No mama worth her salt likes or enjoys seeing her baby cry, no matter if that baby is still cutting teeth or old enough to borrow $20 (and “forget” to give it back). It’s why, in a playground crowded with dozens of kids, we’re able to pick out that one distinct wail and run to the rescue of our child in distress.
Maternal instinct propels us to fix whatever’s upsetting them, to soothe them, console them, make everything alright, even at the sacrifice of our own safety and comfort. That’s what we sign up for when those nine months turn into delivery room showtime, and we commit to raising the little people we produce. But that doesn’t mean it’s not OK to let a child cry it out.
It’s actually better to sometimes let them sob than to run to them for every little whimper or whine. That’s not just me saying that. A research team at the University of Melbourne, who find that parents who wait a while before tending to their crying child, do too, citing that moms and dads who create a pattern of allowing their child to comfort themselves at night actually sleep better—and the baby does, too.
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We’re not talking just tossing your kid into a crib at bedtime, cranking on a mobile, and letting them cry themselves into a shrieking frenzy for hours on end. There’s a technique and a strategy involved that ultimately helps babies and children learn to comfort themselves instead of hollering (literally) for mom and dad to do it.
I let my baby cry it out, back when she was actually a baby and not a big, strapping 13-year-old. But I didn’t do it at night, since I never really had a problem putting her down for bedtime. My challenge was in the day, when my daughter was about a year old and was going through a period where she would fuss for no reason except she absolutely refused to take a nap. Despite rubbing her eyes and clawing at her hair, she wouldn’t submit to Mr. Sandman quietly. She resisted like a rock star trashing a hotel room and, much to my chagrin, she wanted to be held and the center of my attention. All. Of. The. Time. Even putting her down to use the restroom caused a whole heap of chaos. My poor, embattled bladder suffered greatly during that time.
Of course I wanted to hold her and cuddle her. Of course I wanted to kiss and coddle her. But a baby who insisted on being cordial only when she was dangling from her mama’s hip made it not only difficult for said mother to cook or clean or do her college papers—that was my own personal problem—but to find babysitters and leave her with anyone but that self-appointed queen of comforting otherwise known as Mommy. I had to break her of it. Crying it out worked.
Whenever she started that old familiar fussiness, I’d put her in the crib to let her know it was time to sleep and then, when she cranked up for rafter-breaking protests, I’d rock her, rub her back, and then, if that didn't work, let her cry herself to sleep. And cry she did—for a while. But it didn’t take long for those tumultuous periods of melodrama to get shorter and shorter and naptime to get easier and more organized. We, like so many others who’ve chosen to pull out this tactic, are a living testimony. And she doesn’t hate me and we don’t struggle to communicate and our bond was not severed.
It sucked to hear her cry and not run to her, but I had to resolve that this was for her own good, even that young. After that phase, when she cried, I knew she really needed me and wasn’t just yodeling because she liked to see me come running.
Have you ever let your child cry it out?
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