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 in 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.
49 thoughts on “Will Cry-It-Out Change Your Baby / Child’s Personality?”
Thank you SO much for this article; it was exactly what I needed to read right now. My little guy is so incredibly stubborn, even at his young age, and I simply can’t sustain the routine he thinks he needs (waking up every one to two hours—needing to be rocked and then crying and screaming when you put him down). He’s my first —and they don’t tell you in the hospital that if you are ALWAYS holding them (because you’re so in love) they’re going to get used to that. And that if you always nurse them to sleep, they won’t sleep without it. Those are definitely some things I would have liked to have known (you would think it was common sense but …seriously, you’re so tired and so in love … common sense goes out the window). Nothing else works with this kid —we’ve tried it all. So…on night three of CIO and I think it’s as hard on me as in him. But your post article gave me some comfort and for that I thank you—might help me get through another night.
Thanks so much for reading the Baby Sleep Site! I’m so glad to hear that the article was helpful for you. It can be really tough being a first-time parent with a baby who doesn’t sleep particularly well (I have been there!), so I hope you’ve been able to use some of our resources and will start seeing the results of your sleep coaching efforts soon! Please get in touch if you ever need more support, and hang in!
My son is 1 yr old and I was so against any crying ever! I pick him up and calm him down every time he fussed since he was born, just because it felt right. I have to admit that I blamed parents who left their child cry for a minute no matter how sane reason was. And then one day, my son had to be rushed to hospital to get IntraVenous liquids because he got lightly dehydrated from viral infection and nurses needed to put a needle in his arm. He cried like mad, they couldn’t do it because his blood was thick and rhey tried 3 times. Then I snapped and started crying. They called anesthesiologist to put the IV needle in his arm and they asked me to get out of the room. It was the longest 10 minutes in my life, but when I got back he was ok. In tears, but with 4hrs with IV he was sooo much better.
So, what I realized then is that baby sometimes needs to cry if it is good for her in the long run. It was a shocking lesson for me to become more responsible parent. It does not mean that I love my baby less if I let him cry so he can learn how to sleep so he can become healthier,happier toddler. You people need to take responsibility and stop judging others before you walk in their shoes.
I am trying Ferber’s method for 2nd night and it is not easy, but I believe that in the long run- tears will be forgotten, but better sleep for happier baby will be priceless.
@Marija, Wow! Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry you had to experience that, as a mother myself, I cannot imagine. I am glad though, that you decided to take new perspective from something scary happening, that is quite inspiring.
Sleep training is definitely tough, and each baby and parent have different needs in the process. I hope you find the right fit for you and your baby!
Thank you again for your comment and using the Baby Sleep Site as a resource for sleep!
Thanks for this article! We’re on day 3 of cry it out. The previous routine of pick up put down just wasn’t working for our boy, and already us parents are feeling more rested and our boy is actually crying less and sleeping more now he’s crying it out! So I think this method will be right for us. Still my usually happy boy is cranky the past two days and I have major feelings of guilt this article is a great reminder to take a deal breath because it’s going to be ok!
Thank you so much for your comment here! Cry it out is a hard method and I think a lot of parents feel guilt about it, but it’s important to think of the future and remember why you’re doing it – so everyone can sleep more and be happier and healthier! I hope you had continued success with it. Good luck!
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.
EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
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
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
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.
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.
@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!
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. 🙂
I don’t know when this was posted. But thank you for coming back and adding the thoughtful response above. I’m in the middle of teaching my baby to sleep and it’s HARD. From birth to 6mo I responded to every whimper. I was my babys preferred source of comfort. And at that age, I was perfectly okay with that. Now at almost 7mo, it’s wearing me down and I have a baby who is so reliant on me to sleep. It was a hard decision to try to sleep train (gentle versions were tried and were not successful). This has not changed my presence during the day however. I am still as attentive and loving, and it hurt to read above that letting my baby cry for 20 min (the length of a shower) would doom my baby for the rest of her life. So I say again, thank you for reposting. Also- everyone has different goals when they sleep train. My goal is to give my baby a chance to figure it out on her own and realize she’s safe even when not in my arms. A baby who protests the minute she leaves your arms can be a lot at times.
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.
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