Controversy Wednesday: CRYING IT OUT

20 Oct

Does this child look maladjusted to you?

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. 

Witness this excerpt from an article written for, a clearing-house of information and authority on the subject of infant parenting:

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, 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?

28 Responses to “Controversy Wednesday: CRYING IT OUT”

  1. Jennavila October 20, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    Love it. As you know we used that book for London. He is still, at almost 4 yrs old, sleeping like a champ and the only one if his friends that still naps. AND more importantly, wakes up telling me how much he loves his momma. Doesn’t sound like I ruined him or his confidence in me as his mom.
    Way to stir it up girl!

  2. mom to 3 boys October 20, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    Are you serious? I get that having a child is a learning process but you can’t take your experience of one child born earlier this year to say that “Crying It Out” works.
    I get that this is controversy and you are looking for people to comment on your blog, but this kind of posting is just dangerous. Not for other people but for yourself. You can not be so black and white as a parent. Things change, babies change and being open is the only way that you will get through it.
    When your lovely CIO worked for me baby is waking up 4 times a night at 15 mos old and you have to re ferberize again and again I would hope that you re visit this post.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like your posts, and I like to read them…but are you trying to be philosophical, getting information out there, or just venting and sharing your experience….because the three lend themselves to very different readership.
    Also, another thing, because I have been where you are…when you make sweeping judgements of other peoples parenting it kicks you in the ass…hard. Let me tell you I have 3 boys. The first was an angel. The second one showed me how judgements on other parents for lack of parenting or difference in parenting can be so wrong…because that second one is nothing at all like the first.

    • jaimeclewis October 20, 2010 at 9:43 am #

      You are so right – things change. I’m sure – no, I’m POSITIVE – that I will come back to many of these posts and laugh-slash-be-ashamed of my own hubris. But this is where I am right now.

      I should have said this in the post: I didn’t use Ferber or Babywise.

      Oh, and for the record, I said I’m not an expert.

  3. KatyM October 20, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    I completely agree. There are winners and losers in life. You might not get the job you want. You might not get the house you want. You might get passed up for a promotion. These are not reflections on you as a person, these are mere circumstances. Without discipline and learning to lose graciously when you are young, there is no hope for a satisfied adult life.

  4. EntrepreMother October 20, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    I decided that CIO didn’t work for me. This wasn’t just because of my emotional attachment to her cries, but because she has always been a “snacker” and not a big long-term eater, so I feared she was genuinely hungry when she woke up. I have chosen to go to her when she wakes, and to help her fall asleep at night. Instead of CIO, I have started implementing some techniques I read in the book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution.

    The most important thing, I think, is that whether we let them cry it out, or go to them when they cry, we are not going to break our children. I agree with Jaime that zero-discipline can create a problem in children with certain propensities for wild behavior (ex: Nellie Olsen – oh yes, THE Nellie Olsen), but as with everything, it depends on the child and everything else you do in your raising of them.

    In my research I’ve done on the topic, I’ve found that for some parents, CIO was an utter failure, and of course, very upsetting to boot. For some, it took a mere three days to be a success, just like with the lovely Seabass.

    To the controversy, I say do what you want – they’ll be okay either way. But if you let the kid wear gold ringlets and eat candy out of the jar at the mercantile whenever she wants, then you’ve got a problem.

    • jaimeclewis October 20, 2010 at 9:56 am #

      I should add that we tested the water with Seabass (no pun intended) for weeks before giving CIO a try. I wasn’t comfortable with it until I realized that he wasn’t falling asleep because my being in the room was distracting him from it. Our kids are all different. This kid was/is a hard nut to crack. He NEEDED CIO. The next one (next one?) will, I’m sure, be completely different.

  5. bubba and me October 20, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Why is it that anytime someone is brave enough to utter the term “cry it out” they are met with such nasty responses? I understand that we can’t all agree on this subject but why attack one another about it? When I became a mom I thought it was going to be this great unifying experience with other women because we all share this huge common experience, but instead it has been incredibly divisive. Can’t we all just agree to disagree and like each other anyway?

    I, too, used to be completely opposed to the CIO method…that is until I started hearing about the alternative – kids that still don’t sleep through the night well past toddlerhood. Also, as my baby got older he became so miserable and sleep-deprived. Letting him cry it out was one of the best things I’ve ever done for him. He is so much happier and healthier now.

    And I couldn’t agree more about the dangers of overly permissive parenting. Kids need boundaries and structure in order to develop and feel safe. That being said, I don’t agree with harsh punishment either. There has to be a middle ground. Consequences are absolutely necessary but they need to be given with the intent to teach, not just to punish. I love love love Dr Becky Bailey’s book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. I think she has found the perfect balance.

    • jaimeclewis October 20, 2010 at 10:23 am #

      I’m going to check it out – thank you!

  6. Gretchen October 20, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    I agree. Yes, CIO is controversial and you’re going to have people who agree and disagree, heatedly. Every child is different, but I agree that we shouldn’t foster a sense of entitlement in our children. Far too often children today think they deserve things: toys, good grades, etc and don’t want to work for them. I see this in my own 10 year old and in the children that I’ve taught. I know we live in a gimme, gimme society, but I think fundamentally, it is the parents responsibility to teach their children the skills they need in life. Kids need to experience failure. Not everyone wins. Not every job opportunity will equal an offer. They need to learn patience. To save for big things they want and that this takes time. They need to learn work ethic so that they are committed to what they do even when they experience hard times. If children don’t have consequences they won’t learn these valuable life lessons.

    That being said, I have a two month old. I am not an expert in parenting at all. But my child does often cry for a few minutes before falling asleep. He normally does this at naptime more than bedtime, but he still does it. I know when he normally naps so when he is cranky at that time I’ll let him cry for a minute or two. I also know the difference between his I’m dirty/wet cry and I’m hungry scream. If he continues crying or the cry changes I obviously go to him straight away. I know he’s only two months, but he is a very happy baby. Even when I take a minute to get out of bed in the middle of the night he still stops crying to greet me with a smile. He just wanted me to know what he needs. Crying is their way of communicating, but sometimes they are just saying, “I’m tired” before falling asleep. Mind you, his needs and behavior could change at any point and if we do have another child he/she could be completely different. But I don’t think CIO is going to harm a child so long as their basic needs are met.

    • Gretchen October 20, 2010 at 10:43 am #

      And, while there are still hard nights were he’s up a few times a night or thinks it’s play time at 1am, he sleeps for 6-8 hours most nights so I’m glad that I know to let him cry for a few minutes to fall asleep.

  7. Megan October 20, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    I had ONE child with whom the CIO/No CIO was even a discussion. He continues, at 22 yrs of age, to be ‘the high maintenance’ one. HM is not a negative thing; he just has always required more energy. The other two? never even came up.
    An interesting thing to me is how often people associate CIO/noCIO with lenient parenting. Sleep is not a punishment. They are not trying to ‘get away with something’ when they cry. I could not do the CIO thing. (I ‘ran to them’ when they cried) My husband and I are some of the ‘most accountable’ parents we know. (requiring accountability from our kids, as opposed to merely ‘being strict.’)

    • jaimeclewis October 20, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

      If sleep is a punishment, PUNISH ME!! PLEASE PLEASE PUNISH ME!

  8. photosheri October 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    When my baby (ok, toddler now, I’ll stop kidding myself) was little, she wouldn’t nap for more then 10 minutes at a time. There was crying, screaming, etc. I would be in there with her, comforting her the whole time. Clearly, it wasn’t working. I called Tresillian (, and made an appointment. They taught me a method of controlled crying and after 3 days, she slept like an angel, napping for 1.5 hours at a time (she was 6 months old at the time). The method doesn’t involve just leaving her until she is asleep, there are guidelines: put down for her nap and leave to cry for 10-15 minutes. If still not asleep, go in, reassure, etc, go back out. Leave for another 10 minutes. Repeat until asleep. She knew I wasn’t abandoning her because I’d go back in for a short amount of time if needed. As I said, it only took 3 days. Going to sleep by themselves is (according to many authors) a huge boost to their self esteem, and something they really need to learn how to do.

  9. Auntie K October 20, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    This is a great topic. I think that second poster really overeacted and misunderstood your post. Dangerous?!

    Many of these terms mentioned in the above posts are not familiar to me and I haven’t read any books on the subject. During my child’s infancy (he’s an adult now) it was easier in some ways- there was not as much information out there to consider.

    When I was ready to stop nursing him (it was obvious he was ready & didn’t need it anymore- it was mostly at bedtime when he was sleepy, for comfort) at around one year old (I think), I let him cry it out. It took three nights and was really hard on me. But it worked.

    I was going on instinct and intution. Over the years, I was never really sure if it was right or wrong but now I lean more towards thinking it was right. One thought is that it teaches a child to self comfort themselves.

    Another has to do with the nature of some kinds of crying as one poster pointed out. Crying as a release is healing. Interfering with that kind of cry, though well intentioned, can hinder that process.

    A child that has had her/his needs met by the parent for many months is most likely going to be just fine when left to CIO, knowing that parent will indeed be there again for them in a few hours.

    For parents, maybe this is just the first step of many, in learning to let go.

  10. G mama October 20, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Nice work on a tough issue. A good one to get people going too. Cry it out changes a little when you have more than one child, especially if they are in the same room. But that is why we remember “every child is different” and really any theory will work and also won’t work. It just depends. Right? My approach was the have a boy aries in the year of the Tiger. Worked like a charm – sleeps beautifully. 😉

    • Megan October 20, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

      …a boy aries in the year of the Tiger….

      hmm. I had a virgo husband in the year of the RAT. OCD and no help at all.


  11. Christy Serpa October 20, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    This is a difficult one, we struggled with this decision too. I was always afraid of instilling a fear of sleeping to my children. I really don’t think sleeping has anything to do with behavior or discipline, it’s just one of many things you will be teaching your child.

    My husband and I really enjoy reading to our children and snuggling them to sleep. We started a bedtime routine at about 3-4 months old. Our 5 year old goes to sleep on his own, and our 2 year old still gets up at about 3am. Self comfort is big, our 2 year old rubs his nails to get back to sleep, but I do believe this can also be taught without the CIO method.

    Every parent has to make these decisions, constantly wondering if you are making the right ones…..I think the bottom line is to go with what works for you and your child. Consistency is key, they will thrive on knowing what to expect next and having a routine. We do a bath, then two books a snuggle and lights out.

    Most importantly is that we teach our children to listen to their own bodies and be aware of how they are feeling. These things will come over time, and once you have mastered the “sleeping through the night” there will be yet another phase to figure out!

    I love reading your blogs and enjoy the stories shared by all. Nobody said it would be easy…right?

  12. R October 20, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    You know what bugs me? When people who are very committed to their own method of parenting claim that it teaches their kids some life skill at a very young age. Like those who use CIO techniques on their (4? 6? 3?) month olds and claim that it is giving them the gift of sleep for a lifetime. Responding to a young infant who is crying does not mean that they will suck at sleeping forever.

    I sleep like a baby. I never cried it (what is “it”?) out. I have never let my infant cry himself to sleep, and I hope I never feel compelled out of a belief that it is teaching him something that he will remember. In my humble opinion, at this age, the only thing we’re teaching is that whatever need he has (hunger/thirst/comfort/ameliorating pain/wet/whatEVer) is not important to us. There is plenty of time to learn “how” to sleep.

    (Also, I think there is no connection between permissive parenting and responsive parenting. There is a dramatic difference…I have very different expectations for my 4-month old versus my 4-year old.)

    Besides, I am very, very, very sure that the one true thing about babies is that they change. Quickly and frequently. So while they sleep one week? They just might not the next.

    • jaimeclewis October 20, 2010 at 9:47 pm #


  13. Megan October 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Hm. I didn’t get the impression that you were even *trying* to be right or wrong. It seemed like you were just telling us your truth.

    I think that one of the reasons women (in particular)get so snarky about their kidlets is that it’s not like anything ever stays the same. kids are not recipes…you can’t take a bit of this and a bit of that and apply it to a different kid–or even the same kid in a different week for that matter…and the older they get, the more you realize just how true that is. The worst thing is that it doesn’t even stop by the time THEY are having kids…God help us all. So we all run around constantly second-guessing ourselves, and to have others third-guess us? Only the strongest constitutions survive intact. And that mama-bear thing? (say what you want about me, but how dare you tell me my kid is rotten because of the choices I made…) whoa. run for cover; the estrogen’s a’flyin’. You’re doin’ fine, mama. you know your baby well enough that you didn’t struggle too long figuring out what worked for him, and you have a good man who has your back. You officially have everything you will ever *really* need.

    • Megan October 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

      PS…meant to post this under the apology post, but had to come back and see what must have obviously dissolved into a catfight of monster proportions…

  14. Hank October 23, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Continue to speak your mind. Yeah, you’ll laugh at some of these posts later, but much of your premise was right on. Not to mention you stated you were being controversial and oft admitted to not being an expert. So keep speaking. You’re a blogger not a family/child therapist.

    I have plenty of my own “father of the year” moments. My kids are amazing, so many tell me, and I believe them as I spend time with them every day. Now 13 and 10 years later, I’m glad there we’re people like you in my life to give me things to think about.

    Speak it girl!

  15. Kimeta January 20, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    Jared that’s true, i think after being hurt time and time again showing any emioton towards those people will just be pleasurable to them. it is sometimes just best to turn and walk away. Im also good at hiding the emioton but purely because i don’t want to give others the satisfaction of knowing they have hurt me. keep strong

  16. Bowjobz January 20, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    He looks a lot like you and you are right about only a mother can post a pitruce of her own baby crying like that I have several of my girls that way! It’s almost too comical to not capture once in a while!Very nice pitruces!


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