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Why cry-it-out methods really aren't my cup of tea

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

I know it’s a controversial subject, but cry-it-out, controlled crying, spaced soothing, rapid return, timed crying, crying down - whatever you want to call it and however you want to dress it up - leaving babies and children alone to cry in order to condition them to not expect a response and ultimately fall asleep, is not my bag and will not form a part of any gentle sleep solutions we work on together.

I will say it time and time again, you are the expert on your child and any changes you choose to make to your family's sleep will only be effective if you are fully invested in them. And for you and your family, these methods may be something you feel comfortable with and can fully get on board with. If it works for you, that’s great - I’m certainly not here to judge. In fact, that’s the last thing I want to do. We’re living through difficult times, our mental health is being pushed to the limit as we navigate uncharted waters. Add being a sleep deprived parent into the mix and I totally get that sometimes there doesn’t seem to be another way and you just want a ‘quick fix’ solution.

But I am here to tell you there is another way. So if you want to feel more rested, but the thought of leaving your child alone to cry makes you feel uncomfortable, then it probably isn’t the right solution for you, so stick with me.

Here comes the science bit

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to lie to you. There hasn’t been a tonne of research into the long-term effects of leaving a child to cry alone as a method of sleep training. There are three main studies of recent years used in favour of the argument for cry-it-out. But to be honest, they are all pretty flawed and importantly, none of them prove the method actually works.

Here’s what we do know:

  • Research into infant mental health suggests leaving babies alone to cry induces high levels of stress, and the child exhibits ‘learned helplessness’

  • We have little evidence of the dose response of crying – importantly, how much crying is too much?

  • A child’s level of resilience, as well as their attachment security, may affect how well they can tolerate controlled crying

  • Leaving children to cry doesn't actually teach them any practical skills about how to calm down during a stressful event

Now, the journalist in me is all for a balanced argument and so if you've made it this far and you’re still on the fence, let’s take a quick squiz at some pros and cons to the argument to see if we can really tip the scales one way or the other.

The pros and cons

This is not an exhaustive list, but you can see where I’m going...

For cry-it-out:

  • Can be quick

  • You’re more in control of when sleep happens

  • The child will eventually give up and go to sleep

  • It involves very little input from you, the parent

  • The technique is straightforward, only requiring you to be consistent

Against cry-it-out:

  • Can damage the trust between parent and child

  • The child hasn’t actually learnt to ‘self-soothe, it is ‘learned-helplessness’’

  • It can be very distressing as a parent to listen to your child crying for a prolonged period of time

  • Children can become so distressed they become overheated or even vomit

  • Any period of disruption such as illness, or developmental change, means you often need to start the whole process again

  • You have no guarantee that the child is not crying to have another need met if you're ignoring them

This whole issue is a massive sleep hot potato, with as many arguments for as there are against and ultimately parents will find the truth in whichever side they need to back up their argument.

Ultimately, there’s no conclusive proof the method causes harm. Equally, there’s currently no proof it doesn’t. In which case, when it comes down to something as important as your child’s mental health, for me, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and find another more gentle and responsive solution.

So what’s the alternative?

That my friends is where I come in. I am passionate about helping your family feel more rested without using methods which leave your child alone to cry. I will educate and empower you to find gentle and responsive, age appropriate, safe, evidenced based solutions to improve your family's sleep.

Head over to my Instagram page for all my latest free help and tips and if you’re interested in working with me one to one on your family's sleep, check out my sleep support packages, or hop on your free 15 minute introductory call. I can’t wait to hear from you.

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