No one would ever suggest an adult to Cry it out to teach them anything, why do we think it’s okay to do it to our kids?
The United States of America is offering the shortest maternity leave of all Industrialized countries, and is the country where the Cry it Out method is most used. Seems like all new parents are doing it, and those who aren’t are weirdos at best, and are ruining their children (and their lives), at worst.
How Would You Feel, Left to Cry it Out?
It’s late at night and you don’t know where you are, alone in the dark. Something is itching down your sleeve, but you can’t get there and itch. The longer you wait the more annoying that itch gets and now you feel like your entire body is crawling. You don’t know what time it is and the shadows on the wall are creeping you out. You just want someone to hug you and tell you everything will be ok, and that you’re not alone. You start crying. And crying. The longer you cry the more terrified you are. Time goes by and you’re exhausted. From the uncertainty, from the existential fear. You collapse, not being able to deal with it any longer.
And Another One…
It’s late at night and you wake up really missing them. The comfort they provide, the reassurance, the warmth. You don’t know what time it is but you do know that you are alone, and being alone is the last thing you want right now. Spooky thoughts crawl into your brain; where are they? Will I ever see them again? You cry and cry but no one comes. A second before you’re ready to give up, they come in. You jolt in happiness and relief. You feel their long waited for hands, picking you up, lifting you into the so much desired hug. You can finally relax. They are here for you. You’ll be okay. Thank God… When suddenly, you are put back in your crib, the door behind them closes. Alone. Again. In the dark. You start crying again. Not only for the fear but now for the betrayal, for the loss of attachment. This time, it takes you longer to cry it out, it takes longer for the torture to end. Next time, you won’t even call them.
How does putting yourself in this situation feel? Terrible, isn’t it? Unfortunately, this is the sad and painful reality of too many babies out there.
Of course, this is everything but their parents’ direct fault. When Google, the world’s number one source for information, follows 200 years of industrialization and labels babies’ natural sleeping patterns as sleeping problems, the world starts looking for solutions and finds the Cry it Out method.
For some reason so many people dare to do to their children something they would never do to their best friend; just because children are little people, we automatically assume they cannot feel the pain and fear that adults can feel.
Cry it Out – How Long is Too Long?
When the little one is suffering – every minute is too long.
Cortisol is the stress hormone that secretes in our brains when we are in distress. Many studies have shown that ALL sleep training methods that involve your baby’s cry (and they all do) highly increase Cortisol level in babies’ brains. More recent studies have revealed an even more unsettling fact: Cortisol levels in babies who have been sleep-trained do not decrease, even when they stop crying for their parents’ comfort. In other words – these babies didn’t learn to fall asleep independently, they simply gave up calling for help. They learned that no one will come for their rescue.
Other studies (and here is a good summary of many of them) have shown that sleep trained babies’ attachment to their parents is significantly hurt and that they are much more likely to suffer separation anxiety and other stress-related effects as they grow up. Babies and toddlers who were not sleep trained will take a significantly longer period of time to secrete a low level of Cortisol when left with an alternative caregiver whereas sleep trained babies’ Cortisol level would spike as soon as their parent had left the room. Babies, toddlers, and kids at stress, within three years of sleep training, have shown no change in Cortisol levels after their parents did come to soothe them, showing they no longer trust their parents’ ability to comfort them at times of need.
Proximity is an Existential Need
Babies don’t need to be taught to fall asleep independently, they’ve been doing it in utero for nine months. What they do need, is for us to create the secure environment they need to fall asleep.
In the first year(s) of your baby’s life, our proximity is an existential need. When we are there, loving and touching them, they learn the world is a safe place. This is all they need from us in these first months (in addition to food and diaper changes 🙂 ). During the day and during the night. The closer we are to them, the more relaxed they are. The more loved they are, the easier this world is to handle. Keeping our babies’ attachment tanks full in the first months of their life is the most important thing we can do to secure their emotional future.
When they are not looking for us, they are free to look for anything else and discover the beautiful world they are born into, knowing that you are there to warm and comfort them at any given moment.
This is a hard period, but it’s only a period. With a blink of an eye, it is gone and we are left wondering when exactly did our clingy babies become the joyful toddlers they are. Just the other day my husband and I shared a high-five for crossing this bridge successfully and to the utmost benefit of our little one (who is not so little anymore). Looking at the toddler he grew into shows us that everything we suffered (and we all know we didn’t really suffer) was for a very good reason 🙂 Cry it out? Not at our home.
The bigger issue is different; when we train ourselves, as parents, to ignore our children’s existential emotional needs (being warm and fed is not enough, there are emotions, too), we will be used to doing this later on, as well. That’s where fights and power struggles come in, where disconnection takes the place of a healthy connection, and as a parent coach, I meet so many families who struggle down the line.
We live in a society that’s used to shutting emotions down, to not allowing authentic self-expression, to denying children of their autonomy. We would be choosing blindness if we didn’t see the correlation between this to bullying, to the highest suicide rates ever, and to violent societies.
I’m here to create a better world, and I hope you’d join me. A world based on needs and feelings, that puts the connection between people in the first place. Because, you know what? Being good to and for you is your child’s existential need. Unless we mess with it.
Join my Facebook group, where I teach Mindfulness and connected parenting through Nonviolent Communication. I would love to meet you 🙂