Friday, October 26, 2012

Crying it out... not for the faint of heart.

I've mentioned in a number of my posts that Hubby and I decide to let Little C "cry it out" from time to time. I thought I'd share a little bit of insight into why we do this and when it works.

First of all I'd like to say I'm only sharing how we do it in the off-hand chance that out of the tens of you that read this blog there will be someone that finds it helpful. I'm not sharing this to declare that our way is best or that we have it all figured out. It's quite the opposite. I know there are many different ways of parenting and what works for some may not work for others. I just know that I find comfort in hearing how other parents handle certain situations and even if it isn't a good fit for my family, it’s nice to know there are options out there.

So, why let him cry it out?  The answer to that question depends on the reason he has been put in the situation to begin with. The two most common reasons are 1) to teach him a lesson from his behavior 2) to get him to self-soothe.

Let's examine the first reason of teaching him a lesson... Tantrums are no fun but they are a necessary part of a toddler’s development. We are fully aware that there are times when our little man just can't process his emotions and the only thing he can do to get them out is to throw a tantrum. In this case we are not going to shove him in his crib and make him wail in solitude. We will attempt to comfort him and distract, distract, distract.

However, let's say our precious little toddler has demanded that he plays with our keys. It is not a good time for him to play with our keys so we start by saying, "not right now." The demanding request continues and we have to start getting sterner with an emphatic, "no." We now have a full on temper tantrum complete with dramatic body throwing to the floor, kicking and screaming, the occasional head-butt into the carpet, etc. He is not getting his way and he is throwing a fit because of it. At first we may try to calm him down with distraction and if it doesn't work and it is clear there will be no calming down any time soon... we let him cry it out. We make sure he is in a safe place and if need be we move him into his crib and shut the door.

Toddlers want attention and if they are behaving poorly and you are trying to convince them not to, it is still attention and they are getting what they want. And by always giving your child what they want, what does this teach them? So by leaving him to cry and get his emotions out he isn't getting the attention, he is learning that his behavior made the attention go away. Of course we are not naive to the fact that he probably doesn't think that way and won't be able to rationalize what we are doing until he is a bit older but we feel that putting the wheels in motion now is helpful. (I also realize the example of asking for keys is pretty mild and not that big of a deal but it was the best example I could come up with, it's early... give a gal a break)

Now for the second reason to cry it out, self-soothing. This is a biggie for us. Two working parents that need their sleep cannot be rushing into their son's room with every little whimper all throughout the night. If Little C wakes up in the middle of the night he needs to be able to soothe himself back to sleep. When we were breaking him of the pacifier this was the hardest form of "crying it out" we've dealt with by far. It felt cruel because we knew he was confused. But you know what? It worked and the hard crying only lasted a brief while before he was sound asleep.

Now let's also clear up another point. If our son wakes up in the middle of the night with a cry that signals, "something is wrong" (a stomach ache, a fever, or discomfort of any kind) it is clear that it is not a moment for letting him cry it out. We are not idiots and we are not stone cold individuals that rule with an iron fist. We are very in tune with Little C and his different cries and we know when crying it out is appropriate.

· The intense guttural cry = something is wrong, go to his side
· He gets startled and starts crying = offer him comfort
· He is blurting out little blips of crying-like sounds, no real tears = he wants attention
· He makes crying-like sounds then goes silent waiting to see if someone is coming to get him, rinse and repeat = he wants attention
The last point I want to make is that letting our son cry it out is not easy. Like I said, we are not stone cold. For me it is when I have to draw the line between "Mommy" and "Parent." The Mommy in me wants to comfort, and soothe my baby at all times. I don't want him to be upset, even if he is throwing a tantrum, and I want to offer him any help that I can. But the Parent has to come out when it is time to make the hard decisions that seem best for our son even if they aren't the easiest and they result in crying. The Parent decisions teach him a lesson and in the long run will help him. Plus after the crying subsides I get to be Mommy again and all is right with the world!

Crying it out didn't start for us until after Little C turned one. We were blessed with a very easy-going, go-with-the-flow, baby and there was never a need. But I swear there was a switch that flipped at about 13 months old and we found ourselves taking off the mommy/daddy hats more frequently to put the parent hats on.

For us crying it out is necessary when the appropriate situation arises. Sometimes Hubs and I may even be on different pages as to when that situation is. He has talked me down from rushing into C's room when I just couldn't take it any longer, only to have C calm down seconds later on his own. I've done the same for Hubs.

We want to help our son as best we can and some times, for us, that means letting him cry it out.

So what about you? Do you have a different approach? Does crying it out work with your family?


  1. Very thought-provoking post, especially for someone who hasn't let her son cry it out, and I do go into his room at night for the "whimpers" because I'm afraid he'll be wide awake if I don't go when they start.

    I really, really like your distinction between Mommy and Parent and that is also something I'm going to be thinking about a lot.

  2. Like I said, crying it out isn't for everyone but I guess it's worth a try to see if Munch responds to it and it could make for a more restful night for you. But go with your gut, mama! If you are happy the way things are going then why mix it up. You know?

    Ahhh, yes. The Mommy vs. the Parent. It is not fun but completely necesarry especially when I think of how much more it will come into play as our kids get older. This baby/toddler "stuff" will probably seem super easy compared to when the real parenting starts!

    You actually gave me the idea for this post with your comment from yesterday. It got me thinking why we do it and thought I'd share with others. So, thank you!