Type the words “cry it out” into Google and you’ll find a dizzying array of opinions. Applications such as the Ferber Method (aka “ferberizing” – a horrible, kinda dirty-sounding verbization), and Babywise are both lauded and demonized for their approach to babies’ inevitable bouts of crying.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of making such difficult decisions, “crying it out” is letting an infant cry alone until they fall asleep, usually starting some time between four to six months of age. Some folks appreciate this method as it tends to nip baby’s nightwaking in the bud. But there is a large and very vocal cross-section of the public for whom crying it out is akin to child abuse.
Anyone who advises you to let your baby cry until he gives up and falls asleep is focusing on the baby’s behavior (going to sleep all alone) and not on how the baby feels in the process. The problem is that when infants are left to cry themselves to sleep, they are forced to conclude that they are not lovable enough to engage their parents’ desires to comfort them. If they actually stop crying, it is because they have abandoned all hope that help will come.
Then later on:
Once you see that you were right to worry about leaving your baby to cry and that the interruptions to your sleep caused by tending to him are both beneficial to him and time-limited, then, even though you are tired, you will have more reason to make the effort to go to your baby and try to help him to sleep comfortably.
Now, to be fair to BabyCenter.com, I should share that this article is written by guest authors Martha and William Pieper, who are identified as “emotional health and well-being experts” on the site. That’s a pretty broad title. So I decided to look further into their creds. Turns out they’re both psycotherapists with more degrees than Farenheit. And they’ve written a book called Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.
As if you couldn’t already tell from the title, this book argues that “‘tough love’ doesn’t work, and that parents will get more cooperation if they focus on their child’s inner happiness and ‘avoid unnecessary confrontations with children about behavior for which they will eventually assume responsibility.'”
Here comes the part where I opine. Remember: it’s Controversy Wednesday!
To begin with, let me cover my bases. It wouldn’t be fair for me to assume that everyone who is against crying it out is in the same camp as the Piepers. Nor would it be fair for me to state that every child who isn’t left to cry it out will become a little terror. But the truth is that there are parents in the same camp as the Piepers whose children will become horrible, miserable burdens to society.
How do I know this? I know because I’ve met them. Having taught piano lessons to a wide spectrum of little people for over 17 years, I can say with authority that the children of parents who subscribe to the approach outlined in books like Smart Love tend to be reckless, insensitive to everything and everyone else around them, maniacal, loud, self-involved, and wild. They throw atomic fits wherever – the grocery store, other people’s homes, the doctor’s office, the middle of the street – while their parents speak in soft voices attempting to appease them. Out of a fear of crushing their spirit or squelching their soul, these parents allow their children to do just about anything they want at just about anyone’s expense.
And what changes when these kids grow up? Not much, unfortunately. A total lack of discipline and negative consequences during childhood leads to an adulthood of entitlement and chronic unrest. I am acquainted with some of these adults. And I can guarantee that I would have been one of them if it were not for the discipline and structure I was provided as a young, feverishly selfish child.
Now, what does this have to do with crying it out?
First, I’ll say that crying it out was the method we used for our dear, sweet Seabass. I say “was” the method because we only had to use it for about three days when he turned four months old. (Any younger than that is considered too young by many authorities.) After that? No more crying. Only sleeping. Our baby sleeps like a little champion and wakes up rested, refreshed, and full of smiles – not morose and feeling “unloved” as the Piepers would have me believe. (I honestly don’t know how he could feel unloved. I am head-over-heels for that boy.)
I am not an expert on this. I only know what I’ve seen, and I’ve seen that crying it out has made Seabass’ life, my life, Jake’s life – heck, even the dog’s life – so much better. I like how Dr. Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, describes a child’s need for sleep as equally important to a child’s need for any other sort of care. Seabass can’t feed himself – I have to help him. He also couldn’t fall asleep himself (remember the swing post?) – so I helped him. I didn’t refrain from going into him as he cried because I wanted to sleep. (How could I have slept through that?!?) I refrained because I believed that allowing Seabass this temporary discomfort would provide him with a lifetime of good rest. In other words, I decided that crying it out would yield a better return on my investment than constantly giving Seabass what he wanted.
And that’s what parenting is, isn’t it? Making loving (and often self-sacrificial) decisions that protect a child from harm despite their short-sighted desires for instant gratification. Those children I described at the top of the page? The ones who never see negative consequences to their actions? Yeah, they were given everything they wanted, and then some. Pretty soon, they’ll be the same people cutting you off on the freeway, teaching your grandkids and running for office.
But enough outta me. What do you think?