What is Cry-It-Out?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Cry-it-out may be a familiar term to people who have raised children and want to encourage them to sleep more independently. This method is based on the ideas of Dr. Richard Ferber, who published the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems and released a revised edition in 2006. Ferber never uses “cry it out” as a term, but his ideas may be called Ferberization of the cry-it-out method.

Doctor with a baby
Doctor with a baby

Ferber’s ideas aren’t exactly new and there are other child experts who have preceded him, particularly Dr. Emmett Holt, who wrote about allowing children to cry in bed for specified time periods. Holt’s book, The Care and Feeding of Children was published in the late 19th century. Ferber takes Holt’s ideas to a new level by suggesting reasons why cry-it-out strategies are actually beneficial to babies.

Ferberization or ferberizing babies means when they are about four to six months old, parents have them go to bed awake. When the baby begins to cry for attention, parents wait specific periods of time before reentering baby’s room. They may then pat the baby, but they don’t pick babies up or feed them. Gradually response time to a baby’s crying lengthens so that baby ultimately learns crying does not result in response form parents and must develop strategies for self-comfort.

In his 2006 edition of the book, Ferber does concede the cry-it-out method can take time and may be difficult for both babies and parents. Since parents have been naturally attuned to respond to a baby’s cries, it can be emotionally challenging to ignore them for set periods of time. Breastfeeding moms may find this difficult for another reason because crying often stimulates lactation.

The Ferber method is one that is highly controversial. Some parents are strong supporters of it, while others try it and find it too difficult. Other parents simply believe that it may work but it’s not helpful to the baby or parent child relationship.

Further critique exists in the field of science and child development. There are numerous doctors who believe that cry-it-out may teach a child they are fully alone and this may make them ultimately more insecure. Ferber contends that the child who is raised by this method is more secure because they can self-comfort. Others believe that responding to a child’s cries for help and attention build a greater sense of self and teach children that their wants and needs are important. One of the strongest advocates against cry-it-out is pediatrician and writer, Dr. William Sears, who is a strong supporter of co-sleeping or at least sleeping near infants and babies so their needs can be met right away.

Each parent must determine whether cry-it-out makes sense, and it’s a good idea to read the range of opinions offered. This is a topic that can be highly sensitive. Naturally defenders of the method don’t want to be thought of as bad parents, and those who are against cry-it-out also want to defend their parenting choices.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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