In pretty much every ‘mum’ group that I’m in on Facebook, there are regular debates, conversations and arguments over controlled crying and cry-it-out methods. It’s an incredibly contentious topic and one that stirs up a lot of strong feelings in people, including me.
Before I go into the post and why controlled crying is something I won’t ever consider for my family, I do want to point out that these are MY feelings and opinions. I’m aware that some parents swear by the technique, and while I passionately hate it, if it’s something you believe works for you, that’s fine. You do you and all that jazz.
I tried controlled crying once, with Harrison when he was about 18 months old. He wouldn’t settle at all by himself and would have me going up and down stairs every ten seconds to soothe him. At the time, I also had a two-month-old and Graham worked nights, so wasn’t around to give me a hand. I couldn’t deal with him and feed Alex at the same time, so when I came across a technique called controlled crying, that promised to help me get Harrison off to sleep eventually, I decided to try it out of sheer exhaustion and determination.
I lasted twenty minutes.
Listening to my baby crying out for me was horrendous, and went against every bone in my body. Every time I left the room after ‘shushing’ him, he would be even more inconsolable, and I was in tears myself. In the end, I took Alex upstairs, scooped Harrison up and took him into my bed and cuddled him until he fell asleep, which ironically, was very quick.
Would he have fallen asleep if I had continued to do controlled crying? Probably. He would have stopped crying and fallen asleep because he would have realised – because babies and toddlers are more astute than we give them credit for – that no matter how much he cried, all he would have got was a cursory pat on the bum and a ‘shhh’ every five minutes when all he wanted was a cuddle from his mum.
When your baby or toddler cries, it’s for a reason. Either one or more of their basic needs are not being met – they’re hungry, they’re thirsty, they’re too hot or too cold, they’re unwell or need a nappy change, or they want some attention from the people they love most in the world. No one, I hope, would deny their child one of their basic needs but not giving a child, especially one so young, attention when they want it makes me so sad.
I’m not one for believing a child can be manipulative. I might joke that Elizabeth can be a drama llama (she screams when I leave her line of vision so it’s fair to say she is one at times!), but actually, that’s totally normal for a baby. They have no concept of manipulation. All they want is you – the person they love and depend on for everything.
I look at it this way: If I was upset, whatever time of the day or night, for whatever reason, I would hope that Graham would comfort me. Hell, I’m 34, and I would hope my mum would if she could! Why is it different for a child? Why do we expect children to go to bed, alone, all night and deal with it when many of us share a room with a person we love?
Before anyone jumps on me and says that obviously I didn’t have a poor sleeper, I did. I had three of them. Elizabeth, thankfully, appears to be a pretty good sleeper at night. Alex was almost three before he slept through the night, waking up every two hours until he was two. I was exhausted to the point that some days, I could barely function, but I couldn’t bring myself to try controlled crying again.
For us, the solution was grinning and bearing it, and safe co-sleeping. I know that’s a controversial topic in itself and definitely isn’t for everyone. I don’t know what the alternative would have been – but it wouldn’t have been controlled crying, that’s for sure.