Has the "Cry it out" method caused damage to your child and your relationship with them?
The short answer is, most likely! If you've clicked to read this post, then chances are it has caused some problems in your home.
There is some good news though, things can get better, and awareness is the first step!
What was the theory behind the Cry it out method
We all know that a baby's only way to communicate in the beginning is to cry, and based on this knowledge, many believed that allowing a baby to cry for a specified time or until they "self settled" was then also okay.
By leaving a baby to cry, this will eventually lead to them no longer crying themselves to sleep and give the appearance of them "learning" how to "self settle".
This being in contrast to the belief that soothing a baby and helping them to settle will cause the child to be "spoiled" and unable to learn how to self settle, always requiring comfort to settle as they wake during the night (we all have regular wake cycles, we usually don't remember these and just go back to sleep).
The most commonly know version of CIO is the extinction method, this involves leaving a baby to cry until they fall asleep completely unassisted, and then there is what's referred to as "controlled crying", where a baby is left for specific periods of time before a parent will intervene in any way.
There are various versions on sleep training and some experts have claimed that when we intervene, we should give minimal physical contact (a quick pat on the back or a gentle shhh) and not make any eye contact. Each time increasing how long we stay out of the room.
What's the harm being done?
According to some research, even as recent as 2020 (The University of Warwick) concluded that these methods caused no harm on the behavioral development or attachment of a child between birth and 18 months. They talk a lot in regards to how these methods "work" at reducing the time to fall asleep and the duration and frequency of "fussing and crying".
There appears to be no further assessment past 18 months on the effects on the children and there is no mention on the effects on the parents.
If we base our decisions on if we should try this or not on if it "works", then maybe everyone should do it. Yes.....this will at some stage work in terms of your baby going to sleep without crying or needing to be cuddled or pat on the back to settle.
But what's happening under the surface?
What is happening in these homes past the 18 month park?
As I mentioned above, initially, our babies one and only method to communicate with us is through crying, they cry when they're hungry, when their nappies are wet or soiled and they cry when they need connection!
Babies DO NOT cry to annoy us, they aren't that clever yet! They cry when they need something, something they are unable to do for themselves, babies are born 100% reliant on us to care for them.
You don't need to co sleep to meet your child's needs, but we do need to tend to their needs when they cry.
When we walk out of the room for extended periods of time while our babies are crying for our attention, what message are we sending them? They can't rationalise things the way we do, so many parents buy in to the "no harm" in it belief, however, what we know now is about how intrinsic memories can be formed in our nervous system, these are emotion based memories and they form our understanding of the world around us, if it's a safe place to be, if our emotions are safe to show and will be attended to etc. and when we don't return, our babies aren't "learning" how to fall asleep, they're "giving up" and their nervous system is "learning" that their emotions don't matter and won't be attended to.
Long term, they can have difficulties in forming attachments with others in their life, often even the parents who only used this method with nothing but good intentions, and without the knowledge of what was really going on.
Our Sleep Journey so far
We have had many sleep issues in this house, and we still do to this day, but what has been the most helpful has been sitting quietly with our son while he falls asleep, having a mattress on the floor in our room and allowing him to sleep in our bed when he chooses.
We didn't always have these things in place and life was challenging, waking to and attending to an infant/toddler up to 7/8 times a night (I actually lost count at it's worst - sleep deprivation will do that) and we employed the services of a sleep trainer who cost a bucket load and came to stay for 3 nights. Imagine our surprise when in 2020 a self proclaimed sleep trainer charged big bucks to come and hold my sons bedroom door shut until he, not only cried himself to sleep, but screamed, kicked the door and completely lost it for at least an hour.
With the first 4 months being a breeze sleep wise, even being that parent who bragged about how well her child slept, to complete and utter exhaustion 2 years later, I was desperate, and even though I knew this didn't feel right, I was prepared to try almost anything at this stage and allowed it to happen.
The first night she was gone, my partner and I sat on the bed listening to him screaming and trying to stay "strong", but we gave in and went to him, that hug just felt so right, all he wanted was connection and we deprived him of that.
Now, I know that many people would have considered us weak for "giving in", but it felt strong to us, parents who hadn't slept through a whole night in 2yrs at that stage, gave all our strength to meet our sons needs.
The importance of attachment
Through being present for our children growing up, being emotionally available we give our children the confidence to slowly test their limits, in a safe environment where they feel safe and nurtured.
Our children learn to slowly venture a little further each time, and become a little braver, because they know they have always been safe, they know that of they fall down, you'll be close by with a big hug and a kiss for any "owies" they get.
This feeling safe to slowly venture out and gaining confidence with a safety net of love behind us is what then gives us the confidence as teenagers, and then adults, to take risks in life, getting that first job, learning to drive, maybe even starting a business and having faith in ourselves that we are confident and capable human beings.
When we don't have strong attachments, and we're taught that we need to learn these things on our own, we are thrust in to gaining independence from such a young age, in the case of using the "cry it out" method, essentially we are expected to start gaining independence as infants.
Parenting can be a tough gig sometimes, and we get told so many things that we should or shouldn't be doing and it's a minefield. We are told to ask for help when we need it, but sometimes the advice or support we get goes against what feels right.
Trust that voice inside and read articles from both sides, you'll know what is right for you and your family.
For me, I definitely believe in the arguments against the cry it out methods and trust that my child is seeking to have his needs met, rather that seeing the perspective of "they're manipulating us"
I will include below some reference material that I used in putting this all together and let you make up your own mind.
If you are looking for someone to work things through with in a supportive and non judgemental environment then I have various coaching packages available and offer a complimentary discovery session to see if we would make a good fit. Click below to book a discovery session with me, and I'll be in touch.