Modern parents seem to be a bit too anxiety-ridden to let their children cry themselves to sleep, but there a new process known as "sleep training" offers a behavioral technique for getting infants six-months or older to fall asleep by themselves and sleep through the entire night.
There is some controversy concerning this procedure because it does involve some moments of crying and disagreement from the baby. But parents and scientists say that sleep training helps teach infants "self-soothing" abilities. They learn sleep signals that they can use to comfort themselves and fall asleep again.
Still, critics of sleep training, many of whom are members of the "attachment parenting" tribe, say that it causes "learned helplessness." They say sleep training a baby makes the infant come to the terrifying conclusion that no matter how long or loudly they cry, no one is coming to help them.
A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics included 43 babies in Australia from six- to 16-months-old. The little ones were healthy, but, according to their parents, were having sleep disruptions. The children were placed randomly into three groups.
In one group, the parents used the "graduated extinction" technique, which allows the little ones to cry for a short time at predetermined intervals for several nights. Group two tried the "bedtime fading" method, which has parents delay bedtime in 15-minute periods as the baby becomes more and more sleepy. The last group acted as a control and was only given sleep information.
Researchers monitored the infant's stress by measuring their cortisol levels and they measured the mothers' anxiety as well. Twelve months after the experiment, researchers evaluated the parent-child attachment and reviewed the child's emotional and behavioral changes.
Parents have two choices when their babies won't go to sleep, says Erin Stewart of the Deseret News. They can let the babies cry it out and finally cry themselves to sleep, or they can drag themselves out of bed and soothe the infant to sleep.
Now a well-known pediatric group located in Los Angeles and New York has suggested that children as young as two-months-old should cry it out using what is called the "extinction" technique. Adults are told not to soothe or mediate in any way once the baby is put to bed.
The medical group explains that the younger the little one, the easier it is to use extinction techniques, because the babies have not yet come to expect that a parent will come to comfort them.
Some comments concerning the extinction plan included the idea that making a child cry it out is the same thing as child abuse. Critics called it inhumane and cruel.
Stewart said that she turned to a book called "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" and used a modified sleep training system. She adds that there is no one solution that will be appropriate for every set of parents. Most parents are doing the best they can and are attempting to do what they think is best for their kids.