Let your child self soothe?
We all know the argument here. Some parents say the only way to teach your baby to go to sleep is to let them self sooth; to let them “cry it out”. On the other side of that coin are the parents who look at these parents like they are monsters. So what is the truth behind the theories? Should we let babies learn to comfort themselves and thus regain our precious sleep? Or do we hold them until they won’t fit in the recliner with us anymore?
There have been countless studies referenced on this particular argument, but in researching I found that these studies are surprisingly hard to find. In fact it’s almost as if they don’t exist. The only real, publicized study I was
actually able to find was woefully inadequate.
Most of the time when I look at studies I like to see a large participant base and a reputable organization running a study funded by an unbiased source. If you have, say, 43 participants as in the study by Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and then divide those 43 subjects into 3 smaller groups (as they did) you can barely call it a study!
Statistically speaking you need a 0.05 margin or greater to have a statistically significant finding. If you have 15 subjects in any one group each participant has a 6.67% margin that they represent making it statistically impossible to decipher anomalies from actual findings. And yet I found more blogs and news sources (looking at you CNN, ABC and USA Today) quoting this study than any other. It’s a flawed study and offers no real, hard evidence to what it is trying to support. Although to their credit it is was funded by the Australian Rotary Health Fund which I could find no direct bias for.
As I stated there are numerous sites stating that “studies prove this” or “studies prove that”. To me that sends up an instant red flag. Siting studies and not providing the source means that more than likely the study being quoted is actually hearsay that’s been passed down the line to the end source from which the information is reaching the user.
All the same while looking into this subject I persevered, and found something interesting. While there are not many studies that have been published online, there are several “experts” spouting their personal opinions to everyone who will listen. Among them were Dr. Michel Cohen, a New York Pediatrician, and Dr. Sears (I’m guessing from the TV show “The Doctors”), Dr. Michael Commons, PhD and several others. Still more were simply called an “expert” with no qualifications or identifying information listed.
At the end of all the research I found that there is really no strong answer proven through scientific means as to whether it is harmful, helpful or makes no difference to let a child cry it out. So for this article I’m going to fall back on an old Grecian idea: logic.
For those that don’t know crying it out, or graduated extinction, is a method of sleep training used by millions of people the world over. Parents lay their child in their crib or bassinet and leave the room. The baby usually fusses or cries and after a predetermined amount of time the parents return, soothe the child (without picking it up) and then leave again. This time the stay out a little longer and do so progressively over and over in longer and longer intervals until the child is asleep. This process is then repeated over the next few day, each time starting the process with a longer span before comforting.
To many parents this practice is barbaric and they can’t take their baby crying for them and not being able to comfort them. Many parents give up and refuse to continue this type of sleep training.
The argument for sleep training is pretty simple. The child learns to go to sleep on its own and go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night giving the exhausted parents a sweet respite from the sleep deprivation brought on by a new child. There may be periods of stress brought on because the child is using it’s only known tool for communication, crying, and getting no response from the parents. However, proponents for this method state, and stand behind the belief, that the stress is short-term and will cause no lasting harm to the child.
Those who staunchly oppose this method state that the stress indeed harms the child and could actually be causing permanent changed in the child’s mind. The effects emotionally could be devastating to the child and they may grow up predisposed to withdrawing from society, lacking in trust, and unable to fully function as an adult in society. They believe that letting your child cry it out feels wrong to parents because their instincts are telling them that it is wrong.
Those who oppose crying it out also state that sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone that a child will reach on their own in due time. Also, allowing them to reach this milestone on their own will bolster their ability to form meaningful, long-lasting relationships.
Both arguments have merit. I have known many, many parents who have let their children cry it out. The children seem normal, play with other children normally and have a loving relationship with their parents. On the other side I have known parents who let their children reach the milestone on their own (my wife and I did this with our first child). These children also interact normally with others and have normal, loving relationships with their parents.
So which method is right? The short answer is either one, and it’s up to the parents. The long answer, and my personal opinion (which it why you’re here, I assume) is that crying it out is a danger to the child, but not for the reasons you might think. I don’t believe that stress caused to a child of sleep training age is going to permanently harm them. I don’t think it will harm their ability to form relationships or change their ability to function later in life as a productive member of society. My opinion is based off one thing and one thing only. SIDS.
Ask any parent out their and they will tell you Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is terrifying. I don’t know that crying it out has any strong correlation with SIDS and I don’t care. The fact is that if a child is left to cry they may become upset enough to vomit. In their panicked state they may accidentally aspirate some of the vomit. Now I know parents check on their children every few minutes and if they vomited due to being upset would come running. I’m not worried about a child drowning in their own vomit a-la Jimmy Hendricks. I’m worried about the kid dry-drowning.
If you haven’t heard of dry-drowning, let me explain. It usually involves either a swim in the pool or taking a bath. The child gets a mouthful of water, and coughs a bit, but they’re fine. It’s happened to all of us at one point, no worries. Right? You think that until later that day or the next you notice the child becoming pale, with blue lips and acting lethargic. It seems that in rare cases small amounts of water can become trapped in the lungs and the auto immune response actually causes the child to suffocate.
To me it’s not worrying over it potentially causing some lasting effects on their pysche. The decision maker for me is that there is potential for it to do physical harm to a child and possibly kill them. That, to me is enough to make me give up that 15 extra minutes that the Flinders University study showed it took for non-sleep trained children to fall asleep.
I’m not saying parents who let their children self-soothe are bad parents either. I may, in fact, be a paranoid nut-job. Millions of parents have used this method for God only knows how long and Millions of babies have survived it just fine. In the end the parents are the decision makers and they will do whatever they feel is right for their child.
There is also an emotional aspect to my decision that I’ll leave you with. The time we have with our children while they are very small is so short. You blink and they’re a teenager who wants nothing to do with you. For that reason alone I would hold my child every night until they told me they didn’t want me to. Those memories are now, and will forever be, precious to me and worth a lot more than a few minutes extra sleep will ever be.
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