Does the “Cry It Out” Method Cause Psychological Damage?

If you simply type “cry it out method” into Google, the results are overwhelmingly contradictory and confusing. I’ve scrolled through social media and seen posts from child psychologists proclaiming, “the cry it out method is torture!” I’ve also seen articles online from pediatric neurologists saying that there’s no physical evidence suggesting that the cry it out method causes any damage, at least not the updated versions of it.

Who do we believe? Is the cry it out method damaging? Is it safe? Has it been improved upon, maybe? Do doctors against the cry it out method have an alternative suggestion for getting our kids to sleep independently? These are the questions I asked myself before researching this topic.

Photo by Lisa on

I’ve been very fortunate to have a baby that is a fairly good sleeper. From the time he was born, I stuck religiously to a nighttime routine and never tried co-sleeping (out of pure fear and anxiety). I’ve shared my nighttime routine in this blog. You can read it here. Thankfully, he has slept well most nights without needing the cry it out method or any method for that matter.

However, we’re moving into toddlerhood very soon. Things can change and sleeping habits can regress. I’m not out of the woods yet, and mama needs her sleep. As such, I looked into this “cry it out method” question and tried to decipher some train of reason within all the disagreements. Most importantly, I wanted to avoid the really bad choices.

This is what I found. I hope it helps someone…

origins of the cry it out method

Buckle up, because part is kind of sad. We can trace the notion of letting babies just “cry it out” all the way back to the 1880s. The medical community was adamant about protecting infants from germs and advised against touching them too much.

In the early 1900s, a behaviorist named John Watson argued strongly his opinion on “the dangers of too much affection,” particularly too much motherly love. He suggested that a child with an affectionate mother would turn into a useless, dependent person with nothing to offer society. Of course, now we know that to be entirely false.

Around that same time, mothers were encouraged to hold their babies only when absolutely necessary and train them to sit silently in a crib by the middle of their first year…because, according to Watson, parents shouldn’t be constantly inconvenienced by the simple existence of an infant.

We hear that more often than we realize, even today. We’re encouraged to let them cry in order to teach them independence so that we can get our lives back. It’s natural, but I would argue, as I hope most would, that John Watson was a little extreme.

Finally, the cry it out method as we know it was made popular by Dr. Luther Emmett Holt over 100 years ago. His book, The Care and Feeding of Children, was the pinnacle of childrearing education. Of course, much has changed in 100 years.2

Two types of cry it out method

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I was surprised to learn that there are actually two different types of the “cry it out” method. The extinction method and the graduated extinction method differ in the amount of attention you provide to the crying baby.

  1. Extinction: This is the most common CIO. This method instructs you to put your baby to bed and ignore his or her cries. The outcome is simple; the baby will cry until he or she literally can’t anymore. They typically give up out of shear exhaustion.
  2. Graduated Extinction: This version is more controlled. It’s sometimes called “sleep training” and is a gentler variation of CIO. Once the baby is put to bed and crying begins, you reenter to comfort your baby only every other time you hear cries, increasing the crying time with each interval.

The graduated extinction method has been adjusted in various ways over time to lighten the harshness of simply closing the door and letting your child just deal.

what are the arguments against cry it out?

Dr. Margot Sunderland, child psychotherapist with decades of experience, said:

“I would be very surprised if any parent continued to use ‘cry it out if they knew the full extent of what’s happening to their infant’s brain. The infant’s brain is so vulnerable to stress. After birth, it’s not yet finished! In the first year of life, cells are still moving to where they need to be. This is a process known as migration, and it’s hugely influenced by uncomforted stress.”

excerpt from interview by BellyBelly (CLICK HERE to read more)

This is a common argument against the cry it out method. Some research does suggest that excessive, prolonged crying caused by stress could be linked to changes in the brain during a period of vitally important growth.

Dr. Darcia F. Narvaez, professor of psychology at the University of notre dame, said:

“One strangely popular notion still around today is to let babies ‘cry it out’ when they are left alone, isolated in cribs, or in other devices. This comes from a misunderstanding of child brain development.”

“Babies grow from being held. Their bodies get deregulated when they are physically separated from caregivers.”

“The brain is developing quickly. When the baby is greatly distressed, it creates conditions for damage to synapses, the network construction which is ongoing in the infant brain. The hormone cortisol is released. In excess, it’s a neuron killer but its consequences may not be apparent immediately.”

excerpt from Dr. Narvaez’s article in Psychology Today (CLICK HERE to read the article)

what are the arguments for cry it out?

The opposing opinions on the cry it out method tend to center around the variations of graduated extinction. Most doctors agree that putting your child in the crib and letting them scream until they fall asleep is not a good idea. However, they have differing opinions on alternative forms of sleep training.

Dr. Sujay Kansagra, pediatric neurologist at Duke University, said:

“Most of the debate around sleep training stems from the process of allowing an infant to cry. For those that are adamantly opposed to letting a child cry, but are frustrated by the lack of consistent sleep, there are other sleep training techniques that don’t involve simply leaving an infant in the crib to cry endlessly. Two examples of such methods are fading and scheduled awakenings.”

excerpt from article at Duke University of Medicine website (CLICK HERE to read more)

This is the general consensus from doctors that support sleep training methods. There are other ways to help your child sleep. “Sleep training” does not refer to the cry it out method. In fact, it is an umbrella term that encompasses an array of techniques that parents may try, most of which are approved by doctors.

The approach is much gentler. Here are some examples:

  • Place the baby in the crib and soothe him by rubbing or patting his back until he falls asleep. You then leave the room and come back only to soothe again when the baby cries, allowing them to crying a little more each time.
  • Another method, called camping out, involves sleeping next to the baby’s crib until they become increasingly more sleep independent.

If you are currently trying to get your infant or toddler on a better sleep schedule, talk to your doctor. Find out what options you have. You would be very surprised to learn that there are a plethora of techniques proven to be gentler and more effective than “cry it out.”

my thoughts on the subject…

Photo by Laura Garcia on

As a parent to an infant, I just can’t get on board with crying it out in basically any form. My gut tells me to get up and hold my son when he cries. Of course, there have been many times that he has awoken me from a dead sleep in the middle of the night, and I would say that most of those times, my dazed reaction is frustration. However, I can’t fight the instinct. The science seems to back that instinct, so I’ll continue to lead with that.

Overall, the general consensus in the medical community seems to be that the antiquated method of just “cry it out” is just that, antiquated. It’s time to bury it. “This is how we used to do it” can be a dangerous game to play. Progress is necessary, and behavioral science is booming with progress everyday. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we, as a society, need a harsh lesson in behavioral studies.

click below to read more from…


  1. Belly Belly. “Cry It Out Method | 6 Baby Experts Who Advise Against It”
  2. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR. “Sleep Training Truths: What Science Can (and Can’t) Tell Us About Crying It Out.”
  3. Sunjay Kansagra, MD, Duke School of Medicine. “Sleep training your child: myths and facts every parent should know.”
  4. Darcia F. Narvaez, Ph.D., Psychology Today. “Dangers of ‘Crying It Out'”

Learning Expressions: What Infants Learn by Looking at Us

During one of my son’s early checkups, his doctor asked me if he smiles and laughs at home. I replied, “yes, all the time.” At the next checkup, she asked the same question. And then again at the next…until I started to wonder, why does she keep asking me this? What would it mean if he didn’t? Does she think I’m lying?

The next time she asked, the conversation went something like this…

Doctor: Does he smile and laugh?

Me: Yes, all the time. Out of curiosity, why do you always ask me that?

Doctor: He’s typically very somber here; so, I need to know if he smiles and laughs at home.

Me: Well, he’s a pandemic baby. He’s been around no one but myself and my husband since birth. He doesn’t go anywhere with the exception of this office, which isn’t often. He’s probably super confused by these masks, and nothing here is familiar.

Doctor: Right, that makes sense.

Then she told me something that really sparked my curiosity about the correlation between infant emotional development and facial expression. She said that doctors often smile at babies to see if they will smile back because children that smile do it because someone at home smiles at them.

At home, where he has been with me since he was born, my son smiles when I or my husband smile; if we laugh, he will even start laughing with us. He knows our faces. He recognizes our smiles. The lady in the white coat that he has only seen for 10 minutes a handful of times in his life is likely not very familiar to him.

After this, I started to think about my behavior. When my son, Zain, was about four or five months old, we started to notice that he watches us. When my husband and I spoke to each other, he would look back and forth, watching everything we did. Sometimes, he would just stare.

I started to think about how my reactions and tone of voice must have a major affect on him. How does he process this? If I’m upset, does he know? Then I decided to dig a little deeper…

learning expressions begins at birth

Studies have shown that newborns can distinguish between the face of their mother and the faces of others within hours or even minutes after being born. It’s likely they pair her voice, which they recognize from their in utero days, with her face. I was surprised to learn that it only takes a few days for them to tell the difference between expressions like happy, sad, angry, etc.

Roughly half way through the first year, infants can match emotions depicted through facial expression with its vocal equivalent. Has a child ever turned to look at you abruptly when you say something in a more assertive or angry tone? They are likely expecting a certain facial expression when they look at you. They recognize tonal changes and look for verification in physical expression.

By the age of five, children can typically read and process facial expressions with the same understanding as adults. How they pick this up so quickly is still unknown. There are theories that children are simply born with it; others say they just learn what they see all the time. 1

Why is learning expressions important for children?

Facial expressions become a vital part of their learning process starting as early as six months. As babies begin to explore, they run into obstacles that instinctively make them cautious. How do they weigh that caution? Typically, they look at mom and read her facial expression.

Zain is almost 10 months old. He’s not crawling, but he reaches for anything and everything in sight. He has fallen over and bumped his head a couple of times. It has always been very minor, and when he does, I try to smile and keep my tone calm. I’ve noticed that if I jump up and react with distress, so does he because he always looks for me first. My reaction directly influences his.

Of course, if it hurts, he still cries, but he gets over it much more quickly if I’m calm and smiling.

what does this mean for parents?

In truth, it means we have an even bigger responsibility than simply keeping our children alive. Our interactions with them in the first months and years of their lives play a vital role in forming who they become.

“The foundations for attention, perception, language abilities and social development are built in the first year of life.”

Lisa Scott, BOLD

To be honest, when I first read this I had flashbacks of every time I turned on Storybots and put Zain in the activity table so I could get something done. The “mom guilt” is always lurking around the corner, just waiting to undo all the hard work I’ve putting into feeling like I’m doing my best. Occasionally, I have to slap her back in her corner and keep on.

In reality, we all have lives and things that keep us busy. Two working parents is not at all uncommon here. Not having every waking moment to spend with your child is absolutely normal. To be honest, it’s necessary; we all need time for ourselves. What’s important is what we do with the time we have with our children.

Studies show…


I’m going to link a few articles from academic studies on the importance of those first few years. Parents living in the United States should make note of this and pressure their policymakers.

I certainly do not want to step on a soapbox, but the reality is that the U.S. does not properly care for new parents. Our standards for maternity and paternity leave are rudimentary and negligent at best. We pale in comparison to every other developed country because our policymakers do not consider the science behind these formative years.

If you’d like to learn more, check out this study from the National Library of Medicine. More related studies are linked below the abstract in that link.

click below to read more posts from…


  1. The Conversation. “Face time: here’s how infants learn from facial expressions.”
  2. BOLD. “The importance of faces for infants’ learning.”

Montessori Toys: What’s the Hype and Is It Worth the Price?

I was first exposed to the word Montessori in my early twenties. I worked for a large bookstore chain roughly an hour away from the single-stoplight town where I spent the majority of my life. One of my co-workers, a smart, kind, talented, well-adjusted girl named Elizabeth, told me she had gone to a Montessori elementary school.

I graduated with a class of 35 students and had never even heard the word Montessori before that day. To this day, my mind goes right back to Elizabeth when I hear it, and if you have small children, you see or hear it anytime you’re looking at toys with developmental benefits.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

If you’re considering going the strictly Montessori route with your child, you may be curious about the benefits. Is it worth it? What’s makes it so expensive? What does Montessori even mean?! I asked myself all these questions and put my research chops to the test. I also tried it with my son to see how it went.

Here’s what I learned and the conclusion that I’ve drawn…

The montessori experience

Montessori toys are a product of the Montessori education system created by Dr. Maria Montessori. If you are a fan of the “all inclusive,” you will no doubt appreciate this child-focused approach to learning.

Montessori schools nurture the “cognitive, emotional, social, and physical” areas of child development.1 The key is self-motivation. The learning process is guided but self-paced, and kids are in classrooms with students of varying ages.

“Within the community of multi-age classroom – designed to create natural opportunities for independence, citizenship, and accountability – children embrace multi-sensory learning and passionate inquiry.”

-American Montessori Society

This concept was then taken from the private school sector and turned into a commercial toy venture. Now, people that cannot afford to send their children to private Montessori schools can bring the experience into their homes.

How does this translate in montessori toys?

What makes a toy Montessori? First and foremost, they should stimulate learning. In essence children learn to use the object in a way that develops fine motor skills.

Do they have to be wooden? Realistically, no, they do not have to be made of wood. In theory, Legos are Montessori, but there is a reason for the use of natural materials beyond the pleasing aesthetic. Using natural materials is obviously healthier, but it also has developmental benefits. Wooden toys provide a sensory experience that plastic does not.

Wooden Montessori toys are also better for the environment. If you are environmentally conscious, this is the best option for your family. Also, we all know that babies put EVERYTHING straight into their mouths. Toys made of natural materials are non-toxic.

Montessori toys you find for home are the same toys you would find in a Montessori classroom. They promote the same cognitive, emotional, and physical development.

why are montessori toys so expensive?

Everyone knows that top quality costs more. High priced Montessori toys are built to last. Most are made with sustainably harvested wood, nontoxic paint, safe plastics, and organic cotton. In terms of quality, they typically are the best.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that less can be more. Montessori toys are simple. Kids do not need much to entertain themselves. I love the bells and whistles. I want the elaborate kitchen toys that I can play with too, but my son is happy with an abacus and some cups.

If we limit what we buy and focus on quality over quantity, Montessori will not break the bank.

who sells montessori toys?

Thanks to the boom of the Montessori trend, there are so many companies specializing in these toys. Each of them offer something different. I’ve narrowed down my favorites based on what they offer that makes them unique:

Lovevery: montessori kits

Lovevery makes the Montessori experience so easy. You can go to their website and navigate through their entire collection, or you can sign up for Play Kits.

Play Kits are designed to do all the research for you. You received a box every two months with everything your child needs to enhance development at their stage. Everything is safe and sustainable.

fat brain toys: great selection for every age

Fat Brain Toys has a huge selection of Montessori toys for every age. You can search by age, which go all the way to teens and adults. They have great quality products at a range of prices. For someone new to the Montessori world, this is a great place to start. Also, it works well for control freaks (like myself) that want to make all the choices.

melissa & doug: affordable montessori

In all likelihood, we have all heard of Melissa & Doug. You can find their products at every major department store (Target, Walmart, etc.). They do not market themselves as strictly Montessori, but they sell many Montessori-approved products.

My son has a ridiculous amount of toys, but the Melissa & Doug activity table, gifted to him by wonderful friends, is his favorite. Everything on it teaches him important developmental skills like dexterity and object permanence.

here are a few of my favorite toys…

click for more info

is montessori better?

To be honest, I understand the appeal, and I love the aesthetic. Visually pleasing, developmentally beneficial, environmentally friendly, affordable substitutes available…what’s not to love? With that said, there is absolutely no shame in throwing a Fisher Price toy in your cart. I have combination of everything in my house.

My son has a Skip Hop push walker simply because I thought it was really cute, and I didn’t have $150 to drop on a wooden one. I will say that I do buy Melissa & Doug more often than not, and they have some great toys for older children.

All in all, do what feels right for you and your kid! No one knows your baby better than you. 🙂

Click Below to read more from…


  1. American Montessori Society. “What is Montessori Education?”