Is Sleep Training Cruel?

We explore the controversial question about sleep training and whether or not it is unkind to sleep train a baby or young child.

There are many different approaches to sleep training and everyone will have their own opinion on what worked for them or what they feel is right or wrong but there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer so we shouldn’t judge other people’s choices.

Whilst you’ll find a hundred variations, there really are only four categories to sleep training:

  1. Attachment Parenting – This usually involves no training at all
  2. Gradual and gentle removal of parental requirement for sleep
  3. Controlled Crying or, as I call it, Regulated Responding
  4. Cry it Out – Formally known as ‘Extinction’ (you don’t go back until morning)

Cry It out or Extinction is not an approach that many parents would choose to embark upon. I am also unaware of ANY sleep expert out there who works with parents using this approach – I mean, what’s to teach?!

Controlled crying gets some bad press and is often mistaken for Cry It Out but the two are very different. I don’t doubt there are many variations to the controlled crying approach but it can be done gently and effectively if it is the right thing for that child and family.

Gentle and gradual is my favourite way to sleep train. It suits the motherly intuition to respond and soothe her baby. I am a mother myself and can relate to how this feels. This approach is highly effective and the one most people are able to see through. It is as gentle as sleep training gets.

Attachment parents can sleep train to a certain point but it is important to be clear on the desired goals. Many attachment parents choose to co-sleep for many many months and feeding to sleep is a common hinderance in obtaining great sleep abilities for babies with attachment parents.

Can sleep training harm my baby?

The only way that you could see lasting negative effects from sleep training would be if you were to leave your baby alone to cry for extended periods of time on a regular basis (Cry It Out). Even then, the evidence of this is not conclusive.

Gentle sleep training such as the gradual approach (my ‘4-Step Fade Out’) or gentle controlled crying (which I define as ‘Regulated Responding’) are safe and effective and there is no evidence of any negative implications on a baby or young child using these.

I just feel mean hearing my baby cry.

Crying is normal and natural and a means of communication. In many cases, a baby will cry when they are desperate to go to sleep but don’t know how. They are asking for you to assist them with this and gently teaching them how to do it is actually the kindest thing you could do.

Your baby will also cry when sleep deprived. Being very overtired will not enable your little one to get the most enjoyment from his day and will hinder his development. Your baby will cry if he is unwell and his immune system will be weaker if he isn’t getting enough restorative sleep.

During sleep training, your little one might cry but we will respond to those cries. We will devise suitable responses that are soothing and reassuring but without sabotaging the little one’s attempts at putting himself to sleep. We don’t ‘rescue’ or ‘fix’ them by doing it for them, but we teach them how to do it while supporting, reassuring and soothing them.

Check out this episode where we ask the question – Is Sleep Training Cruel?

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