Why The Cry

There are many, many reasons why babies cry: tiredness, overstimulation, hunger, discomfort, loneliness, pain, fear, boredom, et cetera, but I am often asked about the crying around improving a child's sleep.

Firstly, let me state that I am not a proponent of the Cry It Out method (see the graphic below). When I work with families I ensure that any crying on behalf of the child is out of surprise, confusion, or frustration, never any sense of abandonment or neglect. 

I will also say that any new skill requires lots of practice and patience and - let's face it - kids don't tend to excel in the patience department. A child's natural shortsightedness is precisely what causes him to cry when something is difficult but it's also why he's able to learn new skills in a sliver of the time it takes an adult, seemingly overnight.

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Your child - if over 2 or 3 months of age - has already learned how to sleep. Essentially, whatever you've been doing to put your child to sleep at naps and bedtime is "how sleep works" according to your child. And, as far as she's concerned, this is how it is, how it's always been, and how it will always be... forever. Or so she thinks.

You may decide, after weeks, months, or years of not enough sleep, to make some changes to improve the situation and this will likely come as a surprise to your child. And surprises equal crying for babies and children.

As our local public parenting educator, Liz Amaral, said at a talk I attended, "Some crying is a good thing in terms of frustration. It leads to adaptation."

On top of this, you'll be asking your child to do something she's rarely done before: find her own way into sleep. Initially, she won't even believe it's possible, let alone preferable.

And yet you and I know that it's easy and enjoyable to fall asleep. In fact, we learned how to find our own way into sleep when we were so young that we don't even remember learning it!

So the first night of making sleep changes your child will be surprised that you're doing things differently, confused about what it is you want her to do, and doubtful that it's even possible. Which is usually a recipe for some confusion and tears - your child's best form of communication. 

I say "usually", because I've worked with some babies and children that take sleep changes is stride and don't fuss at all, but the majority complain, protest, cry, and then... fall asleep and sleep better than they ever have and I get emails like this the next morning:

"Bedtime was challenging but we encouraged and comforted her with the strategies you gave us and overall it was smoother than we'd expected - and then she slept (!!!) not for her regular 2 hours, not even for double that, but through the night and she's still sleeping now!"

We don't put off introducing our children to solid food or learning to walk just because it's messy or difficult - no! We give them time and space and supervision, we comfort them when it's challenging, encourage them when they're trying, and celebrate when they succeed.


Could you use a little more sleep success in your life? Find out more about how we can work together here.

Sierra Dante