CIO Method- Sleep Training & Tears: The Perfect Concoction Or A Set Up For Failure?
Parents, we have all been there:
…the bleary eyes at 3am, the steady pulse of a nauseating headache, the wondering of just when the *&^% your darling baby or toddler will finally succumb to the sleep he or she so desperately needs and so you can catch a few zzz’s before you’re due back at the office or to catch your sanity.
Being a parent is tough.
But being a sleep deprived parent who also needs to be functional during the day can bring anyone to his or her breaking point.
[Read my story here.]
This is likely why the “cry it out” method or (cio method) took off in the mid- to late 20th Century.
Think about it: unlike ever before in history, women were entering the workforce in droves.
These mothers needed to get to work on time and needed to effectively perform their duties so as to not risk being fired.
Inflation was taking off, so the need to have a dual income family was more than a nicety; it was quickly becoming a necessity (in fact, since the mid-seventies, the number of families with two working parents have more than doubled!).
Babies needed to sleep so that the parents could sleep, and so one popular method which you will hear the grandparents of your children likely glorifying today is antiquated (yes, I said it) “Cry It Out” method.
Table Of Contents
What Is The Cry It Out Method?
The Cry It Out method (or “CIO” for short) is actually a term used to refer to two separate yet somewhat similar sleep training methods.
a) The Extinction Method
This is the traditional understanding of “cry it out” and was thought to only be mastered by the bravest and most steel-hearted of parents.
Through the extinction CIO method, parents were instructed to completely abandon their babies at bedtime, leaving their little one to cry until they had nothing left to give or to teach their baby’s underdeveloped and confused mind to learn how to deal with whatever it was they were crying about (hunger, a dirty diaper, fear, etc.).
Way too tough for me to even handle as a mom.
b) The Graduated Extinction Method
This method is easier for parents to swallow.
Parents who practice the graduated extinction method (also known as the Ferber method) are told to leave their babies alone at sleep time.
When baby cries, the parent will alternate between tending to their crying child and not tending to the crying child, all the while decreasing the intervals in which they appear when the child is fussing.
This method seems to be the equivalent of dangling a carrot in front of a horse.
Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t which you would think would make you either:
a) Frustrated and angry beyond belief; or
b) Needy. Very, very needy
But according to a study in 2006 (Mindell et al 2006), it may not be all bad.
- Babies and toddlers who complete this sleep training are more likely to settle down within ten minutes of going to bed
- Babies and toddlers who complete the training are less likely to have tantrums at bedtime (that’s definitely a plus)
- Babies and toddlers who complete the training are less likely to bother their parents during the night
And hey, guess what?
Parents reap some benefits too, like having improved stress levels, enjoying a better mood, and having improved interactions with their children – likely because they’re awake and alert rather than having to function in “zombie mode”.
[Great read from Alexis over at Precious Little Sleep]
The Data, The Research, And The Reasoning Why The CIO Method Sucks
When our parents were raising us, there was not nearly as much sophisticated (if any) research surrounding the topic of “sleep training” and the like.
But claiming ignorance isn’t going to help us parents of today.
There are tons and tons of research out there from over the past decade or more that has revealed what a lot of us parents have feared: the CIO method sucks not only for our kids but for us.
My Little Story
For me personally, I find to just do what your motherly instincts tell you. For my 6-month-old, at the time, she began to incessantly cry whenever I put her in the crib.
So, one day, I let her be after the diaper and belly were comforted. She cried for 27 minutes straight before falling asleep.
This was the worst 27 minutes of my life to listen to her like this. BUT she never cried again and just started to soothe herself before bedtime… in my case, this method worked for me.
I couldn’t keep holding her until she fell asleep.
A Loss For Both Sides
For baby, he or she eventually learns that his discomfort (which is why the baby is crying in the first place) does not matter and that his or her cry is not valuable.
Over time baby can lose trust in your responsiveness as his caregiver, which is setting both parent and child up for a more tumultuous relationship down the road.
The CIO method is difficult for almost every parent to endure because we are biologically wired to respond to our baby’s cries (and there’s a reason for that!).
image credit: “Angry kid” Kim Strømstad Flickr
But as we train our babies that crying won’t get our attention, we are also training ourselves to stop paying attention to our babies.
Who will become toddlers?
Who will become preschoolers and school-aged kids and tweens and teens and…
Well, you get it.
The older they get, the more you will need to rely on your relationship and not your physical prowess to command respect and to show them how they should be respected too.
This lack of communication, while it may not seem like a pressing issue when children are two, three or four, can lead to serious issues.
Take this one report published in the Sutton Trust a couple of years ago.
The study, involving 14,000 children the United States, found that 40% of the children were lacking a strong emotional bond with their parents.
According to the report, children under three years old who do not form strong bonds (aka an “insecure attachment”) with their mother or father are much more likely to become an aggressive, defiant and hyperactive adult.
But the list of drawbacks does not stop there.
Kids who have a weak or insecure attachment have poorer language skills and are more likely to display poor behavior.
These children are put at a disadvantage because they can’t focus at school (and drop out), can’t focus at the college or a vocational school (can’t get a good job) and can’t focus at work (and may be fired and unemployed).
The Ferber Method
image credit: Healthline
How Are Secure Attachments Formed?
60% of children in the study had a “secure” or “strong” attachment.
Secure attachments with children are formed by responding to them. If your baby is crying, pick her up and nurse her (bonus: the more you respond, the more you will figure out what her cues are and how to quickly and appropriately respond in the future).
If your toddler has fallen for the umpteenth time and bumped his head, pick him up and comfort him.
Do not shame, do not berate and do not blame – just be there.
Be the rock for your child while also being a soft place to fall.
Children who form strong attachments are far more likely have a healthy social and emotional development.
This then bolsters their cognitive development which delivers a load of benefits like:
- These kids are more resilient to poverty (this is particularly true for boys where the study found that boys that have a strong parental attachment are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems in school)
- These kids have a more stable family life
- These kids can handle parental stress better
- These kids are less likely to be depressed
That’s Nice, But I Need Sleep
As parents, we do what we can to stay remotely sane (coffee, wine, spa days, deep breathing techniques we learned in yoga, a class we only took to validate our constant wearing of yoga pants, etc.).
But the best medicine for staying emotionally stable and physically well is to get sleep.
If your eyes just turned from “frown” to “GLARE”, that’s understandable.
After all, the one form of sleep training most of us are familiar with (and does let us sleep – eventually) has just been proven to cause potentially irreversible damage to our kids.
The good news is that you do not need to be a martyr and try to slog through another 24 hour long day.
There are solutions that work just as well as CIO and which are often even easier.
Here are some great options for you to explore with your “fambam” (whoever started that phrase, I’m coming for you):
Faded bedtime with a positive routine: By having a peaceful and predictable bedtime ritual which is consistently followed, your baby or toddler will be able to teach him or herself how to wind down and sleep in a healthy way.
I think I need to start practicing this…
Extinction with parental presence: Kick this method off by laying alongside your baby while he is still awake.
Wait until he falls asleep and then retires to your own bed.
Over the weeks of the training, you will pay progressively less attention to him each night, eventually working your way to sitting in a chair across from him (bring your smartphone with you, it may be a long sit) until he tires.
By making a gradual change, your child is weaned from you at night without any trauma.
Co-sleeping: This has received a lot of bad press but when done safely and properly (i.e. do not co-sleep on one of your wine nights, if you or anyone else in the bed have taken any prescription medications, if your baby is at risk of rolling or falling out of bed, etc.) it can be an effective way for both parent and baby to sleep more peacefully and have a more secure attachment.
How this family chose the CIO Method: AmandaplusLily
Give Your Baby A Voice
When a baby cries, he is telling you:
- I need something
- Something just isn’t right
- Please come now and make it right.
- I can’t do it myself, I need YOU
You’ve hit up the fridge at midnight when you’re hungry, right?
So why should you deny your baby the nourishment he so desperately needs so he can grow (after all, it isn’t like he’s crying for the Ben and Jerry’s you polished off last week).
Hospital patients with soiled bedpans have them changed regularly, and your baby deserves a fresh butt too.
The sleep solution that works for you and your baby or toddler will differ from that of another parent, and you will likely be bombarded with advice and judgment at the next “Mommy & Me” meet up.
But don’t be afraid to tell them to “shove it” (if you feel ever so inspired you can likely find a more eloquent way of phrasing that) and continue doing exactly what it is that allows you and your child to enjoy a happy and healthy co-existence.