We had a rear and wonderful opportunity to spend the weekend with friends. Aaaah, the awesome pre-children days (did they ever happen?), when we could spend so much time just chatting, admiring the nature, the music… Now most of our friends are getting kids of their own and we finally get to see them more often: our kids enjoy a playdate; parents, as my teenage nephew put it – enjoy hanging out together. Though, I’ve got to admit that this time we came back with really mixed feelings. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Passing down a glass of wine, my friend cheerfully shared a cute story: some of his friends finally decided to teach their kid the wonderful advantages of sleeping in a separate room from his parents. Their kid recently turned three. I guess the three year old refused, and his parents adopted an interesting (unfortunately, really not uncommon) technique: locked him up in his room. “Imagine, the kid was sticking his little fingers under the door and the parents were doing the same on the other side,” – continued my friend, laughing. I was far from laughing. Was it the wine that got my reaction so strong, or was just the cruelty of the situation? “This is SICK! Lock a three year old, who can, talk, understand and reason?! Lock him up all alone in a separate room and find cute how the poor kid is sticking his fingers under the door in desperation?! This is plain SICK!!!” My friend got offended: “Weren’t you the one, who claimed that there are many different ways to be a parent? You’ve got to stick your guns!” I was speechless. I guess I should… I had to step away to refrain from commenting the rest of this “adorable” story.
Since then, in my mind, I constantly come back to this conversation.
There are other “options”: punishments, threats, spanking or even beating kids with a belt. These are not “parenting techniques”: these are methods of child abuse. Some of them (usually those that leave physical evidence), are punishable by law.There are different way to be a parent: you can come back to work or stay at home with your kid. You can send your kid to daycare or hire him a nanny. You can sign your kids up for some sports programs or let him enjoy himself freely in a local playground. None of those choices make you a bad parent. I guess, I can go as far as to say, that you can choose to breastfeed your child or offer him formula, give him steaks or raise him a vegetarian, teach him to read or let the school take care of that. All of these – are different parenting techniques and every parent chooses what’s right for his family.
Leaving a child to cry it out or locking him up doesn’t leave physical evidence. It is not punishable by law. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make it a good parenting tool.
Kids minds work differently from adults’. When the parent leaves the room to get a glass of water, the child may very well be wondering if he’ll ever come back. What to say of the situation, when the child is locked up and the parent refuses to come and comfort the lonely terrified kid?
I already have a big collection of articles on how “crying out” method leads to brain damage (you can find links at the bottom). Currently I am reading a book by Becky Baily, “Easy to Love, difficult to Discipline“. Reading her book, I finally realized that the damage is not a hypothetical, theoretical or even psychological. It is purely physical process, and that is simply scary…
Who is Dr. Becky Baily?
Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D., is an award-winning author, renowned teacher and internationally recognized expert in childhood education and developmental psychology.
In her book, Bailey describes that during stressful situation a special hormone, called “cortisol” gets released in the brain. High levels of cortisol (and as the child gets more and more scared, its levels rapidly escalate) – kills brain cells.
I looked up on some of the effects of cortisol on human bodies (based on article from wikipedia):
- Immune system effects: Cortisol can weaken the activity of the immune system.
- Bone effects: It lowers bone formation thus favoring development of osteoporosis in the long term.
- Skin effects: loss of collagen from skin, caused by cortisol, is ten times greater than loss from any other tissue.
- Sodium effects: Cortisol inhibits loss of sodium from small intestines of mammals.
- And, finally, what it does to our child’s brain:
It cooperates with epinephrine (adrenaline) to create memories of short-term emotional events. However, long-term exposure to cortisol results in damage to cells in the hippocampus. This damage results in impaired learning.
- Additional effects:
It increases blood pressure.
Results in feedback inhibition of ACTH secretion. Some researchers believe that this normal feedback system may become dis-regulated when animals are exposed to chronic stress.
There are potential links between cortisol, appetite and obesity
Baily uses this as a reason why fear based strategies (threats, punishments, spanking, etc) are counter productive in the long term: the memory cells do not get the information on how to behave right. Those cells simply die out in the process, so in the long term fear-based strategies are just solidifying the behaviors, that parents are trying to stop.
So, the same process must be taking place with a baby, who is left to cry in a lonely room.
It is unnatural to human babies to sleep alone. Sleeping alone (unfortunately, as well as sleeping through the night), is not an important survival technique. On the other hand, sticking to your parents at all costs – is! Our kids want only what’s natural for their survival: they’d like to be our side, get the protection from predators and resources necessary to grow up and then run away, breaking our hearts… well that’s another story. Meanwhile, when kids are born, they have only basic reflexes. They don’t know that predator animals are in more serious danger from humans, then we are from them. They don’t know, that fridge is full of food. They don’t know that parents have electricity, so they can hang out long past sundown and they’d love to do it without kids!
So the new “sleeping technique” that we are teaching our kids – sleeping on their own, in their own room, in their own bed – is completely foreign to a list of developmental milestones. It is completely foreign to kids’ psychology too. We are doing it purely for our own benefit and entertainment. Kids would only benefit, if parents stay by their side, go to bed early and stay nicely rested and in a good mood all day long! Since we still insist on introducing this weird (from kid’s point of view) ritual, we should at least have the decency to do it kindly. Without humiliating, torturing, scaring our kids. Without leaving them to cry (or locking them up!!!) all alone. Without using no less torturous “half-way cry it out” techniques, where the the mother is sitting next to the baby who is going ballistic (“He is learning! Yes, he is crying, but I am next to him!”). It doesn’t matter weather the parents and sitting in another room, sticking their fingers into their ears to ignore the screaming, or sitting next to the baby, calmly watching her going ballistic. In a child’s mind, if they are not comforted by the parent, not covered with hugs and kisses (babies live in the world of physical language), if they are unattended while they are in distress (real or imaginary) is not because they are learning “an important skill”, it is purely because they are unimportant, useless, helpless. So, both physical damage takes place – brain cells die (plus all other effects outlined above), and life-long psychological damage is taking place as well: self-worth, self-confidence are eroded.
Yet, I am not advocating neither living in a sleepless nightmare or even co-sleeping. Everyone needs their good night sleep. Co-sleeping is a wonderful, most wonderful parenting technique, but it is not for everybody. It is not for me. Both of my boys are right now sleeping in their rooms, in their own beds. Both of them had a variety of sleeping issues. My firstborn was waking every 15 minutes (I tried keeping a log of his wake-up sleeping times and was terrified in the morning when I saw how bad our situation was). My second one preferred catnaps, breast-naps, frequent feedings and all variety of weird ways of falling asleep. Both of them learned that falling asleep alone in a lonely room – is safe and comfortable. No tears (except mine, until we found a way to get to this blessing). Just time, patience… and lots of wonderful little techniques. I’ve got to thank to No Cry to Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I always bring this book up – it was a true blessing for us.
So, coming back to my original question: is it cruelty, or another parenting technique? What do YOU think?
“Crying it out” may damage baby’s brain
Cry it out: the potential dangers of leaving the baby to cry by
Margaret Chuong-Kim (published at Educational Articles site).