Hey there, friends and fellow parents. Welcome back to my blog. It’s the number one place to be for all things baby and child sleep. I’m going to be talking about the topic of crying and sleep training. And make sure you stick around to the end because I’ll be revealing the biggest myth on this topic of crying and sleep training.
Let’s dive in and talk about this – CRYING. Babies cry, humans cry. We all cry at times. And that’s okay. We’re allowed to cry. But what does it mean and how does it relate to sleep training? We hear from lots of parents who really want to help their baby or young child to sleep better, but their number one fear is – I can’t handle any crying. I get it. Oh my goodness, I’m the world’s worst. If one of my children cried when they were babies, I remember in the car, if they were crying I would feel so stressed. My stress levels would go up here. I’d be like, I’ve got to make it stop. I’ve got to make it stop.
Actually that’s how we’re wired. Especially as mothers, mother nature wired us this way to respond to the needs of our young. It’s quite natural for us to feel a little bit flustered and like we’ve got to fix it when our babies cry. However, if we know what it actually means, and if we know what the crying is actually about, it’s far less stressful and you can be more calm. After all, crying is a form of communication. It’s a form of communicating a need of some sort and to get a response. That’s why babies cry. Otherwise, they just wouldn’t do it. Like in the sad story of the orphanage analogy where the babies cry and nobody comes, so eventually they learn not to cry anymore because there’s no one coming. That’s a really sad concept and actually, that’s the definition of cry it out. No one comes, eventually you learn not to cry anymore.
This is not what sleep training is because sleep training, or coaching, is actually a form of parenting. It’s a parenting approach to helping a child sleep better. That’s all it is. Now, when you teach your child anything, you don’t just expect them to do it or ignore them until they figure it out. You don’t ignore them until they figure out how to use the potty. You don’t ignore them until they figure out how to read or ride a bike. You help them and you show them the way, because that’s what parenting is. It’s guidance, it’s support, it’s demonstrating, it’s supporting them as they learn something. It’s no different to sleep. So cry it out is ignorance. It’s ignoring. It’s non-responsive. Everything that we teach and any sleep coach or consultant that I would ever support will teach you a responsive approach.
Now, I don’t care how it gets dressed up. Some people will dress it up as sleep training and others will say that sleep training is bad but you need to do this holistic thing. It’s all the same. If you are consciously and actively choosing how to help your little one go to sleep. Call it what you like. But if it’s responsive, as in, if you are not ignoring your little one, but you’ve found the right way to respond to them for them, the unique individual, because it’s different for every baby and child. What works for one won’t work for another. If you’ve found the way to respond to your little one in a way that’s conducive to helping them to sleep better, to take longer stretches and to develop at the rate that’s just right for them at their age and their developmental stage as well, then you are effectively coaching them or training them. You are helping them with their sleep.
You’re responding. You’re not ignoring them. And if they cry, that’s fine. What do they mean? What do they need? How do we address that in the right way? So when people say, but will my baby cry? Will my baby cry, because I just can’t handle any crying. Does your baby cry now? I hope so, because that’s completely normal. It’s natural. I hope they are communicating with you and crying. That’s really good. So if you want an approach to help your child sleep with no crying, you’re asking for the impossible and its just not natural human baby behavior. So yes, your baby’s going to cry, but the sleep training shouldn’t cause your baby to cry and it absolutely should not create any kind of fear or distress in your baby.
That’s the key. As long as you know that. Perhaps your toddler is just having a tantrum or your baby’s just going, oh my God, I’m so tired. Please help me go to sleep. That’s okay, but they’re not afraid and they’re not distressed. How do you know they’re not afraid or distressed? Because you are responding. As long as a parent is responding, there is no need or reason why a baby should or child should get into a place of fear distress. So as parents, understanding the meaning of the cry can be so, so helpful. Recognizing that we all do cry and that’s okay, can calm us down.
What’s the difference between cry it out and no cry? Neither of them are real. Neither of them are going to help you. Cry it out means ignoring your baby and not coming back until the morning. Let’s not do that. And no cry, doesn’t exist. So let’s just scrap those two terms and look at sleep training, sleep coaching, sleep parenting, whatever you want to call it for what it really is.
Is it harmful when your baby cries? No. Your baby cries when they fall down and hurt themselves. They cry because that other baby just took the toy they were playing with. Is that harmful? Is that causing harm on their brain? No. It’s actually causing an amazing development. They’re learning, they’re connecting neural pathways and learning how, oh, okay, this happens and I feel this way. They’re processing emotions. That is not harmful. It’s not harmful when your baby cries because they have a dirty nappy and they just want you to change it because they’re just communicating to you.
If you think it’s harmful when your baby cries when it comes to working on their sleep, then surely it would mean it’s harmful when they cry because they’re lying there in a dirty nappy. It’s not harmful. The only reason it can become or that it even gets talked about as harmful is when we’re talking about ignorance. When we’re talking about ignoring and not responding.
If a child is not responded to for prolonged periods of time, repeatedly over and over again regularly, that’s the only time in which there has been shown to be harm on the brain development. That’s extreme. That’s not what most people do. So anything you hear about, about this being harmful, it’s talking about those extreme cases, not one that the likes of you or I probably have even seen or come close to. So no, it is not harmful when your baby cries.
I want to give you a little analogy that might really help you in the moment if you feel frustrated when your little one’s crying. Imagine, and this affects new parents more, because when you’re a new parent and you’ve just got that one precious baby to look after, you jump every time they squeak. Every little murmur, you are on it because you just want to make sure they’re okay. And that’s beautiful. And I love that. Just imagine for a second, you got two of them or three of them. Not necessarily the same age, because then they might be the same routine. What if you have a toddler and a baby at the same time. I’ve been there.
What if you are up to your elbows in a nappy with one of them and the other one is crying in the cot because they need you. I’ve been there too. You can’t possibly be in two places at once. Does that mean that the one that’s crying in the cot because they want something is going to be subject to harmful damage to the brain because you didn’t go that second because you were up to your elbows sorting out a dirty nappy with the other one? Of course not because we are talking minutes. You’ll sort this out. They’ll be okay. Once you’ve dealt with that child and they’re safe and they’re sorted, then you can go, hey, it’s okay, and respond to your other child, the one that was crying and waiting for you. When you have more than one, you start to realize how oh, okay, it’s okay.
I am saying this as words of reassurance, especially for new parents or parents who are working with their first baby and they’re looking at, oh my goodness, this is too hard because they cry. Just remember, it’s okay. A few minutes is not harmful. It doesn’t hurt. They do learn to wait. They learn to be resilient. Actually, you’re doing them an amazing favor because they will be developing self-regulation which means they will be having to practice a little bit of almost like self-soothing, comforting, calming. Okay. Hold on. Let me check my environment. I’m okay. Yeah, I’m safe. Oh, and look, mommy does come back. And then when that happens again. Oh, okay, that was a bit weird, but now mommy’s come back again. And they start to learn and trust that, oh, okay, you do always return. And as long as they start to learn that then they’ll be fine. They will learn to be okay on their own for little patches of time which is actually extremely, extremely healthy.
I hope this has reassured you around the topic of crying and sleep training. In my next blog, I am going to be talking all about mom guilt. Sorry dad’s, you might feel it too, but this one is for the moms so make sure you look out for my next blog.
If you’d like to have a chat about challenges with your little one’s sleep and receive a complimentary ‘next steps’ plan, we invite you to schedule a no-cost Discovery Call with one of our coaches today.