No Harm in Letting Babies Cry


A recent study on 326 children says that letting babies cry for short periods of time to teach them to sleep by themselves doesn’t cause damage to the parent-child relationship, nor does it cause any long-term psychological problems.

Advocates of sleep training say that teaching children to go to sleep on their own is critical to preventing sleep problems, but critics claim that some of these methods can lead to serious behavioral and emotional problems later on, as well as weakening the bod between parent and child.

Research has shown the clear short-term benefits of these behavioral techniques: babies go to sleep more quickly and wake up less during the night, and parents get more sleep. “A well-rested parent is going to be a better parent in the daytime,” says Judith A. Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in D.C.

The study followed two groups of children and parents. The first group was taught one of two gentle behavioral techniques, “Ferberizing” or “camping out”, that both involve a lot of crying. Ferberizing consists of visiting the room of the crying baby in regular intervals to offer some controlled soothing. It usually takes a few days for the method to work.

While using the “camping out” method, parents sit in the baby’s room near the crib and gradually- over several weeks- move farther from the crib until they are no longer in the room.

At age 6, the children were tested to assess their emotional health, behavior, sleep issues, and the quality of the parent-child relationship. Their mothers were also evaluated for depression and anxiety. The levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were checked to indicate if there might have been any high levels of stress.

Although the study lost about 30% of their participants, researchers found almost no difference in any measurements between those who used Ferberizing/camping out and those who were in the control group. 16.5% in the control group actually scored as having emotional or behavioral problems, compared to only 12.3% of the intervention group.


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