Every mom would be wise to try and learn from the mistakes of others. This is the story of my biggest one.
I did the CIO thing with my oldest. I “flexibly scheduled” his feedings. If he was crying, and I noted that he was dry, clean, full, and well-rested, I let him cry. Sometimes, it took up to an hour before he would “self-soothe,” while I became more and more callous to his baby whimpers.
No wonder he was nearly diagnosed with failure-to-thrive at six months old, and I was told to wean him, feed him formula, and fry his Cheerios in butter to fatten him up. I had lost my ability to really gauge his needs, because I ignored his signals.
He is now eight years old, and a perfect example of what is so very wrong with letting young babies “cry it out.”
Thankfully, I was better educated before I had my subsequent three children. Oh! the difference! I cannot begin to describe it. I hesitate to write much more, because I don’t want to violate the privacy of my children, but I share because this message is too important not to.
My oldest son is an outgoing, independent kid. He’s smart, an advanced reader, active, and imaginative. He laughs easily, especially at farts, and longs for adventure. He is affectionate and verbal, seeking hugs and giving out “I love you’s” as though there were no tomorrow. I love him deeply, and am so proud of the young man he will grow to be.
Yet, there is something missing in him. The areas in which CIO children struggle most with–even long-term–are empathy and stress response. Two key areas my son has deeply-rooted issues with, that I can trace back to the first time I let him CIO at two weeks old.
These issues are manifest in several ways.
It takes next to nothing to completely set him off, revealing bitterness, anger, fear of failure, and a sense of helplessness. (Really, it’s a “learned helplessness.”) When he is even mildly distressed, he cannot handle it. He believes himself alone, with all the world against him. He cannot control himself at all. All my efforts to teach him to breathe, pray, and calm down feel as though they are to no avail.
He cannot sympathize with other children without great effort and coaching. He quickly gets aggressive–usually verbally aggressive, but he occasionally gets physical–when he feels wronged or slighted. If I ask how he would feel if so-an-so did the same thing to him, he has the same answer every time: “Sad.”
He struggles to express what’s going on inside. He doesn’t think his opinion matters.
He almost never asks for help with anything, because it was ingrained in him that his mother would not help him if he cried out for her. He will drive himself into a flurry of frustration, trying to do things on his own, that I am more than willing to help with. It doesn’t sink in when I tell him that I want to help him; that I’m there for him, no matter what. That all he has to do is ask, and I will respond. Deep down, he doesn’t believe me. His infant brain was hard-wired to understand that I wasn’t there when he needed me as a tiny baby crying for comfort.
I was often in the next room, crying it out myself, or with music up loud enough that I couldn’t hear him.
Occasionally, I have glimpses of hope when he tries to confide in me. On the rare occasions he wants to talk to me, I do my best to listen, and let him know I love him. That I’m a safe place for him to land.
As the articles I will link at the end of this post outline, CIO damages areas of the brain specifically related to empathy and stress response. The two key areas my oldest son struggles with deeply. So deeply at this point, that I’m researching affordable therapy for him.
There is only so much I can do as a mother, and I really am doing all I can to make up for lost ground.
And I share this story hesitatingly, knowing that I am exposing myself to judgment.
I don’t care as much about that any more. The truth is more important.
If I can save one baby from being forced to cry it out – I will be satisfied.
To me, picking up a crying baby and responding to him is an act of love, respect, and common decency toward a fellow human being. How could it be otherwise? We would do no less for our adult friends. Why do we expect our babies to soothe themselves when we can rarely do it for ourselves without a trusted shoulder or a kind ear? It just doesn’t make sense.
I learned from my mistakes, and my other children do not have these struggles. I know, without doubt, that the difference between them and their older brother stems from more than personality or gender differences. I know, as the mother of these four precious beings, how much power I really do have to shape their lives when they are small. I have learned to appreciate and use that power more wisely than I did with my eldest.
The more information I take in from evidence-based resources, and the more I combine that with the heart instincts I was given as a mother, the more I know that what I share here is true. That CIO methods of infant care are no kind of care at all. It is dangerous physically, mentally, and emotionally–in the long-term–for babies. Period.
I hope that those who read this will take advantage of this opportunity to learn from my mistakes, and do things differently. It’s not to late to start responding to your child’s legitimate needs for comfort.
This is the sole reason I share here.
Grace & Peace,
Tiffany Miller, CLD, CCCE
And just for good measure, here is a panorama of good reading on the subject: Sleep Training: A Review of Research This is one of the newest articles out, if you prefer a quick summary: Dangers of Crying it Out