- There’s no cut and dry answer on whether or not you should let your baby cry it out, per Tovah Klein, the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development.
- Teaching a baby to soothe themselves and how to put themselves back to sleep is one of the best gifts to give a child, according to Klein.
- Newborns should not be left to cry it out, Klein told INSIDER.
The idea of letting a baby “cry it out” is an age-old debate that many parents – new and experienced – find themselves curious about. While some parents believe that the method can be beneficial to help young children learn to soothe themselves to sleep, other parents are against it.
So, should you let your baby cry it out? The answer largely hinges on your parenting style and the personality of your baby
Tovah Klein, who serves as the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and is an associate professor in the college’s Psychology Department, weighed in on the childhood controversy. While Klein supports the idea of letting a child cry it out, she told INSIDER that it’s really up to the parent to decide what works best.
There is no right or wrong answer
Klein said that one of the main issues with the “cry-it-out” method is that parents are always seeking a cut and dry answer. She pointed out that the issue isn’t quite so black and white. The age of the infant is an important factor when deciding whether or not to let the baby cry for a certain period of time.
“During those first three months, babies need parents to help soothe them and calm them down. Ideally, we help them learn to go to sleep not by putting them into a deep sleep, but rather lay them down at that point where they are dozing off, swaddled, and on their way to sleep,” she said, in reference to newborns.
After the newborn period, the effectiveness of the “cry-it-out” method varies by child and parent.
“What I always tell parents is that it doesn’t hurt babies to cry. It’s their way of communicating with us. But, you have to know your infant,” she said. “The goal is to help the infant get to that place where they are calm and sort of drowsy and then put them in the crib. They may fuss for a few minutes and some fuss for longer, but then they finally put themselves to sleep. And they are going to be fine.”
It all boils down the parent-child relationship.
“You have to know your child, but you also have to know yourself. Some parents can’t handle the crying,” said Klein. “If you can’t, then you are never going to let your baby cry at all. Does a baby need to scream for hours on end? No. But they do need somebody to say to them, It’s OK, I love you,’ so that they can cry and learn that, ‘Hey, I’m OK crying and I can go to back to sleep on my own.'”
Some crying is not harmful to a young baby
Klein, who is the author of How Toddlers Thrive, points out that a little crying is fine for young infants in the three to six month age range. Although, there are certain times when a parent needs to step in.
“If you have a baby who just moves into hysterics and can’t get off of that, then you do need to go in and calm them and soothe them,” said Klein, who suggests rubbing the infant’s back or another gentle gesture to help calm the child down. “The whole purpose of helping a baby learn to go to sleep is helping them learn to calm themselves enough to fall back to sleep. They go up and get upset, but can they come back down. As much as the world would like to make it about ‘do you let them cry or don’t you,’ it’s kind of a between answer.”
Klein told INSIDER that there is no evidence that the cry-it-out method is harmful to infants, but reminds caretakers that a baby’s cries should always be viewed in the context of the parent-infant relationship.
“Crying is a baby’s way of telling us that they need something like they are hungry, sick, need a diaper change, but it’s also a way one of the few ways they have to regulate themselves,” she said. “As long as there is a loving and nurturing relationship happening with the baby during the day, then they won’t feel abandoned and probably they aren’t going to have lifelong problems because they learned to cry-it-out at night. A nice bedtime routine that nurtures them into bed is helpful, too.”
She adds, “A baby who is getting enough sleep is more capable of coping with their emotions during the day. The truth is infants are very dependent on parents to help them settle down. You don’t have to go running to your baby every time there is a whimper, but you get that feeling of ‘Do they need me to comfort them?’ It’s all of that nurturing by day that helps a baby calm at night.”
Start with letting your child cry for short periods of time when going to sleep, and then slowly increase the increments
For parents who are interested in using the “cry-it-out” method for babies over three months of age, Klein recommends starting off with 10-minute intervals.
“Babies can get upset, but you start off with 10 minutes at a time, you might decide to go in and check on the baby by putting your hand on the baby and assuring the child that they are OK. You’ve got to make it quick, though, and walk right out,” she said.
She adds, “I would say a parent should wait as long as the parent can tolerate waiting.”
Similarly, in the middle of the night, Klein said it’s OK to let a baby who is fussing put themselves back to sleep. Klein said infants who are six months or older are capable of sleeping through the night. Although, if an infant is fussing, they may just need a little guidance from their parents’ mum and dad.
“What I would tell parents is whatever you’re doing right now, let the baby cry for five minutes and that’s it,” she said. “Now, try to lengthen it until 10 minutes – just double it. By doing that, you feel OK about going back in if you need to, but you have to make it quick.”
Crying is a baby’s way of communicating with parents and caretakers
“For babies who are 6 to 12-months-old, as long as are fed or unless they are going through a growth spurt, there are these moments when babies need a little more at some point. But they aren’t sick, that’s their normal cry, a parent can really leave them until the parent feels like they just need to go in, put a hand on them, and let them know they’re OK.
Some children are capable of doing this on their own. Klein, who has three children, struggled with letting her firstborn cry-it-out at night. But, with the help of her husband, her son learned to soothe himself back to bed.
Using her own experiences – both professional and personal – Klein has one basic message for parents who are mulling over the “cry-it-out” method.
“It doesn’t hurt a baby to cry as long as they aren’t sick or there isn’t something seriously wrong,” she said. “Crying is a baby’s method of actually learning to regulate themselves at night.”
To those who argue that crying is bad for a child, Klein had this to say.
“People use these words like trauma. Well, trauma is hurting a child. Crying to go back to sleep, particularly as it gets better each night, isn’t trauma,” she said. “Over time, that baby really is learning to put himself back to sleep. The best gift you can give a child is to get good, precious sleep.”
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