Cry it out is a phrase that is often used by parents when they refer to a method of sleep training. They often will say "I don't want to do cry it" out because they do not want their babies to cry long periods of time. Many parents believe it is a method whereby the baby is left to cry for hours, long extended periods of time.
The real meaning of it is actually very different and in this blog I am going to explain it in more detail for you.
The Real Meaning
Cry it out is a phrase for controlled crying or extinction. There are a number of ways to implement controlled crying but only 1 way for extinction…put your baby to bed, leave and do not return until the morning. Extinction is a method I have never advised or will ever advise for any parent to do. You would not do this to your partner, mother or grandparent why should you do it for your child? It is something I truly do not believe it.
Now let’s explore the other meaning of cry it out – controlled crying.
What is it not?
· It is not something to do instead of feeding your baby when they genuinely need fed
· It is not to be used when your baby is sick, wet, unwell due to medical assessments you may be waiting for such as Tongue Tie or breathing obstructions that may be hindering sleep
So what is Cry it out?
· It is a method to use when you are wanting to break unwanted sleep associations
· It is a method to use when your baby is not settling with other sleep training methods because they are too overstimulated
· It gives your baby the space to learn a new skill – to fall asleep independently
· That is turn helps them link sleep cycles independently and not need parental assistance to do it for them such as feeding back to sleep
All babies and children cry. Even us adults. My philosophy is we can’t ever stop or keep our children from ever crying but we can support and teach them through the process.
Crying is a natural and instinctive response in humans. It serves as a way to communicate various needs, emotions, and discomforts. While we can't completely prevent babies and children from crying, we can certainly provide support and teach them valuable skills to navigate their emotions effectively.
Crying is an important form of communication for infants and young children who have limited verbal abilities. It allows them to express their needs, such as hunger, discomfort, tiredness, or the need for attention. Crying is their way of signalling to caregivers that something is amiss and requires attention or assistance. We can be there to support them through the moments such as when they fall over in the park or when they are struggling to fall asleep without being nursed.
As parents or caregivers, it is crucial to respond to a crying child with empathy and understanding. By doing so, we validate their emotions and let them know that their needs matter. This responsiveness helps build trust and a sense of security, as children learn that their caregivers will be there to support them when they are distressed. With controlled crying our job as the care giver is to respond at those appropriate times we see necessary. Those times can vary from child to child.
Teaching children how to regulate their emotions is a valuable skill that can benefit them throughout their lives. When children are allowed to express their emotions, including crying, in a safe and supportive environment, they learn that it is okay to feel and express their feelings. It helps them understand that emotions are a normal part of being human, and they do not need to suppress or ignore them. So imagine every time your child cries you are there to sweep them up and stop them from shedding those tears, do they go on in life to withhold those emotions, let them bottle it all up?
By providing comfort, reassurance, and empathy, we can help children navigate their emotions and cope with difficult situations such as learning to sleep independently.
When children experience our support during moments of distress, they learn that they are not alone and that their caregivers are there to provide comfort and understanding.
With controlled crying you are there, to offer comfort at certain interval times. This helps them develop emotional resilience and a sense of security, which are crucial for their overall well-being and healthy emotional development.
It's important to remember that crying is a normal and healthy response, both for children and adults.
Be very careful to identify and think about when you are responding to your baby’s cry and how this cry makes you feel rather than if your child is really needing you to intervene. When we are sleep training your child will cry because they want that thing back that helped them get to sleep and they do not know how to sleep without it. They were very happy how sleep happened before and now you are teaching them a new way to sleep and yes, to start with they will not like it but like anything they will learn and adapt and you are teaching them a new skill that is going to benefit them and yourself. SLEEP.
Choosing to prioritize your child's long-term happiness over fleeting moments of temporary satisfaction such as nursing to sleep at every wake up is an essential aspect of teaching them to sleep independently - if you are ready to teach that.
We also need to understand there are different types of crying – which indicates a level of upset and stress from tolerable stress such as crying in a car seat or at bedtime to toxic stress and tears such as divorce, long hospital stay or death. I personally do not think that crying when sleep training for the short lived time it may occur is anything like toxic stress. But then we as parents have the right to decide for ourselves which we feel is the best for our child and family.
One of the many reasons I followed my path towards becoming a sleep coach was because I am passionate in helping parents learn about what their child needs in terms of sleep and to support them through the place where they are now to where they want to be, their sleep goals.
I for one do not understand why a parent would choose to continue with multiple night wakings, having to assist their child back to sleep each time only to continue to feel completely depleted and exhausted, struggle to focus at work, struggle to enjoy the day fully at home with the kids when all you want to do is lie on the sofa and sleep and feel as if your relationship is strained because you never get time to spend with your partner and they sleep in the spare room. Equally allow their baby to continue to have such broken fragmented sleep that can and does affect their daily life from appetite, health, behavioural to learning and having unpredictable days due the the fact their child may or may not be napping and those naps may or may not be short cat naps.
The families I know who have chosen to use a controlled cry method have only experienced tears for 3-5 nights and those tears have significantly reduced over those days. If those tears do not reduce then there is something else going on. It is not the right approach for their child and/or there may be other medical issues that need to be addressed that are causing discomfort.
We have all heard our parents say "oh leave them to it", never do you any harm" but this is easier said than done as often the crying can trigger our heart strings. and feelings of guilt set in. The other side of this some may think that this method of sleep training is going to damage the bond they have with their child. I am yet to meet a child or adult that has significant bonding issues with their parent because they chose to sleep train this way. What research has shown us is continuing to be sleep deprived has shown more negative impacts on a child and family in the long term than the actual sleep training itself.
This said if you are considering to use this method (or any sleep training method) aside of ensuring your child’s sleep environment is optimum for sleep and they have the right schedule that suits them it is worth getting the OKAY from your health care provider to ensure they are fit and healthy to start sleep training.
There is a wonderful article that you can read more about the difference in toxic and tolerable stress HERE
If you would like to chat to more about the approaches I talk through with the families I work with and find out more about sleep training book in your FREE SLEEP ASSESSMENT CALL HERE.
Above all, you do you and be confident with your choices!
Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant,