Sleep is by far one of the biggest concerns of new parents, so if you’ve tried controlled crying it’s completely understandable. In a nutshell, this technique requires the baby or toddler to self-sooth. This is accomplished by placing them in a safe place like their cot or crib and allowing them to cry themselves to sleep. Of course, there’s a lot more to it, but that’s the general concept.
Despite controlled crying being a salvation to exhausted parents, I recently read a very different perspective about it in a new book called Becoming A Mother: A Journey of Uncertainty, Transformation and Falling in Love. The author, Leisa Stathis, talks about how controlled crying can be detrimental to child psychological development and how it can greatly effect parental-child bonding.
This made a lot of sense to me, having used controlled crying myself. This was twenty odd years ago when it was highly popular, however, and when no one considered the psychological effects on the infant. It was all about the parent getting some sleep – and boy did I really need some!
So, back to the book. Quite simply, Leisa wrote that we wouldn’t want an adult to cry themselves to sleep repeatedly. That would be cruel. So why on earth are parents encouraged to place their babies and toddlers in this situation? As a parent, this made me wince. What Leisa put so simply was 100 per cent correct.
She went on to say that babies and toddlers cry for a reason – and yes, some more so than others. My youngest had a very healthy set of lungs, but that was his only form of communication. With age he continues to have a lot to say, but obviously in being older he can now express it. What’s more is that when he does, I listen.
That made me think about what I had done by using controlled crying. As a young child, I would put him in his room and chose not to attend to his cry. Granted it wasn’t easy, many a tear was shed using the professional advice I was given, despite it going against my gut instinct as a mother.
After reading Leisa’s take on controlled crying, I realised I wasn’t alone. Many parents expressed they too felt this technique went against their maternal instinct. It really doesn’t feel natural to leave a crying infant alone for any period of time, let alone to allow them to cry themselves to sleep.
Over time controlled crying has been reported as being detrimental to infant development. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist who specialises in this field and the impact trauma has on the brain, believes infants don’t learn how to self-sooth at all using this method. Instead, they develop a defeat response.
This occurs because they essentially give up on crying. They do this because their cries yield no response from their parent. Eventually they learn that their cries for comfort will go unanswered – this is why they cease to cry. It’s got nothing to do with learning to self-sooth, as was previously thought. Instead, they rapidly learn that they are very much alone in this world. So in turn, this impacts their ability to trust and does nothing to strengthen the maternal bond.
Thankfully, I have a wonderful relationship with my kids, but I can see first hand the detrimental effects it’s had, particularly on my youngest child. My eldest is far more capable of regulating his emotions, while my youngest has always struggled. In hindsight, I wish I could turn back the sands of time and try something else. If only we had a crystal ball to inform us of our mistakes as we make them!
So in closing, it just goes to show that your maternal instinct will always be your best point of reference. This is the message Leisa Stathis delivers in her book, Becoming A Mother: A Journey of Uncertainty, Transformation and Falling in Love, which I highly recommend.
Image via mamamaike.nl