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The Tantrum: Is Sleep Training a Necessary Evil, or Just Evil? Part 3

February 4th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  6 Comments

Disclaimer: I occasionally shout at my kids. Sometimes I make them skip breakfast. I wish my wife had been drunker while breastfeeding.

So maybe I’m simply the kind of parent who puts his own comfort over that of his kids.  But the end result is that I disagree with my totally esteemed colleague Christopher about sleep training. He argued yesterday that there was no benefit to the kid, only heartache and psychic trauma for all involved. Commenter Gregor had the same reaction as I did:

There’s a clear benefit to the kid when their parents are more alert during the day. Falling asleep at the keyboard? What about behind the wheel? And you certainly don’t feel as rested after non-consecutive sleep, what makes you think your son does?

At what point are you going to NOT do what the kid wants you to do when they cry? Next halloween when they start working through an entire bag of candy? When he’s a toddler at daycare and grabs toys from the other kids? When he’s 17 and wants the keys to your car and money for beer?

I think I had a harder time letting my kid cry it out before I realized the vast universe of things that make my kids wail. Can’t wear a specific pair of pajamas? They cry. Offered vegetables one too many times? They cry. It makes you realize that not every fit is a deep referendum on their parent’s love.

Just today, my 21-month-old son cried because I didn’t let him play with the dog’s water bowl at our friends’ house. Nobody would think I was being cruel or scarring my kid. There are some things that you just have to draw the line at, and let the kid cry if he wants about it. I think sleep is one of those things.

We guard our sleep as zealously as we take the knives away from the toddlers. So if, as I believe was true with both my kids, letting them cry it out is a quicker way to disabuse them of waking in the middle of the night, then it’s right for us.

That said, I don’t think that traditional Ferber worked all that well with our kids. The increasing intervals felt forced. And the idea of going into a room and not picking the kid up seems worse than just neglecting a crying baby: it seemed like being a total tease.

BabyWise, which another commenter mentioned, worked even less for us. I found its emphasis on bedtime routine laudable, but it’s a complete fantasy to say that a nice consistent schedule will make every child a great sleeper. I’m sure the method works for some, but for the rest it’s just snake oil.

In the end, a combination worked for us: steady and kid-friendly routine, but also clear schedules of sleep that were dictated by us, not by the children’s hysterics. It may be harsh, but there are clear expectations.

And about whether your kid will be scarred if you let them cry: to really damage a child and stunt their social growth, you need to be a Romanian orphanage that chains babies to beds. If you spend the day loving and nurturing your kid at all times except when they are pissed about going to bed, your child will be fine.


  1. Carly says:

    February 4th, 2010at 11:04 am(#)

    hear hear! and now i feel better about what i am about to do to my almost-six-month-old. as for what else makes a three-to-four-year-old cry: his mom actually listening to him when he tells her to go away, getting dressed in the morning, bathing, going on weekend errands, turning off the sesame street dvd, and of course needles at the doctor.

  2. Accidents says:

    February 4th, 2010at 2:44 pm(#)

    EX-ACTLY. Once you, as a parent, can figure out the difference between your kid’s needs and wants, go ahead and do so. I have a theory that the new parent learning curve coincides with the development of babies. When you get to the point where you’re comfortable assessing the difference between the kid’s needs and wants is the same time that a) you become more physically/mentally capable of listening to crying and b) the kid is also physically and mentally capable of dealing on their own. I just remind myself often: needs vs. wants. Kid doesn’t want to go to bed? Well, he needs to. For his and his parent’s sake.

  3. Matt says:

    February 4th, 2010at 4:32 pm(#)

    I think the difference here is between two types of parents: those who worry they themselves will screw up their kids, and those who worry their kids will be screwed up by forces beyond their control.

    But there is common ground! At least we all have screwed-up kids.

  4. An Idle Dad says:

    February 4th, 2010at 8:28 pm(#)

    Two comments:
    First, my four year old uses big 14cm cooks knives to help me make salads. Is a 4yo still a toddler? Kids get knives the same way they don’t get dogs bowls. You should totally encourage it.
    Second, we have sleep/no sleep cycles – the interruptions of our 1yo gradually increase until we are both at wits’ end, then we ‘bite the bullet’ and control cry for a single night and suddenly it’s good for weeks and we think – why do we always let the crying/waking cycle creep back in? Then she’ll do it once, then twice and we’re too busy enjoying our sleep so we fold and do whatever she wants (dummy or bottle usually) and suddenly we’re back to no sleep.
    We never learn!

  5. Sarah@toddler sleeping problems says:

    February 7th, 2010at 3:06 am(#)

    Hi, sleep training is merely teaching your baby or toddler to self soothe. Ferber aka “Cry It Out” is only one method and has the disadvantage that it does not take into consideration separation anxiety and a number of other possible factors. You may be interested in reading about graduated extinction with parental presence. I would not be too quick to disregard a well designed and consistently applied bedtime routine. When a baby or toddler has consistent progressive cues for sleep on a regular basis numerous studies have demonstrated that your child will fall asleep more quickly, sleep longer and experience fewer night wakings.

  6. Stacey says:

    July 3rd, 2012at 8:23 am(#)

    I agree whole-heartedly but alas my husband is the sort who doesn’t think babies should cry and wants a gentler solution. From my perspective, anything that one might consider gentler is going to be another problem. If we switch from the baby nursing to sleep every half hour or us walking her to sleep in the same intervals to patting or any other method not only will she fuss as she is getting used to it but it’s just another prop. Another thing WE have to get up and do whenever she wakes up. She needs to learn the skill of putting herself to sleep without outside influence. I’m all for a bed time ritual to cue her to the inevitable but other than that I think her crying and fussing will be more intense the more it’s drawn out. My baby is one and once she can get out of her crib (which is in our room) we’ll be totally doomed!

    Any suggestions on a case such as this where the parents are polar opposites in terms of sleep training?

    I had considered to try training her during nap times but I thought it would be utterly confusing for her to have to basically cry it out at nap times and then have a completely different night sleep experience. Furthermore, I am more interested in her gaining better night sleep habits. I want the whole package but if I had to choose a time to get serious it would be night time because as I said I am waking every 30-60 minutes and there is physically nothing wrong with the baby!

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