Friday, December 23, 2011

You May Be Hurting Your Child With The Cry-It-Out Method

One of the challenges of parenting is teaching our kids to sleep on their own. One method introduced by Dr. Richard Ferber is called the Ferber method but is also commonly known as the cry-it-out method. The idea is for children to learn how to soothe their self to sleep.

Here's a little bit more about this Ferber method:
  • You can start when your baby is around 4-6 months. They need to be ready physically and emotionally.
  • Establish a bedtime routine to prepare baby to sleep.
  • Put baby in bed when he/she is still awake, then leave the room.
  • If the baby cries, do not go back to comfort immediately but after a predetermined time. The time in which you go in to comfort the baby gradually is extended. So for example, on the first night you go in after 3 minutes of crying. The second time after 5 minutes, and thereafter every 10 minutes until baby is asleep. The second night, the time intervals are extended longer. For example, 5 minutes-10 minutes - 12 minutes.
  • When you go in to comfort the baby, you do not pick the baby up or feed. Patting and reassuring is okay.
This idea of "progressive waiting" is sometimes misunderstood. Some parents interpret it as leaving the baby to cry it out until he/she falls asleep, even if the crying goes on for hours. Ferber actually doesn't advocate such practice. On the contrary, "progressive waiting" actually requires the parents to comfort their baby frequently and not just abandon the baby.

Ferber's method is liked by some and scowled by others. Some say that it is not healthy to let a child cry for very long hours. Well, they may be right about that.

You might be interested to read an article at Psychology Today entitled "Dangers of “Crying It Out”. Here's another article at Ask Dr.Sears called "Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful".

I'll just highlight some points about how crying-it-out could harm the baby:
  • Neurons in the baby's brain die. 
  • We increase our baby's probability of having ADHD, experiencing poor school performance and antisocial behavior. 
  • The early stress could lead to health problems later like irritable bowel syndrome.
  • It undermines the baby's ability to self regulate. Let me give you a quote here:
    "When a baby gets scared and a parent holds and comforts him, the baby builds expectations for soothing, which get integrated into the ability to self comfort. Babies don't self-comfort in isolation. If they are left to cry alone, they learn to shut down in face of extensive distress--stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting" (Henry & Wang, 1998).
  • Baby learns the world is not trustworthy and develops low confidence.
So, if you're wondering whether prolonged crying is good for your baby, here is something from the article you might want to ponder about:
"We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation."
My parenting style leans more towards natural parenting. I had some people tell me that I shouldn't carry my babies too much or I might spoil them. I didn't do too well in listening to their advice. I used a sling and carried them often. I truly believe in the idea that our babies will be better off if we meet their needs instead of trying to teach them independence that early in life. Here is another quote from the Psychology Today article:
"We can confirm now that forcing "independence" on a baby leads to greater dependence. Instead, giving babies what they need leads to greater independence later."

So, what is your take on this? Have you tried the cry-it-out method in putting your baby to sleep? Do you agree that letting your baby cry it out is harmful or do you think that we can "spoil" the baby if always give in to their crying? 


  1. When my daughter was a baby and started crying, all hell broke loose... Would blow the roof leaving her to cry it out was out of the question. The neighbours would complain and the police would come knocking on my door, I'm sure.

  2. P.S.:
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.


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