Well isn’t that the question of the decade, and while it has been answered extensively online, by many well versed professionals, and many more not-so-well versed professionals, it is still something we struggle with as parents. There aren’t many people that like to hear their kids cry.
I am not a doctor, but I have raised 3 healthy, well rounded children (3 – 9), who have great imaginations, play well alone & in a group, can converse with adults and function in society, and, have slept really well from a young age.
Something else they do:
They cry. Just like I do, still, at my age.
You see, crying is normal, and can be for many reasons:
We cry to express pain, or fear, grief and joy or even just out of frustration.
My kids cry for many reasons, some things I can help them with quickly where others require more self-regulation skills, which we can help with as parents but, ultimately, is something they have to develop independently (which is healthy and will benefit them in many ways).
One of my favourite sleep experts is Matt Walker, an English Scientist and Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology; he has a podcast on Spotify and hosted Dr. Craig Canapari to speak on Sleep and Kids.
He confirmed what we already know at the start of his second episode,
“Crying is not dangerous.” – Dr. Craig Canapari, Director of Yale Pediatric Sleep Center
We have a fear of crying as a society, that our kids can’t get hurt, sick or even cry without us being worried about the worse case scenario (thanks online “doctors”…). I have read from professionals time and time again that crying is normal and healthy and needs to happen as a part of development so that as kids get older they know how to help themselves when we aren’t able to (I know that is hard to think about, but it is a reality for all of us).
A bit of a background:
Psychological researchers created attachment parenting in 60’s. Prior to this, during the first half of 20th century there was a belief that you could spoil your child if you hugged and comforted them when they cried.
This was a paradigm shift, of course we know we should hold our kids if they skin their knees and need comforting.
In the 90’s, Dr William Sears and wife Martha Sears, wrote The Baby Book. They popularized the idea of attachment parenting, which they suggest was bed-sharing, child wearing and nursing on demand as the safest and only way to parent a child and to never let them cry.
What many don’t know is that the studies he referenced were predominantly from Russian and Romanian orphanages and these children had little to no contact from loved ones and had very little physical contact overall, which is heartbreaking to think about.
This is also very different then the situation in your home; your baby is loved, and well taken care of. And they will still cry, often. Should we let them cry without attention all of the time, no, we shouldn’t. But some crying, for a short duration of time, is not dangerous. And, if in a few short days or weeks it substantially improves both theirs and your sleeping situations, then that temporary discomfort may actually be a gift in disguise.
To prove this to be true, Harriet Hiscock lead a study with a 5 – year follow up comparing kids that were sleep trained and kids that were not. There wasn’t any evidence to show that it was dangerous or that these children developed any differently than their peers – yet we do know that poor sleep in children and parents (mostly mothers) can cause a huge list of health concerns, even driving can be dangerous if you have been up all night. (I have a copy of the full report to share – just message me).
Sleep should be an intrinsic motivation for us all; once kids are set up for success in learning, and are shown consistency, they may cry out of frustration or confusion but with a child-based approach they learn quickly that sleep feels good, and continue wanting to sleep.
In short, I do not suggest you leave your baby alone to cry-it-out for long periods of time, but, if your child hasn’t been sleeping well, and you are suffering too, then short term frustration can often be the road towards long-term health and happiness for everyone.
We can’t take away the frustration necessarily but we can minimize it by setting up the perfect plan for your baby to get back to sleep. If you need help please know we are here for you.
Bedtime Beginnings is a team of Pediatric & Adult Sleep Consultants from Southwestern Ontario, Canada. We help exhausted parents teach their infants & toddlers to sleep well every night with gentle, customized solutions and both group and private coaching options, so your family can all be at their best. Our team can support families in home and also virtually around the globe to ensure everyone is sleeping their best.
Follow us on Instagram for more tips to help you and your family get back to sleeping well each night, you deserve it.
If you haven’t been sleeping well please reach out for a friendly no-obligation phone call to help you and your family get back the rest you deserve.