The Question of Cry-It-Out (CIO)

Before I did a lot of nannying for babies and toddlers, I used to scoff at people who thought cry-it-out (CIO) was hard to do. “If the kid doesn’t need anything, then they’re not going to get to stay up later by crying and trying to get sympathy!” I said. “Let them cry and know who’s boss.”

Famous last words! I soon realized that it’s not easy to let a child scream his or her heart out, and what’s more, I hate doing it! CIO is not something I recommend except in the direst of cases, and I prefer peaceful bedtimes over long fights with a little one. Things just aren’t as cut and dry when you’re the one in the situation, which is a lesson to us all – beware of what advice you give if you’ve never done it yourself!

I recently read an article in the Independent about CIO. Rachel Waddilove, an expert in nannying and child development, offers her thoughts on letting a “signalling”, or crying child, self-soothe. “It’s what we always did. Raising a child requires a lot of love and a strong will, but a lot of parents seem to have lost sight of the basics,” says Waddilove.

While Waddilove’s tough-love approach might work on some children, I know many children it definitely wouldn’t have worked on. While general childcare tips can apply to all kids, CIO or controlled crying is definitely something that needs to be done on a case by case basis. Some children are higher needs and need to know that their caregiver is there for them whenever they get frightened or scared. Some children, like some adults, will never sleep well.

There’s also the recommendation by many doctors and experts that states that children should not be allowed to cry-it-out under the age of six months old, as it can create attachment problems and even brain damage.

Instead of CIO, I prefer to create a calm, soothing bedtime routine for a baby or toddler. Children thrive on routines, and I have found that a warm bath, massage, story and bottle can help a child calm down and relax enough for sleep. Some children will always cry when they’re put down, and some need the time to let go of stress and relax for the night, but any child who’s crying longer than five or ten minutes has a problem that needs to be addressed. Leaving a child to cry in a dark room for a long period of time can feel interminable to the child, and torturous to the caregiver.

That isn’t to say that sleep training doesn’t have its place. I happen to agree with Waddilove on the fact that natural waking at night is normal, and that a child needs to learn to self-soothe when he or she wakes in the night for reasons other than sickness, hunger, pain, or fear. I feel children don’t need to have parents rushing to them at every little cry, as it sets up a precedent that tells the child that they can’t be trusted to soothe themselves. But I do disagree that every child can be taught to sleep through the night in under a week, as Waddilove assures parents they can. Children are not all the same, which is one of the first rules to remember in nannying!

In the end, parents and caregivers need to do what they feel is best for their individual child. If it makes parents feel better to be with the child through the night, then that’s their prerogative. If it makes parents feel better to let the child self-soothe, that’s also their choice. The main thing to remember is that children are learning about their world and about themselves. Sleep difficulties and disturbances are not rare in the least, and they do need to be addressed in a loving and empathetic manner to help the child get through them as effectively as possible.

What’s your opinion on sleep training and CIO? Sound off in the comments!


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