You’re Using the Cry It Out Method All Wrong

And it’s screwing up your babies and our world. Please adjust.

Luke Trayser
Jan 3, 2018 · 5 min read
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Photo by Brandon Day on Unsplash

My heart breaks for all the babies who crave love and reassurance from their parents, only to be left crying, in the dark and alone, for prolonged periods. So in their defense, here’s a stern little talking to. I apologize if this is hostile, but you need to do better. I invite you to yell at me in the comments, and I also invite you to reevaluate your sleep training routine.

I wrote a satirical piece on this topic a few months back.

It was well received and tons of fun to write, but some people didn’t get the point. That’s a pitfall of satire, so now I’ll just come right out and say it.

If you leave your sobbing baby in his or her crib, alone, for as long as it takes for them to fall asleep, you are failing them as a parent.

“But Luke!” you say. “I’m the boss! I have to set the tone and let her to know it’s not okay to walk all over me and manipulate me! Plus, the world is rough! I want her to gain independence and the ability to solve her own problems!”

Right. I hear you. A few bullet points.

  • Your baby is 4 months old. She has no idea how to manipulate you. All she knows is she’s alone and scared and quite possibly hungry.
  • She very much wants to feel your presence and touch. You are big and warm and you make her feel safe and loved.
  • You think you’re teaching her how to solve her own problems, but what you’re actually teaching her is how to stifle her emotions, how to think solitude is the only option, and how to think her parents don’t love her. These are not good things.

How did we get here? Why do so many parents refuse to remind their babies that they aren’t alone, and that things are going to be okay? Why do so many parents refuse to do as little as gently placing their hand on their crying baby’s back for 30 seconds? Which, by the way, is often all it takes to soothe a baby.

The answer? Richard Ferber. You know the name.

Ferberize it!

One of the greatest ironies in modern parenting is that the Cry It Out method is credited to a man who never used those words. Hannibal Lecter never said “Hello, Clarice” and Dr. Ferber never said “Cry It Out.”

The Ferber method’s ultimate goal is to teach a baby to sleep on his own. Which, by the way, is a marvelous thing. It allows parents to take a breath and reconnect, or better yet, to get some dang sleep of their own. The basic idea: Sometime around the 4- to 6-month-old milestone, you put your baby in his crib when he’s drowsy, but not fully asleep. You say goodnight. Give him a smooch and a “Love you, kiddo” if you feel compelled.

Then you shut the door and wait. Hopefully he passes out. But it’s much more likely (especially early on) that he’ll get mad and start crying.

If he cries, it’s time to use a couple uniquely human traits: common sense and gut feel. These things are vital to properly executing the Ferber method.

Pro tip: read the room.

Most doctors tell parents to let their babies cry for a predetermined amount of time before they intervene. But this is a flawed recommendation for one key reason: As a parent, you now know your baby has different crying types.

The first type is halfhearted and whiny. There aren’t any tears. He’s cranky and letting you know about it. If he could be translated, he’d probably be saying something like “Yo, this kinda blows.”

The second type is the real deal. He’s screaming at the top of his lungs and streaming big ol’ tears. He is full-on sobbing, and if he could be translated, he’d have caps lock on while shouting “MOM. DAD. I AM REALLY SCARED. PLEASE HELP ME.”

For Cry Type 1, don’t go in the room! Let him work it out. There are genuine and valuable self soothing skills being built during Cry Type 1.

For Cry Type 2, get in the dang room! He needs you. Feel free to pick him up and rock him a bit, but you don’t have to hold him for hours. In fact, you often don’t even need to pick him up or say one word. Just give him a pacifier, gently run your hand along his back or his head for a minute, then leave the room again.

Now repeat the instructions until he falls asleep.

How can you tell the difference between Cry Type 1 and Cry Type 2? You’re his parent. You’ll know. Trust your gut.

Please stop using the Cry It Out method.

I find it totally wild and absurd that parents are willing to let their babies sob alone for an hour or more, but unwilling to take a single minute to comfort them. It does not make sense and it needs to stop. Get in there and love your babies. They’ll feel better and you’ll feel sane.

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My two boys.

Bonus tips!

  1. Get on the same page with your partner. You need to be aligned to avoid conflict and to help your baby sleep.
  2. Stick to a routine. My wife and I did Bath, Book, Bed for our oldest son and we do Bath, Food, Bed for our youngest son.
  3. Cry It Out often makes babies so upset that they throw up. If a sleep training method makes kids vomit, I can safely say it’s not good.
  4. It’s okay to remind your baby that she’s loved.
  5. It’s okay to remind your baby that she’s not alone.
  6. It’s okay to not take this article as gospel. Your baby is unique and amazing, and her sleep training will differ from my sons’.
  7. Share this article with your partner and with other parents if you wish. Together, we can finally be rid of Cry It Out.

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