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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.