As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Gentle Alternative to "Cry-it-Out"

My 19-month-old has recently decided she does not want to go down to bed, at naptime or at bedtime.  With the approaching summer meaning more hours of daylight, I can't expect any help in the form of darnkess at bedtime from Mother Nature.  My kids are all great sleepers.  I nursed them to sleep until they were all over a year (something the "experts" caution against strongly) and had no problem transitioning any of them to being put down awake.  No bottles, no rocking.  This is where the "cry-it-out" method came into play for me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against it. But over the years I've learned to loosen up a bit, and have more realistic expectations.  In the early days of parenting I was so rigid about it, and would sit in the other room stubbornly listening as my little one screamed for an hour or more, certain that if I caved and went in it would ruin their sleep patterns forevermore.  Those are among my deepest regrets as a parent.  Now if I'm going to let a child cry, they will be:

a) older than six months old
b) not freaking out
c) not crying steadily for more than 20 minutes

What has worked best for us in the past is to ignore the defiant, whiny, "fighting sleep" cries that are intermittent and give the impression that the little one is indeed on their way to slumber, albeit protestingly.  But when they get themselves all worked up and more panicked as time goes on instead of less, that's when we switch things up.

And so it was with my darling little one.  I sing her the same song every time I put her down to bed, and she got into the habit of crying as soon as she heard the song knowing the dreaded hour was imminent.  A few nights I rocked her to sleep, but didn't want to turn that into a habit (though I do admit, it was nice!)  I would try switching up the repertoire of songs which seemed to soothe her, but as soon as we got back to the bedtime song she was back to protesting.  I tried leaving her in her bed screaming, but she was on her feet before I left the room, and screaming bloody murder - and honestly a household can only listen to that for so long.

One day, frustrated, I ended up just dragging out the usual bedtime routine, not by changing anything but just repeating it for as long as she needed to be calm.  It was less of a planned out strategy and more of a coping mechanism, because I honestly didn't know what else to do! I stood swaying with her in my arms singing only the bedtime song over and over, until I could get through the whole thing without any crying, (or my personal favorite, "I don't want it!" which is what she has taken to saying at bedtime, haha!) If she put up any signs of a fight I didn't put her down, I would just go right back to the start of the song and try it again.  I tried to stay calm and told myself I'd stay for as long as I needed to soothe her.

It worked, and I had found a new way to approach this daunting challenge.  Sometimes I sing once, sometimes I sing twenty times, but always the same song.  If I put her down and she starts to cry, I pick her up and start singing again.  I don't sit down, I don't sing different songs, because I don't want her to think we're not going to bed anymore.  But I try not to get upset either. I try to keep things calm, waiting for her to settle down.  When I finally manage to get her to stay down she's still awake, which is important to me, because I don't want her to need me in order to fall asleep (which is why I was weary of rocking every night, though I'd do it if I had to).  But eventually she stops protesting, and that makes for a much more peaceful bedtime for Mom and baby.

This is what has been working for us.  Not the, "leave for five minutes, then ten, then fifteen, don't make eye contact, tuck them in and go back out" stuff.  I've tried all those things in the past, and granted they have worked.  But my sanity can manage this method so much easier, a method that for me means investing a little more time in the room intially to ensure that once I leave, that's it. I do look her in the eye, I smile, she coos, and I don't leave until she's settled.  She lets me know when she's ready for me to leave, and honestly that's not the worst thing in the world.  Because if I can leave her assured that I am there for her, that I will stay as long as she needs me to (which never ends up being more than twenty minutes anyway) we are both spared the anxiety of the tortured screaming and power struggle that crying-it-out so often becomes.  Cry-it-out, at least for me, should not be about ignoring her crying at all costs.  It should be a method to judge what kind of crying is good to leave alone, and what kind of crying needs a response.


  1. SO GREAT! We have 4 kids and the youngest is 2 1/2 now. Some kids are good sleepers and others just aren't. We are all wired a little differently. We have a similar approach and it just works. I am so glad I found your blog!

  2. "Cry-it-out, at least for me, should not be about ignore crying at all costs. It should be a method to judge what kind of crying is good to leave alone, and what kind of crying needs a response."

    Absolutely!! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and a new technique! The picture of you two at the bottom is priceless <3 With her cupie lips, full pink cheeks, LONG dark eyelashes, and curls!!!! She couldn't be more perfectly made.