Do you think that cry it out methods damage attachment? Now, that’s a question that I just can’t wait to answer for you because, actually, the first thing to establish is what does one even mean by cry it out methods? I’m going to break it all down for you, clear up any confusion and hopefully reassure you with your choices going forwards.
Okay, so let’s get into it about cry it out methods and attachment. So, first of all, what is meant by cry it out? When we talk about cry it out, the traditional and scientific, actual variation of that is extinction. And it’s an old fashioned method that was published in books of the 1950s.
And it pretty much is what it says. Extinction: you put your baby down, you say good night, you walk away and you don’t respond to any of those cries. And that extinction approach is basically leaving your baby to cry it out. As in, they’re just going to cry it out till they’re all out of cry and fall asleep.
My belief behind that is that the child doesn’t really learn a lifelong skill. They just kind of learn that, well, no one’s coming. So I may as well go to sleep. And that’s kind of sad! And not many parents are particularly comfortable with that.
In terms of evidence to prove that it’s damaging or has any impact on attachment is variable. There’s not really any real conclusive evidence. There have been some studies that have shown that prolonged periods of un-responded crying, more than 30 minutes, and doing this regularly could have an impact, but that’s about it.
It’s actually really inconclusive. But as I say, who wants to really do that? I don’t, and I don’t really know anyone that does, and it’s certainly not something we advise, and it’s also not something anyone needs to be advised on.
The tricky thing, and the confusing thing, is that now lots of parents are using this language of cry it out just when any crying happens. So they’re sort of going “oh, well, I’m doing some sleep training and my baby’s crying” and they just kind of think it’s cry it out.
It’s not. Crying is normal for all human beings. So crying isn’t the problem and crying when learning to settle to sleep, isn’t a problem. So crying, isn’t the same as cry it out.
And some approaches to sleep training will involve being with your child continually. And they might cry continually while you’re there, but they also might cry continually if you’re not sleep training and you’re literally cuddling them and hoping they’ll go to sleep and rocking them for hours and hours.
And they might just keep crying the whole time until they fall asleep anyway. And you’re not actually consciously doing any kind of sleep training.
So when you look at the terminology of cry it out, I think it’s really important to understand what it actually means. And so baby crying, isn’t cry it out. There are really popular well-known approaches like Ferber. You know, I talk about the fade out and I talk about regulated responding and all of these approaches have been shown to be super, super effective.
But that doesn’t mean any of them are okay for any one. It’s important to match up the right approach to helping your child learn how to sleep with the child, with the individual and with the parent. Because if the parent’s mindset and the parenting style doesn’t align and the child’s personality doesn’t align, it’s not going to work, but it’s not the approach that’s wrong.
It’s just the marrying up of the approach with the scenario. There are many safe and effective, excellent ways to help little ones learn how to sleep really, really healthily. And none of them will damage attachment so long as the child’s being responded to.
So just know that if you’re responding to your child, how you respond may need to look completely different for you than it does for your best friend. But so long as you are responding in some way, you are totally meeting your little one’s needs.
And if you’re doing that, you’re not going to damage any kind of attachment. It’s like saying “if my child throws a tantrum in the shop, because I say they can’t have sweeties today, does that damage our attachment?” No, of course it doesn’t.
It just frustrates your child temporarily because they’re not happy with your decision in that moment, but it doesn’t damage your attachment. And so just remember that wants and needs are very different. Go and check out that video, if you want to learn more about that, because it’s really, really key.
But if you’re responding in your approach to helping your little one learn how to sleep, then you will not damage attachment at all. In fact, there’s a very good chance you will reinforce a really, really healthy attachment because when your little one can count on you to deliver the same response every time, when they can trust you that you mean what you say, whether they like it or not, that actually really creates a very healthy attachment, a real sense of trust, a reliability on you.
Like I said, they might not like your answer or your response, but they can count on it. They can rely upon it. They know you mean what you’re saying, that you’ll always deliver. But be careful, know what cry it out actually means and what it doesn’t mean. And then move forward with the right sleep training approach for you and for your little one.
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