all the comments on here. I really want to offer this perspective. My son is now just over 2 years old and always had serious sleep issues. From a small baby, he would not sleep through the night. I did everything I could (including nursing him whenever needed) to try and help him sleep. He would not sleep more than 1.5 hours at a time. I have always been an advocate of ‘family sleeping’ and did this with my son. He slept in his co-sleeper next to me and would eventually end up in bed with me as I nursed him through the night.

    I am quite a private person but it is an all too common question for a mother with a baby, “Are they sleeping through the night?” My choice of parenting/sleep style was often met with strong (and sometimes hurtful) opposition. I can’t tell you how many people looked at me as if I were doing something terrible. They would tell me I was ‘creating a monster’ (no joke!) and that I was doing him a disservice for letting him co-sleep and nurse so often (I nursed until he was 20 months old). I was told on more than one occasion that I HAD to do the CIO method on my son. I am very sensitive to my children and I must admit that I was not in favor of that method. It made me feel very uncomfortable when other people would tell me how they were letting their babies cry it out all night long without even entering the room once. Needless to say, I was not comfortable with the CIO method and never did it. (My son and I are very close and some might say he is ‘clingy’ but I think it is healthy for a baby to want to be with their mother most of the time). He is very happy in the day time and was always a very calm and mellow baby. He didn’t like to be left with people if I was not there but as he has gotten older and understands that I ‘always return’ he is better.

    I will admit that I am very sleep deprived after 2 years of sleep issues with my son (and a new 3 month old baby girl). There have been many nights that I have rocked him in the rocker for 1-2 hours. My husband is also a great help and agrees that CIO does not fit our family.

    About a month ago, my son who has not been able to walk and has seen many specialists for a year now was diagnosed with a benign bone tumor in his hip (the same leg that was not functioning properly). This type of tumor “osteoid osteoma” is a very painful tumor that grows and caused most pain while SLEEPING! They believe he was born with this. We were told that it is like having a migraine in your bone at night. It is extremely painful. The doctors did double hip surgery on my son last month and now he is sleeping much better and waking only about 2-3 times a night (he is still in a spika cast so that makes him quite uncomfortable still).

    I am so grateful that I never listened to my critics. My baby was crying and waking many times a night (sometimes 15 times) but there was a reason. How would I feel now if I had made him do the CIO method for a week (it wouldn’t have worked anyway) and then found out that he had been in extreme pain and I wasn’t even there to comfort him. I do believe that socially we have moved away from our maternal, motherly duties and replaced them with some selfishness. When I asked my friend how she could let her baby just cry all night without even entering the room, her response was, “I just need my sleep so I do it.” I hear both sides of the argument but at the end of the day I believe that when our babies cry, we should be there for them. We always need to follow what our hearts tell us. If your child is screaming for an hour and you are in tears listening, then you should probably be in there comforting your child. I believe the mother in all of us will tell us what is right when we do not allow our own selfish needs interfere.

  26. Nicole says:

    @CM I am very happy you did not listen to your critics either! I am always so sad when people aren’t supported of their decisions on how to raise THEIR baby! Let me tell you, we did do some cry-it-out and my son is still “clingy” as you say and looooves his mommy! Very attached to me and some might call him a “momma’s boy” so there is no telling that even if you hadn’t co-slept, anything would be different. They are who they are. My 2nd is more independent and it’s just how he is. It’s just part of his personality.

    ((HUGS)) on everything you have gone through, but I want others reading to know there is a LOT in between co-sleeping and the sleep-deprivation you have gone through and don’t-go-in-all-night-cry-it-out. I don’t typically ever recommend a method of not going in at all all night! And, when I define cry-it-out on this site, I don’t mean that (everyone has their own definition). Not many parents want to do that or can do it. There are other things to try that might work for your children, so you don’t have to sacrifice who you are as a family, but you also don’t have to be sleep-deprived, either. There are many methods out there and I hope you can find one for you and your family. After all, just as you are sleep-deprived, so are they and I think we ALL feel better on a good night’s rest! I’m glad your son is doing so well with his surgery and I hope he continues to improve every day. Good luck!

  27. Xochitl says:

    Hello. Nicole, I admire your gentle, kind, gracious advise both on your blog and book. I have a 6.5 month VERY playful boy. For a month he was sleeping great. I would get up and reswaddle him once. People give me a hard time for still swaddling him, but he likes it. I started calling it “tucking him in” so I would be left alone about it. He’s on the bigger side, so I’ve had to come up with some crafty ideas. He then got sick twice and cut 4 teeth, which created a once happy boy a very fussy one. He is better now and handling teething much better. Your site helped with napping! Thank you. I thought I would like to stop getting up and rewrapping him as I believe he is very capable of learning. He has fallen asleep without being wrapped but prefers not to. The past 2 nights I’ve tried letting him cry. 1st night he cried 1 hour & 15 min, which was torture for me. Last night he cried 2 hours until 6:30, which is when he normally wakes. My husband stayed up listening to him and I slept with ear plugs. The decision was made with me sleep deprived. When I went in his room he was playing in his crib, which is what he does when really tired. SUPER playful, which doesn’t sound bad, but I know my son and know how miserable that feels. I am the same way. He has stayed awake entire days, when I tried carrying him all day. He does eventually fall asleep, but wakes himself up screaming.
    Today I feel guilty, I feel physically great! I had a full night sleep at the expensive of my soon & husband (both asleep right now). I wonder if I should can the whole thing and just get up to rewrap him. If it’s just once, I don’t mind. But it started becoming every 2 hours. Last night he woke up at 4, which I think he would have lasted until morning. I’m wondering since he’s napping better (I don’t wait until tired anymore, since he is so playful) he might naturally start sleeping better at night. Sincerely, guilty & well rested.

  28. Nicole says:

    @Xochitl Many people continue swaddling past 6 months so there is no “rule” that says you had to stop swaddling, but they do start to get big for the swaddle, too. By now you are past this, most likely. I know it takes me awhile to respond to all the comments. :( So many e-mail and helpdesk requests, which is great! But, comments do suffer. I hope you found a good solution as there are things to try before resorting to cry-it-out. Hope all is well! Good luck!

  29. Chin Li says:

    Hi Nicole,

    I am just drafting and email to you and got side tracked here… reading your article, you said you chose the cry it out method for your first son. How did you come about making this decision?

    I do recall you saying he had a spunky character. Our guy is definitely spirited and he WILL not stop crying if we allow him. Whether at bed time during the night, he is most unlikely to settle himself once the crying gets going. Hence, this guy being our first child, I do wonder how one comes about a decision to let their babies cry. Am just super curious… I wish it were easier for us!

  30. Nicole says:

    @Chin My first is/was spirited, too, and my second is more spunky. For me, my decision came from the fact that my son was miserable and cranky without enough sleep. He needed sleep so desperately, but fought it a lot (and still does to a degree, but not as much). Once I knew he knew HOW to fall asleep, it became a decision between giving him what he “wanted” (i.e. allowing him to fight sleep) or giving him what he needed (more sleep). For us, it became a choice between some tears and less sleep, and the latter simply was a really bad option. My second has never fought sleep as much as my first. When he’s tired, he’s eager to go to sleep and waves bye-bye to go up for a nap. He hasn’t been a perfect sleeper, but definitely much easier. I’ve never regretted my decision, especially seeing the little boy in front of me now, still very sensitive to not getting enough sleep, and knowing he has become a very well-adjusted, loving little boy. He needs firm limits in many areas and sleep is still one of them. We simply had to start early with the limits, that’s all. I wish it were easier for all of us, Chin! (((HUGS)))

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  32. LRM says:

    Thank you so much for a down to earth site I can come to for help! My 12 month old dd will sleep from 6 to 12 in the afternoon and takes multiple naps each day…it’s basically draining my dh and I. We need to switch her schedule around and I am going to try this method to see what happens…I will keep you posted!

  33. Nicole says:

    @LRM When a baby has a schedule problem, no amount of crying will really help. If she’s not sleepy at night, she’s not sleepy at night and no amount of crying will change that. The key is to change the schedule so she’s sleeping at the “right” times. Sometimes this requires waking baby but there are different strategies to do it. Obviously you can’t just keep her up because she’ll be cranky and tired, so a slower transition is best. Hope this helps and good luck!

  34. Warren says:

    I’m glad I stumbled upon this article. My wife is currently pregnant, 7 months, and she just recently read about The Ferber Method, and expressed her interest in trying it. Frankly, I’m not sure if I want to, despite the benefits it seems to bring.

    While weighing the pro’s and con’s of it, I never thought about whether it would change the personality of my soon-to-be son. I am going to send this to her to read over the comments. Thanks for the info!
    .-= Warren´s last blog ..Natural Remedies for Colic in Infants =-.

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  36. Lisa says:

    Man I never even knew that that letting your baby cry it out to go to sleep and /or during the night was actually a named “technique”. Talk about renaming the elephant. So it is obvious that I did not read any books nor spoke with my pediatrician. When my oldest daughter got to be 9 months old I decided to let her cry to sleep as I was sick of rocking her to sleep for an hour each night, then falling asleep my self while the time I had to do all house chores and pay the bills slipped away. I just knew that she could handle it. So I would tuck her in the crib and then lay on my bed which was 1 foot away. She cried for 45 minutes every single night till one night I decided to leave the room. She was out in 10 minutes tops. Now she is 3 and after her bedtime routine she goes to sleep singing to herself. Crying actually stopped around 2.5 yrs old but was never more than 15 minutes. If it was more then my husband or I would be in the room checking what was going on. It wasn’t perfect every night but it worked 5 out of 7 nights and as she grew of course now it does not apply. My 2nd child, well she is another story. She will not sleep by herself period. And guess that I knew it too. I just knew that crying it out will never work for her. But still I did try it a few times when she was 10 months old. It did not last long because I could tell from the cry that this is not going to soothe anyone..not her, not I and especially not the neighbors. It was a panicked terrified shrill, not her usual high pitched crying. Then she would have a massive poop out of fear. And all this with me laying 2 feet away from her. That was the end of that. This kid needs touch. So now what works best is tucking her in bed under a heavy blanket (she is nearly 2 now) and just resting my hand on her back, patting is too stimulating, so is any noise unlike my first one who loved lullabies. She likes gentle shaking motion side to side on her back, and voila in 15-20 min she is out. Thought I’d share if it helped anyone. Good luck!

  37. MS says:

    A baby left to cry alone causes distress for the baby, and the REAL reason sleep training works, is that the baby gives up – the baby emotionally gives up on ‘depending’ on mom and dad to come comfort. Read “Helping Baby Sleep – The Science and Practice of Gentle Bedtime Parenting” by Gethin and Macgregor. You’ll never look at sleep training the same way again.

  38. Vanessa says:

    I have six month old twins and was conflicted about letting them cry it out but we just couldn’t manage anymore and we were up every ten minutes at night, so we tried it for a week. I enjoyed my babies much more and they seemed happier immediately. They learned within a week that crying doesn’t work and they seem relieved not to have to do it anymore. They even had a sharp increase in their developmental capabilities that week. I like the feeling I have when I have had a good cry too.

    As for people who are judgmental about this, I just would like to urge caution. I don’t like having my parenting criticized and I am sure you don’t either. It seems even more threatening than disagreeable political conversations. The benefit is that high that comes from being self righteous but in the end we all lose because when we are self righteous, we lose the ability to communicate. People are less likely to listen to you when you start a conversation with “you are wrong” than if you start the conversation with “from my perspective…”

  39. Mary says:

    I have daughter, now 5, who slept with me until she was 3. I got alot of criticism about it but when she was little nothing soothed her. I tried everything from nursing to patting to letting her cry it out. Back then I would still agree to do what works best for you and your family but CIO did seem mean. Now I have my second daughter who will not go to bed at all. I tried the CIO and it works. All mothers know their childs cries from pain to hunger so when my Lilly cries I know shes ok and if she cries for more than a few minutes I peek in without her seeing me to make sure she is alright.

    BTW I am full time Navy Seabee and single mother. I have no family and few friends who can help so I am doing this alone if I dont sleep someone could get hurt when I go to work. My days are not defined so sometimes I have to work at night and Lilly needs to sleep for the babysitter. I wonder what the naysayers would advise me to do but then they are probably the same who think single parents shouldnt be in the military.

    I believe the children who had problems growing up could be from their lack of sleep or from the lack of boundaries by their parents. As far as what CM says your kids are going to get hurt regardless of what you do. You will always feel guilty but can you belittle the parents who let their kids on the swing because yours fell off? Sometimes we as parents think that because we have children they are all that should matter and we should only become important when they grow up. This thinking can cause problems. This shows teen parents that if they get pregnant they are no longer important and I feel become more likely to neglect their children to a large effect. As a teen parent myself I have seen many teen parents leave their children in horrible situations because they felt that if they tried to finish high school they were not doing the best for their children and so their kids would be better off without them.

    To end, I think this blog is for options for those who need it. For the judgmental, close minded individuals that leave negative comments, you should be letting others make their own choices for their children and stop terrifying the ones into doing things alot harder than they need to be done because they are afraid of being a bad parent. Teen parents and single new parents should be turned to this blog as I feel it does alot of good and offers alot of information.

  40. CM says:

    I apologize that my comment offended so many people. I wrote that forever ago and after re-reading it can see that I didn’t really say things that way I had wanted too. All I was trying to say was sometime CIO isn’t the right thing for every child. I was told by friends and family and doctors to just let my son cry it out to sleep. As his mom, I knew that wasn’t the right option for HIM. I’m so glad I didn’t because it turned out he was born with a tumor in his hip that grew at night and was extremely painful at while he tried to sleep.

    Since writing that, I have had to sleep train my daughter (2) and now have a new son 7 months old and I am just starting to sleep training. He is a terrible sleeper and I’m just exhausted. I am using a mixture of methods I read others trying on this blog. I let him cry 5 minutes and then come in a rub his back and sing to him for a few minutes. Then leave and tell him I will be right outside the door and let him cry for 10 minutes. I do this again until we hit 20 minutes at which point I rub his back while he cries until he falls asleep (it can take an hour or more). Does he cry? Oh yes he cries. But with this son I can tell that his cry is different than with my first son. I come in to let him know I am here but I still leave him in the crib and let him work it out. It is tough but hopefully it will work (we just started).

    I guess my post (written just after my son had his surgery to remove the tumor and was in a lower body cast for 2 months) was written from a very emotional place. I really didn’t mean to judge but was kind of venting out 2 years of frustration from my critics who thought I was a terrible mom for letting my son co-sleep. There is definitely hardcore judgement from both sides and I feel bad that I added to that mess. People had no problem telling me I was ‘damaging’ my son for letting him sleep with me. He is 4 now and without the tumor is a great sleeper!

    @ Mary, I’m sorry again for offending. I definitely think you need to do what is best for your family. I can’t imagine not having help at night and if I didn’t have my husband here to trade off with when I was at my wits end, I’m sure I would be using the Ferber method too. You need to do what is best for your family just as I did what was best for my family with my first son.

    Again, I’m sorry it came across so judgmental and closed minded. It was written from a highly emotional place which is never a good thing for me. :)

  41. Caring Mom says:

    I don’t have much time to write as I have a little one nearby. But without being judgemental (I know everyone tries to do the best for themselves and their children) I truly feel sorry for all the babies that have been left to cry it out. You wouldn’t leave an adult to bawl uncontrollably without offering comfort- why would you do that to the littlest person who doesn’t even understand WHY they are being left to cry by themselves?

    I agree with the previous poster who said that cry it out does not make sense evolutionarily and that it is a modern fix to what is not really a problem, just natural human behaviour. Babies cry for attention and affection that they need- it is a need just like food for them. I wouldn’t let my baby cry it out simply for my own convenience or because I can convince myself that he would be happier after all. I do have a frequent night waker and I know eventually he will grow out of it as babies grow out of EVERY “inconvenient” behaviour and phase. Why have a baby if you aren’t ready to deal with a baby’s needs and natural behaviour?

    And to all those who say that it didn’t change their baby’s personality or behaviour- how do you truly know that? When your little one grows up to have depression or anxiety or an eating disorder, drug addiction or trouble with relationships, you may think back and wonder… How do you know how your baby would have been if you HADN’T let him cry it out and instead given him the attention and affection he was crying for?

    Who knows- perhaps the world would be a different place if we didn’t make our children fit into our own paradigm of how a baby should sleep and behave and just let them be babies, naturally the way mother nature intended. Maybe there wouldn’t be so many adults out there with serious emotional problems and families struggling to stay together not to mention violent criminals and psychotics.

    Just give your baby the love and attention he NEEDS. Babies are only babies for a short time, nothing last forever.

    I suggest people look into the practices of attachment parenting. Mothering.com, Dr. Sears, and Dr. Jay Gordon are invaluable resources that will help you to find ways to help your baby without harsh methods like cry it out.
    Good luck.

  42. Caring Mom says:

    Just wanted to add- in the article it said that your baby won’t lose trust in you the “ONE” time you don’t catch him when he falls. This is true- but cry it out isn’t a one time thing is it? It must be done for nights on end. And frequently when babies go through a regression it must be done again and again every few months. This isn’t ONE instance of leaving your baby to cry- it is a repeated thing very different from not catching your baby ONCE when he falls. After letting your baby cry it out for many nights in a row and then repeating this later on a few times during his baby and toddlerhood when he has a difficult night- Will he continue to feel like he can depend on you for comfort and love when he needs you? Will he continue to think that his needs and emotions matter? I don’t know. It’s something to think about.

  43. Evidence-Based Mom says:

    Here are some resources that show actual scientific research that YES, cry it out is harmful for babies.
    Before letting your baby cry it out, read about it and make an INFORMED loving parent’s decision.

    What parents and caregivers need to know!
    by Phyllis Porter, M.A.

    The Dangers of Leaving Your Baby to Cry
    By Margaret Chuong-Kim, M.A.

    Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful to Babies
    Dr Sears

    The Emotional Infant Brain
    Part 1: The developing emotional subsystems of the brain process various information, including how to relate the state of the world with Expectations.

    Children Need Touching and Attention, Harvard Researchers Say
    By Alvin Powell

  44. Nicole says:

    @CaringMom and @Evidence-BasedMom (one in the same) Thank you for your take on the CIO debate. I know it’s a hot topic and there is a lot of contradicting information out there. I read through the “evidence” (though 3 of the links did not work) and I, personally, am still not convinced. Yes, I agree that systematic abuse or neglect will alter a baby forever, but I don’t know why CIO is lumped into that. There are many variations of CIO or what it means to people. I, personally, rarely recommend a family go to bed, close the door, and not go in until morning, for example. There are many different types of babies, different ages, different family dynamics, different histories, etc. To blanket statement that any ONE thing is not right for ALL cases is very rigid thinking.

    Is it better to run stop signs because you are so tired than teach your baby to sleep?
    Is it better to be so tired during the day that you can’t even engage your child?
    Is it better to not even have the energy to talk to your child and teach them on a daily basis?
    What if it’s a choice between 10 minutes of crying or getting up EVERY hour all night, EVERY night?

    Of course, we can’t predict these things or that it will “only” take 10 minutes, but the point I’m making is that not all sleep training is for our convenience. Who can be a good mom getting up every hour all night? I have helped more people than I can count with non-crying solutions to their sleep problems, but I do not judge parents for a decision they need to make for their own family, if it’s not in line with my thinking. We all want what’s best for our children. I did not *think* my son was happier with more sleep, I *knew* it. And, at 5 years old, it is still a big part of him. If he does not get enough sleep, we all suffer because of how cranky he is. Our family is MUCH more stressed. No one would probably “get” that but us, though. We can see a totally different boy in front of us when he sleeps enough.

    To imply that all families who practice attachment parenting will have non-depressed, non-anxious children is very judgmental. I’m sure you can find families everywhere with ALL different types of philosophies with good things and not-so-good things going on there. It is unfair to try to tell parents that this ONE aspect of a parenting decision is going to doom their baby FOREVER. If a mom accidentally forgot to turn on the monitor and her baby cried one night, is she doomed to have a depressed baby for the rest of their lives? Absolutely not. It is the day-in, day-out care we give our children that forms who they will grow up to be.

    Cry it out is not about ignoring your baby’s NEEDS, so it is always interesting when people imply that it means you never go to your baby at night ever again. It’s about knowing your baby and knowing that he NEEDS something versus having a bad habit of waking for something he doesn’t “need.” To go back to the evolutionary standpoint, there are many things we do in current times that are not the same as way back when. If all I had to do was pick berries all day, life would be really different and in many different ways, not just sleep. Just because it might not make sense from an evolutionary standpoint, why does that make it wrong now? A lot of things would not apply to our caveman days that do apply today. We are forever evolving. And, lots of cultures have different things that make sense to them that might not make sense to us just like our sleep training might not make sense to other cultures. In some cultures, for example, boys go off to become warriors at a young age when some 30 year olds still live at home in our culture (American, that is).

    As I said, different situations warrant different parenting decisions and just because a person can’t understand another’s does not make it wrong. Thanks again for commenting!