Hear me out

Photo by A National Acrobat via Flickr Creative Commons License

I read an other post last week about CIO from a baby’s point of view. An other account of how any baby left alone to cry will feel sad and lonely and start to distrust their parents.

I have to be honest with you, it drove me crazy, despite the good intentions of the author. I know I am defensive about this. It is just not pleasant to have someone, who doesn’t know you, imply that you harmed or caused suffering to your child. But beyond the defensiveness, I also question the implication for our society, which is already so fearful of emotion, when we are fearful of our infants crying from the get go. Fearful that doing something very natural- crying- causes harm.

The post I read is essentially an argument against CIO. I get that. It is not about crying writ large. Here’s the thing. Eventually most of us learn to fall asleep. I have yet to hear of a first year university student who needs to be rocked to sleep. So it’s not like I think CIO is the only way to help a baby fall asleep. Babies don’t sleep through the night and babies often need help to fall asleep. Furthermore, I totally disagree with using ‘sleep training’ with an 8 week old, for example. We should not expect that an 8 week old should fall asleep on their own and sleep a solid 8 hours– realistic expectations people. But somewhere between 6 months and 2 years I do believe 90% of babies/toddlers are ready to learn how to fall asleep on their own. There are lots of methods to support them to learn this and one does not need to use a CIO method if one does not want to. I call bull on anyone who says if you don’t use sleep training your kid will never sleep. But.

Why are we so afraid of crying? What is it about crying that makes us so uncomfortable?

This post is not so much about the merits or downfalls of CIO or no-cry sleep methods or anything of the sort (though I can’t help but question some of the key assumptions of the anti-CIO philosophy). This post is about our attitude to our baby/toddler/kid’s emotions. I know many a new parent (including myself) that felt like a failure at times because they couldn’t stop their baby from crying. But crying is not a measure of if you are or are not a good parent. And crying is not a measure of whether or not your baby is loved or cared for or has its needs fulfilled. All babies cry. Some more then others.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a good cry. And sometimes when I am upset the last thing I want is for someone to shush me or tell me everything is okay. I want to express myself. I want to have my feelings. When crying is the only way to communicate, that crying could mean a lot of different things. I’m tired. I’m over stimulated and need to block everything out. I’ve had a long day. Truth is we just don’t know what our babies are thinking. I strongly believe the range of thoughts and emotions for even a young infant are much broader then we sometimes assume.

One of the most interesting things I have heard about older babies who are adjusting to going to daycare or a dayhome is that they often cry when you come to pick them up. They know they are safe with you, so they are releasing the stress and tension from their day of experiencing new and unfamiliar things. They feel safe to cry. Is it not possible that the same could be said for their bed? They feel safe to release the tension from their day knowing that Mommy and Daddy are near by?

Our feelings are a part of who we are. And all of us, from the time we are infants, experience a wide range of feelings. Not all of them pleasant. And I can not accept that experiencing of feeling and emotion is harmful. And I do not accept that a parent that gives a infant the opportunity, in a loving and compassionate way, to feel the full range of emotions is causing harm. Furthermore, I do not believe that experiencing the emotions that can lead to crying (which are actually quite diverse- I cry when I am happy, as well as when I am sad) is synonymous with suffering. I often hear the argument that letting your child cry is letting them suffer. I don’t believe crying = suffering.

As parents, what is the impact on our overall parenting if one of the first messages we hear as parents is this ‘crying causes brain damage’ stuff? (Which I think it total bull, by the way. I wrote about it here.) What does that mean for how we parent when our kid is 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 8 years? If crying is the ultimate harm? The #1 thing to be avoided? I think a lot of us bottle up our feelings rather then letting them out and I wonder if all this focus on the perils of crying just makes that worse.

What is wrong with emotion? Why are we so uncomfortable with emotion?

I am sure there are lots of individual parents who are against CIO that are also wonderful at honoring, accepting and hearing their child’s emotions. I am not saying that to be against CIO = brushing emotions aside. Just as I am sure there are parents who use CIO who do not listen, hear and have compassion for their child’s emotions. Just to be clear, drawing that parallel is not my point. My point is to draw the parallel between the focus of our collective parenting dialogue on the prevention of crying seems to be at least somewhat reflective of our un-comfortability with emotion. Particularly the non-pleasant emotions of the human range of emotions.

What if instead we teach our children that crying is normal? It is something that we do as humans to express how we feel. It is something that we use as tool to let go and move on. It is something that helps us not keep things all bottled up inside. And so when a child cry’s we don’t say, ‘your okay’ or try to fix it. How about we welcome them to express themselves and acknowledge how they feel? How about we treat all crying the same… normal, natural, expressive. Instead of this intense fear that is causes harm. That doesn’t mean you need to use CIO or Sleep training… but it does mean taking a different approach to your child’s emotions. Accepting, acknowledging and hearing rather then preventing, distracting and avoiding.


Update: I made a vague reference to the concept of crying to release tension and in the comments Kelly and I talked more about the idea of some babies releasing tension. Then I saw this timely post by @AskMoxie, who, so far as I can tell, first articulated the tension increaser/tension releaser concept, so I thought I would throw in a link. Check it out.


63 responses to “Hear me out

  1. Alexis January 5, 2011 at 8:32 am

    This is exactly what I have been trying to articulate. Crying is not the problem, the issue (be it with sleeping, eating, playing…whatever) is the motivating for the crying. As a parent you can tell when your kid is crying for a reason like hunger or an impending ear infection and when they are just tired or over-stimulated. To me the whole “avoid the “damaging” crying at all costs” is insulting to parents because it implies that you don’t know your kid well enough to make that call. The implicit belief that you must stop the crying no matter what, sends a clear message that your instincts can’t be trusted and the only way to ensure your child’s well-being is to be a perpetual slave to their every whimper. (That is a bit of hyperbole, but you get the point.) To really support kids in their growth and development we need to respect just why they are crying and teach them to manage it, be that by getting some sleep, just letting them have a good cry and a cuddle or by letting them know that a crying fit won’t earn an extra cartoon.
    Thank you for putting into word just what I have been trying to say for so long!

  2. kelly @kellynaturally January 5, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Using the cry it out method as a form of sleep training and honoring a child’s need or desire to cry as a valid outlet for emotions are two completely different things.

    The problem with combining them is that is can potentially send the message that allowing a child to cry it out (as a form of sleep training – i.e. put your kid in bed at x time and go back in to soothe but not pick up for x amounts of time for x long until he gets the picture, no matter whether that child seems responsive to the idea or extremely resistant to the idea) is actually supporting that child’s need to cry. I don’t believe that cio sleep training is supporting a baby’s emotional outlet via crying. They are very different ideas w/different purposes; but if you train your baby to sleep by crying, every night, until they give up, you’re also training yourself to turn off your sensitivity – the connection that allows you to see yes my child needs to cry now because I’ve tried everything else and she’s crying, but she’s not super upset; she seems to just be releasing emotion – this cry is different from her hurt cry VERSUS this has gone on for a long time now and she’s getting louder and more upset but she’s GOT to sleep – this is bedtime – so I’m going to ignore it because she probably just needs to cry – heck, it’s good for her.

    I support the idea that sometimes babies need to cry (especially as a mother whose first child was “colicky” for about 9 months. She still, at 6 years old, is dramatic, intense, and brilliant. She was a “needs more” kind of baby & kid. I get that babies need to cry & we can’t & shouldn’t always try to fix it). But what if I had listened to my doctor’s “advice” when she was 2 months old – that I was holding her too much, that I just needed to leave her to cry, that I shouldn’t offer the breast so much as to become a pacifier, that we had to let her cry it out or she’d never learn to sleep (btw, she learned to sleep, just like my 3 yo did as well, through the night, without crying it out – it’s a milestone, like any other, that doesn’t need to be forced or trained). I believe that had I just let her cry – for whatever reason, the intention of letting her get it out or getting her to sleep or giving her lungs exercise or whatever else anyone thinks letting babies cry themselves to sleep all the time is good for – I would have been missing the subtlties she was trying to convey, and at the same time, missing an opportunity to develop my mom-baby translation, missing the chance to fine-tune the child interpretation part of my brain – which was & is invaluable to helping my children through babyhood, toddlerhood, preschoolerhood, and now young childhood. I believe I can understand their tantrums, and support them through their tantrums because I took the time to realize that their crying meant something then – just like their screams mean something now.

    I don’t support that we treat all cries the same. Not all cries are the same. But if we treat them as such, so that we can ignore our children who cry out in the night, we slowly turn off our ability to differentiate and sense and understand the subtleties of baby language. And that can potentially translate into a child who doesn’t feel heard.

    Yes, babies cry. And yes, sometimes they are just crying, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. But there is a reason for the cry. I really believe that crying it out as a form of methodical sleep training causes the potential for harm to baby’s brain, potential damage to the parent-child relationship, and is completely unnecessary. As you said, there are other ways to help baby to sleep, and there are other ways to allow baby the opportunity to cry when she needs to. Putting the two in the same post confuses the issues.

    • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Respectfully Kelly, I think you missed my point. Actually, I will rephrase that, I think you illustrated my point. My issue is with the assumption that crying = suffering. When you said: “but if you train your baby to sleep by crying, every night, until they give up, you’re also training yourself to turn off your sensitivity – the connection that allows you to see yes my child needs to cry now because I’ve tried everything else and she’s crying, but she’s not super upset; she seems to just be releasing emotion – this cry is different from her hurt cry VERSUS this has gone on for a long time now and she’s getting louder and more upset but she’s GOT to sleep – this is bedtime – so I’m going to ignore it because she probably just needs to cry – heck, it’s good for her.” you were actually making my point. If we stop talking about how horrible it is for babies to cry and start listening to them, we can tell the difference between “she seems to be releasing emotion” and “she’s getting louder and more upset”. Either parent, the one that uses CIO and the one that doesn’t can sometimes turn off their sensitivity to really hear what their baby/toddler/child is saying. It is the assumption that all babies who cry when put down to fall asleep must all be feeling the same thing that I find ridiculous. I think what happens is that there are many people, like yourself, who’s child was really not a tension releaser. But instead of seeing that just because your child isn’t a tension releaser doesn’t mean my child isn’t. CIO does a disservice when people are told they have to do it or else. But it is equally encouraging a lack of sensitivity to your child’s emotions by implying that letting them cry by definition is to ignore their needs and cause them harm.

      This though, this I totally agree with: “I believe that had I just let her cry – for whatever reason, the intention of letting her get it out or getting her to sleep or giving her lungs exercise or whatever else anyone thinks letting babies cry themselves to sleep all the time is good for – I would have been missing the subtitles she was trying to convey, and at the same time, missing an opportunity to develop my mom-baby translation, missing the chance to fine-tune the child interpretation part of my brain – which was & is invaluable to helping my children through babyhood, toddlerhood, preschoolerhood, and now young childhood.” But the key word in all of this was ‘had’ in the first sentence. If you don’t have to, but you choose to, because you feel that is what your child is trying to tell you…

      I agree with you that not all crying means the same thing, but I do believe all crying is the same, in that it is a natural form of expression. I do not believe it causes harm. And as long as you are in tune with your child’s emotions and are doing the best to provide for them, then I don’t think expressing emotion can be harmful. Where I agree with you is that no should feel that that have to do something as the only way to parent. When they talk about CIO causing harm, it is not the crying that causes harm. It is often said that crying = neglect. No. Neglect = neglect. It is neglect that causes harm. And letting your child release tension to fall asleep is not neglect.

      • kelly @kellynaturally January 5, 2011 at 9:47 am

        I do NOT think crying = suffering. I DO think that crying it out as a form of methodical sleep training = potentially ignoring your child’s signals while turning off your own instinctual responses. Which can be damaging and can cause emotional withdrawl.

        You said, “But it is equally encouraging a lack of sensitivity to your child’s emotions by implying that letting them cry by definition is to ignore their needs and cause them harm.”

        I’m not implying that crying by definition is ignoring their needs & causing them harm. I am saying that allowing a child to methodically cry at pre-determined intervals with the intention of training to sleep through deprivation of mom/dad/caregiver/touch/presence or millieu of other rules intended to force a baby to be independent in sleep (or else they’ll *never* learn to sleep on their own) is ignoring needs & causing harm. Both to parent & baby. Babies don’t need to cry it out (and CIO by definition is routinely leaving a baby alone at pre-determined intervals with the intention of training to sleep through increasing intervals of responding to crying, or by ignoring crying completely). Do they need to cry? Yes.

        But CIO is DIFFERENT than crying to release emotion. And that’s my issue. Crying it out – the method whereby a parent is instructed to ignore baby’s cries for specific periods of time so that they can “learn to sleep on their own” or “self soothe” is NOT the same thing as crying for tension release or emotional output! Being present & understanding when your baby cries – saying I understand you’re upset & it’s alright to cry, go ahead; I’m here & I understand – or, determining that your child is a tension releaser and cries before sleep, that’s not cry it out, Kathleen. I’ve read the Aware Baby – I’m assuming you have too, and you know there’s a big difference.

        I did not imply or say directly that crying itself or expression of emotion through crying is harmful, rather, the application of repeated structured cry times at bedtime aimed at forced sleep training via ignoring what baby might be trying to say through crying is harmful.

      • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 10:18 am

        Kelly, really, we see this very differently. And that’s okay, difference of opinion is good. I do hear where you are coming from. I get why you feel the way you do. Really. I hear you.

        My issue is that much of the discussion on CIO doesn’t make the distinction between tension releasing babies and a methodological ‘I’m going to forcefully train you to go to sleep.” It lumps it all together and assumes that if a baby is crying without a parent in the room that = lack of sensitivity. There is a strong lack of nuance in the dialogue. And just as you had the experience of being given advice that was completely inappropriate for you and your child, under the threat that you must do it or else; that same experience is being had by parents of tension releaser babies that are being told you must not let them cry. Crying = bad. Crying = harmful. You may see as not all crying = suffering, but that is the implication of much of the anti-CIO dialogue. You see where I am coming from? It’s a pendulum swing. And I think this obsession over fear of our children crying is not doing us any good. Just as being told we have to ignore our baby no matter what does us no good.

  3. janetlansbury January 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Kathleen, this is a brave, wonderful post and you know that I completely agree with you. I’ve written a lot about our tendency as parents to fear crying and how important it is to overcome that and give our children the message that we support and accept the full range of their feelings. Our responses to crying (and anything else we do with our babies, especially to soothe them) create habits that we might believe are our child’s special “needs” when, in fact, we are usually responsible for making them so.

    I want to share this exerpt from a handinhandparenting (fantastic website) article about crying and sleep. I know it’s long, but it perfectly explains my beliefs…

    “I think that we parents do need to respond every time a child cries. Children need to know that we will be there for them, especially when their whole system is telling them that something is amiss.

    There is an effective and supportive way to handle a child’s sleep troubles. This approach allows your child to dissolve the tension that wakes him, and allows you to help him recover and sleep peacefully. It’s not an easy approach, but it’s loving, respectful, and it works.

    The principles on which this approach is based are these:
     When children can’t sleep through the night (and there are no health or developmental issues such as a fever or a growth spurt), the cause is most likely some kind of emotional tension that bubbles up in the child’s mind during sleep.
     Children’s tensions are relieved when an adult can stay close and listen to how the child feels. The crying, struggling, perspiring, and trembling that children do actually heals their fear and grief, if a parent can be reassuring and attentive. Expressing intense emotion is the child’s own best way of getting free of feelings he harbors. Those feelings have sprung from some difficult, unwell, or restless time, either recent or long past.
     Children’s systems are built to offload feelings of upset immediately and vigorously. But our training as parents is to stop them from offloading their feelings! We are taught to give them pacifiers, food, rocking, patting, scolding, and later, time outs and spanking, if the crying or screaming goes on for more than a minute. We are taught to work against the child’s own healthy instinct to get rid of bad feelings immediately.
    So our children store these upsets, and try many times a day to work them out, usually by testing limits or having meltdowns over small issues. If they can’t offload them during the day, the feelings bother them in the night.
    This is why nursing or offering a bottle to a child who wakes doesn’t keep him from waking again. In fact, as a child’s storehouse of feelings gets fuller he wakes more often, trying to have a good cry. Parents try to solve the problem by offering food or allowing the child to sleep with them as a way to pat the feelings down again. But over time, the pent-up tension inside the child becomes trouble for everyone.
    Healthy families in many cultures allow children to sleep with parents, but the good effects of sleeping close together can be negated if no one sleeps well in that arrangement…”

  4. Nadine Hilmar January 5, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Thank you so much for expressing what I have not been able to but had it in my system somewhere. Just yesterday I read a post about some AP related stuff and read all those comments that are so strict against CIO and it drove me nuts too. It is a completely misunderstanding in many cases.

    I realised when I need to cry and I am uncomfortable (i.e. in public) I try to swallow it down and it totally hurts in my throat. That’s a sign that it should come out, it’s just painful to not let it out in many ways. And therefore I allow my son to cry when he needs to. That does not mean he is alone in the dark hungry and cold. Cos that’s the picture many of those parents that are strictly against CIO have in their minds. Unfortunately.

    Fortunately – you cleared that up. Thanks again!

  5. Liz January 5, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Here’s my issue with the people who are against cry-it-out: my son started sleeping through the night at 3 months old, without fail. He frequently would sleep 10 – 12 hours. We would do his bedtime routine, wrap him up in bed, turn on his musical seahorse, and listen to him drift off. At about 7 1/2 months, out of nowhere, he started crying when we would lay him down to sleep. I don’t remember the circumstances behind why all of a sudden his sleep behavior changed, but I do know this: he was not teething, hungry, hurt, sick, etc. He just decided out of nowhere that he didn’t want to sleep in his crib and wanted to stay up with us. So we tried cry-it-out (since I wasn’t going to START rocking him to sleep every night!) We stayed close by, whispered to him, sang to him, and after a few minutes we’d pick him up, soothe him, get him to relax, and try again. The first night after an hour we’d all of us had enough and I did wind up rocking him to sleep. The second night after half an hour he finally relaxed and drifted off. The third night he barely whimpered and fell right to sleep. Ever since, he has been a wonderful sleeper (like before) and shows NO ill effects from those three nights of crying. Sometimes kids need a reminder that they are fully capable of putting themselves to sleep…mine was one of them.

    • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 11:45 am

      Liz, thanks for your comment. As I have said before I really believe where we fall on this debate has SO MUCH to do with our own personal experience.

      I really think when you go with your gutt and do what you think is right for your child, no harm will come.

  6. amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    FYI- Annie at PhdinParenting mentioned on twitter this post she wrote about crying and a concept called ‘crying in arms.’ Very relevant to this discussion. Check it out. http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/07/12/ill-hold-you-while-you-cry/

    (I also commented on it today, influenced by our discussion here.)

  7. Sarah January 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    You talk about crying as a form of stress release but it strikes me that that is quite an advanced thing developmentally; it’s something I would think was developed when family/societal pressures being to work their charms and pressure children into supressing emotion that they might otherwise let out as in the example you give in your post where a child releases the pent up emotion of being separated from their caregiver during daycare.

    I wouldn’t think this kind of ‘crying as stress release’ was something likely to occur in babies, but rather in toddlers and older children?

    • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      I can’t speak from knowledge of developmentally, but I can speak from experience. I know that my child, from the time she was quite a young baby, used crying to release tension. I think when we think about the world from a babies perspective and image all the information, learning and stimuli they experience on a daily basis (so much new! stuff) that is makes sense they might have some built up tension. I think babies are far more developmentally advanced then we give them credit for. But you make a good point that I just don’t know the answer to, in terms of that behaviour being developmental advanced.

      • janetlansbury January 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm

        Like Kathleen said, babies are extremely sensitive to stimulation. This ulta-awareness makes them incredible learners in the first years of life. It also means they’re easily over-stimulated and commonly need to discharge energy at the end of even the mildest day — tension, stress, whatever you want to call it. The only developmental difference between infants and older children is that babies are even MORE absorbent of everything around them, including their parent’s stress, intense feelings, etc. This is one of the reasons TV and DVDs are harmful for babies. Way too much going in…

        I don’t know about babies being “developmentally advanced”, but they are certain far more aware and engaged than we give them credit for being.

  8. may mccarthy January 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    thank you for posting this…sometimes its hard when other parents insist on not letting their child cry it out…and they look down on you if you dare to say you let your child cry….can i also just say that after having four children i think it works !!…and my children have not suffered any adverse effects because i let them cry…they all know how much they are loved and that i am there for them 100%…but unlike other mums who may be up all night trying to pacify a distressed child..(so they dont suffer emotionally later on in life) my children get their full 8hrs sleep and wake up refreshed. i have never ignored my childrens cries i have simply taught them that we need to sleep too …and it only took a night or two for them to settle off alone.. two of my children are now adults and are in no way scarred by being able to cry….and i am so glad that i am not alone in thinking this way…just wanted to say how much i apreciate you posting this 🙂

  9. Pingback: KellyNaturally.com | Thoughts On Crying (and Crying It Out)

  10. Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I’m afraid that if I go on at length to respond to this that the simplicity of my message will get lost, so I will try to keep it short.

    1) I don’t think all crying is bad.

    2) I think it is good to let babies express their emotions and I don’t think that the goal should always be to stop the crying.

    3) I think that when parents know that the child’s cries mean “I need you” and they instead choose to ignore the child’s cries, that that is cruel. The “I need you” can mean that they are hungry, thirsty, scared, lonely or something else altogether. It is the job of parents to try to understand and interpret that cry.

    4) When a child is able to communicate that they want to cry alone, then I think it is fine to let them do so (followed up by reconnecting and talking afterward). However, I think parents who assume a non-verbal infant wants to cry themselves to sleep at night are just trying to console themselves (“self soothe”) about their own parenting choice.

    • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      Annie, thanks for your comment. I am 100% with you on #1, #2 and #3.

      On #4. I will also keep my response short. Have you parented a non-verbal infant that screamed, arched their back and cried and cried and cried until you put them down and walked away?

      • Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm


        I have parenting a child who screamed and screamed and arched his back and who I continued to tend to even through his difficulties (except for perhaps a quick breather if there was no one else to take over for me when I truly needed a break). In doing so, I tried everything including rocking, walking, shushing, massaging, and even laying him down alone (with me present). If ANYTHING helped him, I continued that. But I never put him down, left the room, and ignored his cries with the thought that he needed or wanted that.

        That said, I think that type of situation is very different from the type of situation in which most parents do CIO. I think most parents who eventually try CIO do it because they decide their infant is waking up too often at night and they just can’t/don’t want to deal with it anymore. So they use a calculated method of leaving their baby to cry for a certain number of minutes (or indefinitely) at bedtime and at night wakings, while continuing to tend lovingly to their baby during the daytime.

      • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 10:29 pm

        All I am saying Annie is that you haven’t parented anyone’s kids but your own. I agree that many people use CIO because they feel like they have no other choice. And I disagree with anyone telling someone that they ‘must use let their child cry or they will never learn to sleep’. But my parenting instincts told me my child needed space to fall asleep. From the time she was very young she has absolutely refused to fall asleep with someone in her room. Trust me, I tried. I even tried again recently and it was an utter failure. So I did what I thought was right and in retrospect it was right– our daughter is a great sleeper and very much attached to us. There is no harm or lack of trust or breaking of a bond.

        I am sure you also made the best decision for your child.

        But everyone needs to make their own decisions. I think we should strive to get to know our kids and put their best interests first, rather then follow the messages that we get hammered with. Those messages very often lack nuance and don’t account for the diversity that is the temperament and personalities of our children.

  11. janetlansbury January 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    I feel compelled to mention that the sleep specialist (Eileen Henry) who answers questions on my blog allowed me to post her candid thoughts today about sleep and crying: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/01/babys-no-cry-sleep-is-exhausting-more-wisdom-from-eileen-henry/

  12. northTOmom January 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Dare I wade in 😉 ?

    First of all, the original post about the letter from the baby to its parent rubbed me the wrong way, not only because of the sentimentality that informs it (and so much of this type of writing), but also because, fundamentally, we simply don’t know what a baby is thinking at any given point. My 11-year-old daughter asked me the other day whether it is even possible to have thoughts before we have language. I couldn’t answer her, but I told her it’s a question epistemologists and philosophers have argued about for a long time. Given the “unknowability” of the baby’s mind, when a baby cries or does anything, really, we’re all a little in the dark; we’re all guessing and trying our best to meet his/her needs, but for all we know, we could be wrong. And the person who rushes to comfort at the first cry, could be as wrong as the person who lets the baby scream for an hour. (So I don’t agree with Annie’s # 4, and find it needlessly condescending.)

    That said, I did not practice CIO when my twins were babies. One of them slept beautifully from the very beginning, but the other went through a phase where she cried every night for 2-3 hours straight. (My MIL nick-named her Maria Callas at the time—and what do you know, she loves to sing to this day!) I would breastfeed her, rock her, hold her, all to no avail. She cried anyway (except when she was actually breastfeeding, but as soon as she was full, she would unlatch and start to wail again). I now know that she had some kind of colic or stomach issue (she spit up a lot too), and I also know that these days some pediatricians actually treat this type of problem with medication. But at the time, we just lived with it and got through it somehow. There was one night, however, when my husband (exhausted and at the end of his rope, as was I) insisted that we let her cry. I lasted about twenty minutes. It was pointless because we could still hear her crying, so it wasn’t as if it was helping us in any way. And she didn’t sound as if she was going to calm down any time soon. But what I feel guilty about is not that we let her cry, but that afterwards, I went on and on to my husband about how he had “ruined” her. Why? Because I’d read about the ill effects of Ferberization, etc., and I felt guilty. I needed someone to blame, so I blamed my husband.

    And of course, my daughter was fine—not ruined at all. She started sleeping through the night with no rocking, nursing or anything, at 3 months. She is now, at 11, a better sleeper, and generally a less anxious person than her twin sister.

    My point—and I think I might actually have one—is that guilt is the real problem. And judgment, and being obsessed with how others do things versus how we do them. I’ve never understood the formula versus breastfeeding debates either, because I just don’t get why anyone would care so much about how others choose to feed their kids. I breast-fed my twins exclusively for ten and a half months, and then switched to imported organic German formula (long story). And they’re healthy. As are my friends’ formula-fed kids.

    One last point (because this comment isn’t quite long enough, is it?). I wonder if those who are vehemently opposed to CIO have ever dropped their kids off at daycare or kindergarten, and left them crying with a stranger because that stranger (a teacher or daycare worker) says it’s the “best way.” I suspect a lot of us have done this, yet in this instance, we know what the child wants (or doesn’t want), but we make a judgment and choose to go against his or her wishes. Just a thought and a (possibly irrelevant) point of comparison with CIO.

    • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      So glad you waded in! 😉

      I love this: “My point—and I think I might actually have one—is that guilt is the real problem. And judgment, and being obsessed with how others do things versus how we do them.”

      I also love your comparison with dropping a child off at daycare… I think it is a good one.

    • Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 5, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      I did once leave my son crying with a stranger at a daycare. It was horrible. He screamed for over an hour and then they called me to let me know. I came back and got him. I then spent a week going every day with him to try to get him integrated to no avail. Either he was so scarred by the first day or just not developmentally ready for daycare (he was a year old at the time). When we were not able to get him integrated into the daycare and since there were no other daycares available to try, that is when we decided it was best for my husband to quit his job and stay home with our son.

      He then ended up being a stay at home dad from the time I went back to work until the time our children were 3 years old and they started preschool. When they started preschool, they were not being dropped off with a stranger. They were being dropped off with someone they had been given the opportunity to get to know. They were sometimes apprehensive and sometimes wished we could stay or that they could stay at home, but we knew that they were with someone who would tend to their emotional and physical needs and we knew that they were able to verbalize what those needs were.

      We also didn’t leave our children with babysitters who were strangers when they were little. The only babysitters they had were people they had already established a relationship with.

      Overall, our approach as parents is to work with our children to learn new things, to get to know new people and new environments. We don’t abruptly drop them off with strangers, in strange environments, or leave them alone to cry in the dark.

      • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm

        Annie, I think you comment goes to show just how much personal experience plays into this debate. This comment speaks of a very negative experience with your child crying and so I can totally see how that would impact your values/beliefs/opinions. All I am suggesting is that not everyone has this experience because not everyone’s child is the same. I can see how you would feel that both abruptly dropping a child off with strangers and leaving them alone to cry in the dark are both very negative. Your personal experience and values and beliefs inform that. But that doesn’t mean it is the only perspective or is true for everyone.

      • Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 5, 2011 at 10:58 pm


        I don’t think that negative experience at the daycare informed my opinion on this. I had already formed that opinion and went against my instincts doing what people told me was “best” on that particular day. My experience is perhaps similar to someone who doesn’t think CIO is right, but eventually tries CIO once and then regrets it and stops after X minutes of wailing (like NorthTOmom described in her comment).

        Just like she doesn’t think she “ruined” her child because of that one time, I also don’t think I “ruined” my child over the one time I left him crying at that daycare. I do think, however, that I did break his trust and I had to work to regain it. I am glad I didn’t put my foot down and push through and keep dropping him off crying every day until he eventually gave up, because I think that would have been less repairable than a one day/one time lapse of judgment on my part.

    • Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm

      On the issue of guilt and judgment (separate comment for separate issue), we have done things as parents in some instances that we know is not the best. When we do that, we accept our limitations and know that we cannot be perfect all of the time.

      We do not, however, feel guilty because other people can and do make better choices. We also do not feel guilty when people post opinions or evidence that points to the fact that a different approach is better. If we can change for the better, we do. If we can’t we accept that.

      • amoment2think January 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm


        (I wanted to mull a while before I responded)

        I think parents need to go with their instincts. Which is something I think we have in common. And I know that many of the posts you have written provide parents with the back up or information they need to go with their instincts. I respect that. I agree with you on many things.

        I just strongly strongly believe that children are different, families are different, circumstances are different.

        I don’t think as parents we should ever turn off our instincts. I get that your concern with CIO is that it asks parents to do that. And in some cases, for some people, it probably does. And would I stand with you in advocating that we should never as parents turn off our instincts? YES! Would I stand with you that we should do what we think is best for our child rather then what someone else tells us to do? YES!

        But do I think an older baby (lets say older then 6 months), whose parents have an attachment and a connect with, who uses their instincts to the best of their abilities, who feels that their child may need to fuss/cry/release tension to fall asleep, and therefore puts their baby in their crib and listens to them cry from outside the room (ready to rush in if they hear the cry shifts from tension release to “I need you”) are in any way harming, damaging trust or causing suffering to their child? NO! Do I think every baby needs to be parented to sleep with a parent in the room? NO! There is just too much diversity in our kids for me to believe they all need the same thing.

        You can disagree, I respect that. I hear where you are coming from. I just can’t agree.

  13. amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I feel compelled to say that well I think we are having a great discussion re: CIO, I also feel it might help for me to succinctly reiterate my point in this post.

    My issue is with the message being banged into new parents heads that crying is harmful. As Alexis said, “The implicit belief that you must stop the crying no matter what, sends a clear message that your instincts can’t be trusted and the only way to ensure your child’s well-being is to be a perpetual slave to their every whimper.” I feel that the complete lack of nuance in the messages we get as parents is problematic and the implication that all babies are the same drives me nuts. My point here is that those messages matter and they impact us and we need to strive to build in the nuance and not make broad assumptions that everyone/every child/every family is the same.

  14. Amber January 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I haven’t done CIO. However, my first child cried a LOT. So much that on a couple of occasions I had to leave the room, not to honour her emotions, but to keep myself from lashing out at her.

    And that is where the discomfort stems from. Listening to a baby cry, inconsolably, for long periods is like torture. It’s supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make us respond. And listening to it is not fun.

    I realized early on that it wasn’t my job to stop the crying, and that I really couldn’t stop it, anyway. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have done anything I could have to stop it, on some occasions. I don’t think that our discomfort with crying babies has to do with our discomfort with emotions, I think it has to do with our instinctual response to an infant in distress.

    I still don’t enjoy it when my kids cry, but my response is not the same. Because their cries are not the same. There is something about the piercing, shrieking cry of an infant that is something else entirely.

    • amoment2think January 5, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      I agree that we have the instinct to respond to a babies cry. Infants need responsiveness. But I can tell you from experience that my daughter, who I believe is a true ‘tension releaser’ baby, doesn’t sound inconsolable when she cry’s at bedtime. (Which she rarely does now, but ironically put up a 2 minute stink tonight). And from the experience of her crying for 3 hours well I tried to parent her to sleep versus the experience of her crying for 30 minute max when given her space (and only the first couple nights) felt instinctively a lot better to me.

      And I really think there is a link between our fear of emotions and the obsession over our babies cry’s. And I think the effect of the message to parents that crying is harmful just perpetuates that fear of emotions.

  15. Allison January 6, 2011 at 6:40 am

    I really appreciate all sides to this discussion as a new mother. I am being told to both let my son cry, or by someone else to not let him cry all the time. I have tried many different things, but I have found out this week that a combination of different things may be the key for us.

    My son can be put to bed awake and successfully go to sleep with no crying (I find this amazing and is in no way due to anything I have done). He may also be put to bed awake and cry (he’s a baby after all 🙂 ).

    I have learned over these 9 months that a certain cry before his morning nap is ok and will take less than 5 minutes to settle himself. He can also sleep through the night – he weaned himself all on his own due to (what I believe) his love of sleep and the use of his thumb. So I know that he *can* be a great sleeper.

    Occasionally we have troubled nights. This is where all the ‘advice’ comes into play. Do I try to ‘sleep train’ him out of these occasional crying fits at night? I have been feeling torn and stressed over what to do because a) I am reading too much online and b) I am getting advice from people who don’t have children or who have children but don’t have mine (obviously).

    This week my son has been crying a few hours after I put him to bed. We have tried a few different things but one frustrating evening we thought we would try to let him cry. The result was that he got himself so worked up that he was choking on his own saliva. I only let him cry for about 10 minutes. It took us hours to settle him. So, last night at the first sound of this cry I went in and it turned out that I got there while he was still asleep and crying. He did not even wake when I picked him up. I successfuly rocked him until he was settled and he slept for a solid 12 hours. I think that is the best approach for that issue. Whether it be teething or some negative emotions welling up I have learned that is what he needs at that time.

    That being said, if he fusses or cries a few minutes (different cry) for his morning nap this morning I will not respond the same as I did last night. These are 2 different things.

    Some of the messages out there for and against CIO are very harsh and contributed to my confusion. I have learned through experience to find a middle ground and feel more confident now.

    So I really appreciate this post and all the comments. 🙂

    • amoment2think January 6, 2011 at 7:18 am


      I love this comment. I think it speaks to both the frustration with the very strict and polarizing messages we hear as a new parent and to the fact that most of us find the middle ground. I too have learned the difference between my daughters ‘I just need to fuss a bit to fall asleep cry’ and her ‘something is wrong and you need to come and get me cry’. Sometimes I get it wrong, but mostly it works out. I do the best I can and I don’t regret doing my best to read my daughters signals, rather being scared into doing it only one way by the extreme messages we hear on either side. (either ‘leaving a baby to cry is harmful’ or ‘if you don’t leave them to cry they will never sleep’)

    • shasta January 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

      I’m glad someone mentioned the asleep-and-crying thing. For anyone who has a child experiencing night terrors, you know that letting the child cry is probably the only thing that can work. Imagining having your toddler wake up screaming at 2 AM, and when you go to pick her up, she freaks out and starts flailing around when you attempt to comfort her. And restraining her through cuddling/snuggling/cosleeping just makes her more frantic. Believe me when I say that the wiggling and shrieky, night terror crying can continue for quite awhile if you’ve intervened. Our doc’s solution? Letting her cry until the night terror was over. Typically 5-15 minutes, then done. Worked like a charm.

      • kelly @kellynaturally January 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm

        Shasta, I’ve lived with night terrors my whole life, and my son has experienced them as well (they seem to have a hereditary component).
        I wrote a blog post about our experience (Kathleen, I hope you don’t mind me posting a link here), if you’re interested: <a href="http://www.kellynaturally.com/post/Night-Terrors.aspx&quot; target=new I find there is very little information out there on night terrors, and doctors are often at a loss with advice to give – and much advice I’d been given is fear-and-ignorace based (like, there’s some deep psychological problem you must fix).
        I will say personally, I am comforted by words and presence, but less so physical contact, until I am fully awake. The sound of my husband’s voice has helped pull me out of my night terror and back into restful sleep – I would imagine a parent’s voice/presence may have a similar effect.
        Night terrors are never easy – particularly when happening with your little one; and there’s nothing much to be done.
        Here’s to peaceful sleep…

  16. Ginger January 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    I think that crying is one of the hardest parts of parenting. As a mother, at least, it frays my nerves to hear my son cry and not know how to fix it or stop it. (I say at least because my husband has a much different breaking point on the crying issue than I do). In the beginning especially. But, to your point I think, I’ve learned that it’s not always about fixing it OR stopping it. Sometimes, yes. But sometimes, it’s about knowing that crying is what he needs to do right now. That includes when he’s expressing his feelings, when he’s frustrated, and yes, sometimes when he’s in his crib.

  17. Ilana January 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    My baby hated to sleep from day one. She was an absolute delight while she was awake but when the time came to nap or go to bed, she fought it with every fiber of her being. I figured out at about 6 1/2 months that there would be crying regardless of what I did. The more stressful crying seemed to occur when I tried to console her. Taking her in bed with me produced the same result. She seemed to know that although I was trying to get her to go to sleep, I also had the power to let her stay up. (This later became even more apparent with her favorite skill— pointing out the nursery door). Now I could have said, alright then let’s go in the living room and you can play with your toys on the floor. Guaranteed that would have stopped the crying. Or we can turn on the television. Mesmerizing. But I don’t think either one of those things would have been good parenting. The one thing you hear more than anything else from doctors, books, friends, etc. is the importance of sleep. So I was not about to let her stay up just because it would stop the crying. And like you, she would get even more upset if I just sat with her in the room while she was in her crib. If I am there, she wants me to take her out of the crib. The only thing that worked was making her fend for herself.

    It took three nights of CIO before she went to sleep with no problems whatsoever. Now, she takes about ten minutes to fall asleep (I can hear her babbling happily in her crib) as opposed to the hours of trying to get her to calm down in my arms. During CIO, I would sit in the hallway and listen to her cry until she fell asleep. I did not go into my room and shut the crying out. I was there with her even if she couldn’t see me. It was torturous but in the end it benefited us both. We both no longer dread bedtime and she has been a good sleeper ever since.

    The other night, she cried out a few minutes after I put her to bed. Instinctually, I rushed in where I found her foot stuck in the slats of her crib. I do not buy that I am less connected to my child or have lost my ability to translate her cries because I let her cry it out as Annie suggested. Tension release cries (or as my doctor refers to them— the sounds of settling) are very different then stuck foot cries. As moms we know this. And our kids are just fine.

  18. traci January 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Traci Trout
    well, i heard you out, now hear ME out. maybe u do need a good cry once in a while, but do u need one every night for weeks? do u enjoy crying yourself to sleep? when u are crying, wouldn’t you rather have someone hold you and tell you it will be ok, than to leave you alone in a dark room and say “she will get over it”? plus, i can explain to YOU that i’m busy and will be there in a minute, but you can NOT do that for a baby. that baby thinks you are never coming back. sad….:( and what is the first 3 or so years of a persons life? nothing, compared to the 80 or so years they have here on earth. your child is only little once, for such a short time, is it really THAT big of a deal to give them the help/care/attention they need for those first few years?

  19. Pingback: It’s all the same | PhD in Parenting

  20. Candace January 9, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I just don’t see opposition to CIO as based in fear of emotion or crying or even in the believe that crying, prima facie, on its own, causes harm.

    You say that you understand the post you read that sparked this is “not about crying writ large” but then you go on to extrapolate that opposition to CIO is about fear of crying.

    I see opposition to CIO as based in the idea that it is not crying that is harmful but rather that leaving your baby to cry, alone, until the child eventually stops, may be harmful to the baby and/or the parent-child relationship.

    My children cry, my first cried more than the other. I have no fear of their crying or of their expression of their emotion. And I know that children cry for many reasons.

    Attachment Parenting methods and other non-CIO sleep methods aren’t about avoiding all crying or pathologizing crying.

    I also find it strange that criticism of AP-based methods sometimes centers around the idea of a new-age touchy-feely type culture that is avoiding unpleasant emotions to the point of over-indulgence. In reality, a lot of these methods are based on what is biologically normal and culturally normal for most of human history.

    • Juliette January 10, 2011 at 10:04 am

      Exactly. This is what I was going to say.

      Talking about anti-CIO as being anti-crying is a red herring. I’m not afraid of allowing my son to express his emotions, and I doubt most AP/Anti-CIO folks are. In fact, I suspect that we understand crying more than many other parents.

      My beef with CIO is that I would be the CAUSE of my son’s crying. That by leaving him alone to cry would be the cause of the stress. Crying isn’t the cause of the stress – the feeling of being alone and helpless is. My son sometimes cries when he’s in-arms with me – I don’t try to stop him, because his feelings are valid. But I wouldn’t be the cause.

      I wish the phrase “letting my child CIO” could be banned. You *let* your child have another cookie. You *let* them play with the remote control. You don’t *let* your child CIO, like it’s something they want to do. You *leave* your child to cry alone. Let’s call a spade a spade.

      • amoment2think January 10, 2011 at 10:24 am

        @Candace and @Juliette

        I can completely understand your opinion regarding CIO. I would agree that if I felt that I was the cause of my daughters crying that I would think twice. However, in my personal experience with my child I strongly feel I did not ’cause’ my daughter to cry. Trust me, she was doing that at bedtime all on her own, for hours and hours. And she was not crying because she was helpless and alone, she was crying because (in my assessment based on my deep connection and understanding of my child) she was tired, overstimulated and had trouble falling asleep with the stimulation of Mommy or Daddy in the room. When I gave her her space, she was able to calm herself and fall asleep. Not every child is like this, which is why not every parent does or should use the same method. But she is my child and I know her well and I do the very best I can to hear her out and provide her with what she needs.

        I believe there are many many people within the AP community for whom it is really not, as you say, about a fear of crying. But I think the message that gets hammered into the heads of many many of us that crying is harmful does cause a lot of parents to develop a fear of crying. The problem for me is with the lack of nuance in the message. And the lack of respect for the diversity of the temperaments and personalities of our children.

        I get where you are both coming from and there are many aspects of what you are saying that I agree with. But I can’t agree with all of it.

    • Candace January 10, 2011 at 10:34 am


      Since you addressed me and Juliette together, I want to point out that I did not state that when your child cries at night you are the “cause”.

      The lack of nuance is not in the message. Nowhere in any published AP-influenced literature have I seen the message that all crying is to be feared or avoided at all cost, except in the unfortunate title of an otherwise excellent series of books (and this is clarified immediately in the book…but unfortunately catchy titles sell).

      CIO, on the other hand, is quite clear in its method and its expert proponents are quite clear in what parents are supposed to do.

      I agree that children cry for the reasons you have stated–and I think it is entirely reasonable to vary your contact and comforting as per your child’s needs. It is also entirely reasonable to gradually reduce the amount of contact and comforting you offer and to not respond to every tiny wimper.

      In fact, that is what Sears and Pantley both suggest.

      I do not, however, think it is appropriate to place your child down and then leave the room to let them cry until they give up and go to sleep.

      I really don’t know what else cry “it” out could be interpreted to mean.

      • Juliette January 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm

        Agree again. When I say “cause” I am talking about CIO. Not “reading your child’s cues and responding to them”. If you are comfortable that your child really does need to unwind, and that she is not in distress, then I support that. On occasions, both my children have fussed in my arms at bedtime, needing to unwind. And I breastfeed them to sleep.

        Again, crying is not the issue, and the problem with this post and the whole discussion is that the waters are muddied.

      • amoment2think January 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm


        I don’t think the problem is published AP-influenced literature. I don’t think the messages most of us get are direct quotes out of literature. I think they are something that morph and spread in our dialogue. I think the problem is that the message gets boiled down to it’s simplest point and that is the message that spreads. I find those messages often lack nuance and flexibility and a respect for the diversity of the temperaments and personalities of our children. They suggest there is only one right way to parent, and I disagree with this.

      • Candace January 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm


        When you encounter those messages, of course, you should counter them. I have yet to come across someone saying, “As an AP parent, I don’t think it is okay for babies to cry at all.”

        With a lot of conversations, I see well-written messages ignored in favor of knee-jerk reactions (not yours) that often smack of defensiveness and guilt. There are certain topics that I guarantee you no matter how I share information, studies, facts, or my own experience…I will be accused of hating on other mothers.

        As to there being no one right way to parent…I agree 100%. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some ways that are more supported by research and/or millennia of cultural history and instinct and/or reason. Just because there are multiple “good” answers, that doesn’t mean every answer is equally good. There may even be some answers that are not very good at all.

      • amoment2think January 10, 2011 at 4:11 pm


        “With a lot of conversations, I see well-written messages ignored in favor of knee-jerk reactions (not yours) that often smack of defensiveness and guilt. There are certain topics that I guarantee you no matter how I share information, studies, facts, or my own experience…I will be accused of hating on other mothers.

        As to there being no one right way to parent…I agree 100%. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some ways that are more supported by research and/or millennia of cultural history and instinct and/or reason. Just because there are multiple “good” answers, that doesn’t mean every answer is equally good. There may even be some answers that are not very good at all.”

        This… All this I can totally agree with! Although I would add that there are some knee-jerk reactions (also not yours) that also smack of superiority, judgment, close mindedness and lack of empathy. It seems dialogue often takes a downturn, getting caught up in the over the top polarizing rhetoric, rather then continuing at the level of well thought through discussion based on trying to build consensus. And I certainly agree that not all answers are equally good and some are better then others. So yeah to common ground!

  21. Geigerin January 9, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Great post. We don’t practice CIO, but my nine month old is a screamer. Some days (like this morning at 4), I use earplugs to take the edge off. Or :gasp: put her in the swing for a few minutes to save my sanity.

    I co-lead a local AP group, but I’ve read several sleep-training books that incorporate some crying. To be honest, they weren’t the evil damage-your-kid-for-life tactics I hear about online. Sometimes, I wonder if the folks who hate CIO so much have taken the time to read what is recommended. On the other hand, I had girlfriends advising me to let my baby cry herself to sleep at 6 weeks. And not to go in her room until she had been crying 30 minutes…now studies have shown that kind of prolonged crying really is unhealthy.

    I guess I’m sayin’ that you can take it too far, but let’s not judge eachother over labels. Most parents do what they believe is best for their families.

    • Upstatemamma January 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm

      The labels can be the biggest problem I think. When I think of CIO I think of an episode of Mad About You I saw once. It was a full half hour – no commercials – of the mom and dad outside the baby’s room listening to the baby cry. They did not go in and just listened. Thirty seconds before the show was over the baby went to sleep and they praised the experts that recommended doing that. I wonder what most people think of – now that you have pointed out how little most people know. I have read a few books on getting my kid to sleep better but in the end went with just lying down with her.

  22. Janine January 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Parents just need to trust their instincts. I’m no expert. I’m a new mom with a 3 month old. But I can tell when it is OK to leave the room for a moment, when my son is letting go of tension, and when it would be damaging or at very least upsetting for me to so much as put him down. I think your point is that either method (cry-it-out versus staunchly against cry-it-out) is that both extremes have no shades of gray or recognition of a mom’s instinct to differentiate what specific cries mean. That said, I think that our culture is just so obsessed with babies sleeping through the night that many people will use any study on how crying isn’t always bad to validate their unrealistic sleep train methods. It’s the same reason pediatricians still don’t recommend co-sleeping – Some good information is just bad in the wrong hands.

  23. Leslie January 9, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Just wanted to add a little piece – I choose attachment parenting principles because it backs up with research and science. Serious studies have been done about this stuff – I would suggest anyone who’s interested in this subject to read up about attachment – John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, etc. Find out your facts for yourself. Study child development. Pick up a current child development textbook and see what it says – all the latest research is saying that you cannot even study child development outside of the context of attachment. Practictioners and mental health professionals across the board are going in this direction. Just sayin.

    • amoment2think January 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm


      I completely agree with you about how important attachment is. I know many feel that leaving a child to cry harms attachment. My point is that I do not believe it does, depending on the context/circumstances and most importantly the child. I am not dismissing the value of attachment, I am dismissing assumptions about attachment.

      And I can respect that you may feel I am not well read enough on the subject to comment (I did see your comment on Annie’s blog about this post). I never claim to be an expert on child development. But I am an expert on my child and I actively engage and try to learn within the online parenting community. I think that is enough to qualify me to share my opinions regarding our society’s reaction to crying, the messages we hear as parents, and my experience of trying to respect how my child wanted to fall asleep.

      I am more then happy to engage with you in a conversation about this, but I would prefer to do so from the standpoint of assuming we both have something valuable to say.

      • Leslie January 12, 2011 at 11:57 am

        Hi, thanks for the response. And I do want to apologize – my comment on the other site was rude and not helpful, I think I just felt annoyed, so that was pretty immature of me. Thanks for responding. I think I’m just coming from a different perspective. I had a lot of pressure to let my babies CIO and had to go against the flow to decide not to do that. I also feel that though you may be able to do CIO in a way that does not damage attachment, many parents are not and when they hear advice telling them that CIO is fine, does not damage attachment, etc. you are actually setting themself up to have an insecure attachment with their child. I have seen this first hand with friends who have huge regrets and problems now that their children are older, directly related to this.

        I also saw your article about brain development that you linked on here. I see your point, but I just feel that people do need to know that there are risks. If your child is under too much stress for too long of a time, it actually can cause problems, not just in brain development but other areas of development as well. There is much research to back this up. I feel like you posted about those research studies without really taking the time to look into them and see what they were about, which can be really misleading to your readers. If there is a chance that doing something could actually damage the developing brain of your infant, wouldn’t you want to know as much as you can about that so you can make an informed decision? Those studies are actually very interesting. You are right that they are not directly related to the issue of CIO, but their findings do shed some light on care for infants and what kind of environment infants need for optimum brain development – good stuff. If other authors took those studies out of context to support their own viewpoints, that’s a shame. None of the studies that you cited about infant brain development are done to find out if CIO causes brain damage, but again, the research does help us as parents to know what’s going on in our infant’s brains during that amazing and intense first year, and understanding that will help guide our choices. I think we have a responsibility as educated parents and bloggers to get our facts straight about this stuff.

        This article is really helpful relating to your issue here about crying. And even makes your exact same point questioning what is our deal with crying? but it’s from an attachment parenting perspective, I think you will find it interesting.


      • amoment2think January 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm


        Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I completely understand how heated these debates get, we are all very passionate about these issues, but it means a lot to me that you apologized and came back to engage. My number one goal in blogging is to engage in good, diverse, conversation. I always like talking to people with a different perspective, because I think there is always something we can learn from each other.

        I think you make some really great points. I also think that where we stand on this issue has SO much to do with our personal experiences. Your experience includes pressure to let your child cry and the feeling of ‘going against’ what everyone else is doing. Others around you perhaps went too far (for their particularly children) and ended up regretting it. My experience is hearing a lot about parents who were very much scared of every letting their babies cried. They heard over and over again from nurses and child care professionals, as well as on the web, about the harms of crying. As such, some of them are now frustrated about a lack of boundaries with their toddlers. I bucked the trend and recognized my childs particular preference for how to fall asleep. I have been criticized for that and read many a blog post that would characterize me as neglecting my child. I went with my instincts and now have a child who is very very well attached, understand boundaries and falls asleep easily (most of the time. She is still a toddler after all).

        Part of my issue is lumping together the more ‘methodical, you must ignore your childs crys no matter what’ practice of CIO with the more middle ground that I took. Yes, I left my child to cry in her room, but I never ignored her crys and the minute I felt she was in distress I was in there in a snap. She has a very distinctive ‘letting off stress’ cry. I have always had a good strong connection with her and I follow my instincts, trying to provide her with what she needs while still respecting her temperament. I don’t feel this is harmful. I believe my general approach of acknowledging her feelings and letting her know it is good to express them has resulted in a child who is good and reducing her stres by letting off steam when she needs to. What I think can be harmful, depending on the child, is to let your child cry when you really feel they are in deep distress on a continual and regular basis, just because someone or some ‘method’ told you to do it. Parents need to use their instincts, best gut feeling and strive to know their child as an individual.

        I really enjoy reading your thoughts about the importance of brain development and secure attachment. I agree, both are vital. And I can certainly agree that the evidence points to long term intense stress being unhealthy- as it is for all of us. I also agree with you that I could certainly stand to do more research on this area before addressing it further. Very valid feedback, thank you. Again, I think the issue is that of a pendulum swing and personal experience. My experience is of parents feeling like they need to overcompensate in this area and, as a result, not feeling confident that their child is resilient and/or able to handle boundaries. Really, as with most things in life, the middle ground is the preferable approach, in my opinion.

        Thanks for the good discussion, I hope you continue to engage here.

  24. Upstatemamma January 10, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I stand on the side of people that are against CIO. However, I think there is a difference between CIO and crying. The nurse at my pediatricians office used to get really mad at me because before she gave my kid a shot I would always say, “Now this is going to hurt. Here hold onto Mommy. I love you and it will all be over in just a minute.” I felt that was more validating to her feelings than to “shhh” her. With my youngest daughter who is not quite two I often say things like, “I know you don’t want to walk right now but Mommy’s arms are full” or “I know it is hard work to do this but we still have to.” All of this is to say that I agree that sometimes just shushing our children is completely ignoring who they are and what is really going on with them.

    I still lie down at night ad stay in bed with my 29m old daughter until she falls asleep. I do this because it is the only way for her to fall asleep without leaving her to cry. People tell me all the time that I should sleep train her. She also wakes up in the middle of the night and comes to bed with my husband and I. My younger daughter (23m) will not fall asleep if Hubby or I are in the bed with her. She does not want us there. She can be grumpy and tired and screaming and she will push away from us and find a place to fall asleep on her own. Very rarely has she ever fallen asleep in our arms – and in those cases it was only because it was so late and she had no choice. There are times that she is so tired she gets into bed crying and the only thing I can do is watch. If I stay I will only make things worse. I do not consider this CIO. Some people would I guess.

    I do think that the CIO methods are dangerous. I think letting an infant (and I know you said you were against that but still lots of CIO methods include instructions for babies as young as 8 weeks) is damaging to them. I also think that even if your child is older if they simply want you to lie with them that that is what they need and ignoring that is not what is best for them. If we are talking about a baby who self soothes within a minute or two then maybe that is what they need but when we are talking about something that takes twenty minutes or more we really aren’t talking about what the baby needs as much as what the mom/dad need. And while there is value in that too – at least saying we are doing this because we need it and not because it is what is best for the baby.

  25. Mary January 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    The author of this blog and her supporters are not being honest with themselves, this reminds me of a fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. They are trying to convince us that naked king is wearing the most elaborate dress. So you put a baby in a crib, and you let the baby cry. You obviously see your baby disstressed, unhappy….you are not picking them up. Even a neanderthal would be able to tell that you are not giving this baby an “emotional outlet” or trainign the baby’s lungs…you are in fact being cruel and torturing your baby. But it’s ok, you say, because it’s just a baby: 1) it won’t remember 2) it’s kind of like an animal, really 3) works for other parents, why not for me 3) doc said it’s ok….what if other people jump off the roof, will you jump as well? You are betraying the baby’s trust in you. In neuroscience, this is called dessensitization. You are dessensitizing yourself to be responsive to your child, and you are dessensitizing your child from crying when bothered by something, and from trusting you as a parent. Basically, even if you ask yourself, what I am doing right now, i.e. making my kid cry, is this on a basic level a kindness to do to my child? Is this something to be proud of? Is this a good deed? Is this a mitzvah? Do I feel good about doing this? The gut feeling tell you the answer. The answer would be “No”. Honestly, the answer is “No”. Is this a kind thing to do to myself. The answer is “I am an adult, I can stand being in pain, seeing my kid like this for a little while. I have a job, so I need to sleep. I am selfish. I need my beauty sleep. My partner/friends and doctors are pressuring me. I need to do this” You can rationalize this. You can say “it’s not so bad, there are more serious things to worry about in the future like math homework, like saying no to drugs etc.” The thing is that a human being can rationalize anything, do you think most disasters in human history were not rationalized… The truth is that if you want to be kind, you should not make your child cry for prolonged periods of time just so that you can “train” them to go to sleep, you should try to develop a gentle method that works for you and your child, a peaceful method, a gradual method. For starters, how about Elizabeth Pantley “No Cry Sleep Solutions”. In general, don’t kid yourself.

    • Geigerin January 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      Wow. Did you just imply the author of this blog is less intelligent than a neanderthal? I think you could have made your point without that kind of characterization. Sometimes intent doesn’t carry through online the way it does in person, but it came across as abrasive to me.

      I really wish we could disagree respectfully. (I mean the collective ‘we’) I like to think the people I ‘talk’ with on blogs and forums could be my dinner guests next week, and we would treat eachother kindly.

      • amoment2think January 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm

        FYI- Just for those who are reading. I do have a policy against personal attacks on this blog, but I am obviously more lenient when the attacks are against me. I am trying to teach myself to have thicker skin. However, if a commenter attacks an other commenter I do step in. I want to have a safe environment for open discussion here.

  26. Mary January 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Sorry that my comment came off abrasive. Actually, my best friends use cry-it-out method, and their kids are sweethearts, but still using this method is not a good thing, and you should not attempt to making yourself feel better about it. You should just admit to yourself that you did it, and that you feel it was not the best solution, but you did it, and that’ that. There are things that we do that we are not proud of, and this could be one of them.
    Yes, thinking of your blog guests as your dinner guests is actually a great analogy, and I think it’s very nice of you. Keep up the good work. I wish all loggers would follow your example.

    • amoment2think January 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

      Mary, I appreciate you coming back and apologizing for your tone in your first comment. It is very important to me to keep the tone of the conversation respectful.

      Respectfully, I understand how you feel about CIO. But I would ask you to respect that my experience and feelings do not match yours. To make a claim that I, or anyone else, is trying to make themselves feel better is just not something you are privy to knowing. Nor do you know for sure, 100%, that my child was ever in distress or that there was a better option that was right for my child and my family. You have never met me and you have never met my child.

      You are more then welcome to your opinion, you have very good company in what you believe. But I think if we truly respect each other we need to accept that we can’t know an other’s reality and so we can’t make statements about what others are feeling.

      Trust me when I say that I certainly make mistakes as a parent. I am human, and I am very comfortable with admitting my mistakes. And I have thought about this choice a lot. I am pretty skilled at self- reflection. I look at the relationship I have with my daughter and the bond that we have. I have considers others perspectives and questioned myself. But in the end, I really believe I made the right choice for my child. It isn’t the right choice for every child and it may not be the right choice for a second child in our family (if we are lucky enough to have one!), but it was right for my current child. Period. And I have to take the heat for that- so be it. My child is more important then the opinion of others.

      • Mary January 25, 2011 at 8:37 pm

        Thanks for being civil with me, and forgiving my outburst. You are absolutely correct in that every family has a unique situation, what works for some might not work for others. As long as you are confident and feel good about what you are doing, and you and your child have a healthy and nurturing relationship that’s what counts. Continue writing, and all the best wishes.

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