Posted by: webbhouston | April 16, 2009

The science… or art of sleep in children: Part 2 Avoiding CIO

There comes a time in a parent’s life when nothing works in soothing your child to sleep.  Some kids think sleep is for the weak and other kids get overtired. There are things we can do as parents to avoid the infamous “crying it out” dance that many parents feel like they have to resort to.

Truth is, that is never something that parents have to resort to but I can definatly understand why it is considered such an attractive option.  if your child has special needs that are made worse by being touched when angry or something like this, this obviously does not apply to you as you know better than anyone else what your child can and cannot tolerate… but for the rest of us, there are ways of avoiding CIO with all children. If you have chosen to try letting your child cry for whatever reason that is your choice, but you can stop it at any time and look for alternatives. Here are just a few.

FIrst of all, what is cry it out?

There are a few definitions. Some say that it is letting a child cry alone for no reason. Others say that it is letting a child cry for more than a minute. The way I see it, if you can stop your child from crying… and you know that you can.. but you will not do it to try to teach the child a lesson that is crying it out. Some may not agree with the way that I see this but I have a firm belief that it is our job to comfort our children and if we arent doing it on purpose we are not doing something right. We all know the difference between a toddler throwing a tantrum because they want candy and a child who truly needs us with them. I am not talking about giving in to every tantrum, I am talking about a child who needs and wants us. Who needs our attention.

How do we avoid getting to a point where CIO seems like it is our only hope.

To begin with we have to not have too high expectations for our children.  We should not try to fix a 6 month old that isnt sleeping through the night. My husband still does not sleep through the night, why should a 6 month old? We should also not believe that a child under the age of 1 (some might argue 18 months or even 24 months) should be able to sleep without milk or food, so night weaning at this age should not even be tried.  Trying to nightwearn a child or force a child to sleep through the night at too young an age just leads to tears and suffering for all parties. The best bet is to go with the flow of what your child is doing when it comes to this… because if a child isnt ready. They arent ready. Most new parents especially are guilty of this trying to get their newborn to walk faster, talk faster, eat solids faster, sleep better, etc…. it is especially hard when other parents tell you that their special snowflake already does these things… do just get over and it accept that your child will not follow the “rules” that “what to expect when you are expecting” has set out for you. Dont be afraid to give into your child’s wants…  in one of my favorite articles in Mothering Magazine by Peggy O’Mara she says is best…

1. Trust your child. Your infant’s wants and needs are the same. The child is unencumbered by fashions, trends, and customs.

You are not spoiling a child for responding to their wants, you are simply parenting.

Another thing you can do is set a routine. Some kids really like knowing what is next and really like following routines. If you child is one of them set something up. Maybe a bath, changing into PJs, a glass of milk, a story, and then cuddling and sleep. Be careful to not make these something that become a fight if you child doesnt want to follow them, not all kids like these… read your child’s cues. If it becomes a fight.. dont do it.

Remember that while many books recommend that kids get 12-16 hours of sleep a day… not all do and that is ok. If you child is thriving, happy, and active but they dont sleep that much.. it is ok. Mine are like this.. they dont need as much sleep as other children and I think that they are doing just fine. Again, read your kid’s cues.

Accept that if they want to sleep next to you and they are older than a few months old.. it is ok. They are only this little once and it is for a very short amount of time. If they need your comfort longer than you ideally wanted them to be with you in bed… let them be. They are still little.

There are a few books that are good to read regarding putting children to sleep, they give good suggestions abut what to eat, what not to eat… what to avoid.. what to try.. and give good insight as to how human being sleep in general.

One of them is the No Cry Sleep Solution , it does not advocate letting a child cry and is truly gentle. Books to avoid on this subject are books like Baby Wise, any book by Dr. Ferber, and I am sure others out there that advocate letting a child cry. I have read a couple and cannot believe that these books are followed. They tell you to let your child cry until it vomits. They tell you that you must be firm. I dont know about you but I cannot stand hearing my child cry for no reason.

I have a toddler and I know that they cry and throw tantrums but why would I purposely try to make my child suffer for no reason? I dont get it. There has been reserach done on CIO and how it is damanging to children and adults but no more studies are allowed on the subject because they are considered unethical. I find it sad that scientists wont allow studies done on this but parents are ok with doing it. Harvard did a study regarding some long term effects of crying it out on adults and it was interesting to see how adults were still affected by what was done to them as children.

I know that as a mother my heart breaks when I hear a baby crying and I believe that it is how we have evolved. In caveman times if a child cried it would have gotten eaten because it would have made noise… giving away the hiding place of the group to predators. So it is instinctual to stop babies from crying, very deep rooted. So why are we not listening to our instincts?

“Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms
the baby permanently. It changes the nervous system so they’re sensitive to
future trauma.”
– Dr. Michael Commons, Dept of Psychiatry, Harvard

I do not know every single way of putting a child to sleep. Hell, my own kids sometimes wake up and have issues going to sleep… it is part of parenting. I have accepted it.. as well as you should if you have kids too… but I do know this. My child is secure in herself and smart. My infant trusts me. My toddler feels free to come into bed with us when she needs it, opening up the door for future attachment and communication with her… which she will need as she gets older.  As a parent we lose sleep for our children for the rest of our lives, so I would rather sleep better when she is older knowing that she feels secure because of the choices that I made when she was a baby.

I have never thought that letting a child cry it out did any good. I do not believe that it works… even if a child might react to it in the immediate future giving you a couple more hours of sleep… my child’s future wellbeing is not worth a couple hours of sleep and it never will be.


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