No parent enjoys the sound of their baby wailing in distress.
That’s why the cry-it-out methods advocated by Ferber, Weissbluth, and Ezzo are so controversial. Some parents feel like cry-it-out is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, but others are quick to point out that cry-it-out methods are fast and effective ways to teach a baby to sleep.
Not too long ago, an article in Psychology Today discussed the “dangers” of cry it out and yet another article even suggested that cry-it-out methods might be the cause of our “Prozac Nation.”
It remains debatable whether or not cry-it-out methods actually damage a child. After all, people often mean very different things when they use the phrase “cry it out” and what affects one child will not affect another the same way (just like Nicole’s life experiences affected her a certain way in the above article). And let’s remember that the side-effects of sleeplessness for children (obesity , depression, behavior problems, and even drug and alcohol problems, as well as a number of others) can be pretty serious. But even if using a cry-it-out method doesn’t damage your little one, should you do it?
What Does Cry-It-Out Mean, Exactly?
In any discussion of cry-it-out, it’s important to make sure everyone’s operating with the same definition. There are a lot of things that we believe cry-it-out is NOT; there are two things we believe that it IS. At The Baby Sleep Site, we use cry-it-out to mean a sleep training method that is used to change sleep associations and to help parents set limits as to what they will and will not “do” in the name of sleep.
Does Cry-It-Out Actually Work?
It might seem counterintuitive to think that crying can lead to a baby sleeping peacefully for hours on end. The thing is, though, it can, for some babies. Remember that falling asleep is a skill that a baby has to learn, and anytime a person (young or old) has to learn a new skill, there are bound to be some mistakes made. Some falling down. Some crying. As Nicole says,
“It is difficult to convince your baby that she can sleep on her own without some crying, just like it’s difficult to learn to ride a bike without falling.”
Some Parents Reject Cry-It-Out Due To Fear or Misconceptions
Some parents understand all the ins and outs of cry-it-out methods and still reject them. And that’s fine, of course. To each her own! However, other parents have fears or misconceptions that cause them to avoid any cry-it-out methods:
- Some parents fear cry-it-out means that they have to let their child scream for 8 straight hours and turn 12 shades of purple before offering them any comfort. Not so! Remember, there are lots of steps in between rocking your baby all night long and letting her wail for hours.
- Other parents worry that cry-it-out might change their child’s personality, turning their sweet, smiling baby into a screaming, shrieking one. But remember that your child’s temperament is as unique as he is, and it’s highly unlikely that any sleep training method is going to change that. That said, if you have a cranky, fussy, inconsolable baby on your hands, and that fussiness is due to chronic sleep deprivation, then cry-it-out may just change your baby’s personality — for the better! Once he starts getting the sleep he needs, don’t be surprised if that constant fussiness disappears.
- Some parents are concerned that using a cry-it-out method will destroy their child’s trust in them. This is an understandable fear; when you’re listening to your child cry, it’s easy worry that she feels neglected. But this kind of thinking puts a LOT of pressure on you! After all, you can make yourself crazy if you operate with the mindset that any one thing you do (or don’t do, for that matter) could potentially damage your child FOREVER.
There’s No Formula for Parenting
When you’re sleep training (whether you’re using a cry-it-out method or not), it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to feel like letting your baby cry for a few minutes will cause serious damage.
That’s why it’s so important to remember that the parent-child relationship is a complex one, made up of many elements. There’s no ONE thing that can destroy that entire relationship. As Nicole says,
“There is not ONE thing (except possibly the purely heinous such as sexual abuse) that will violate his trust in you. If that were 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.”
Some Parents Still Feel Cry-It-Out Isn’t For Them — And That’s Fine
The purpose of this article isn’t to persuade you to use a cry-it-out approach to sleep training. We don’t push cry-it-out methods over other approaches to sleep training, and we certainly won’t try to persuade you to use a method you’re not comfortable with. Whatever sleep training method you choose, remember that it has to work for everyone involved — for your child, and for YOU.
The Baby Sleep Site strives to remain judgment-free and to respect every parent’s unique philosophy, so if you just aren’t comfortable with any of the cry-it-out methods, that’s okay! There are plenty of other ways to teach your little one to sleep well, including some no-cry sleep training options. They might just require a little more patience on your part.
We always start our sleep consultations with a no-cry approach (unless a parent requests that we begin with a cry-it-out method). What’s more, we’ve had great success working with parents who have an attachment parenting philosophy, parents who are co-sleepers, and parents who simply want to minimize crying as much as possible. Be sure to check our testimonials page to learn more about the variety of families we’ve helped in their journeys to better sleep.
“I just saw a Facebook update from this mom, Najmi, whose now 6 1/2 year old looks forward to the weekend, so she can sleep in! If only we were all so lucky. Najmi was so petrified of CIO, but it was a life-changing decision she made. Cry it out is definitely not for every situation, but the pressure parents put on themselves to not allow ANY crying can sometimes do more harm. It’s about finding the right solution for your specific situation.”
What about you? Cry-It-Out? No-Cry? Share your opinions!
If you’re looking for ways to to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.