I aim always to blog with integrity. But also, I love a challenge; by which I mean I like writing about subjects that are controversial, taboo – provocative even. Respectful debate is healthy: I’m generally quite open-minded and I encourage discussion about different ways of doing things. Sometimes it can lead me to change my personal view… So when I was recently invited to meet Jo Frost at an event – where I was able to put my own question to her – I saw it as an interesting opportunity and a challenge. I (very diplomatically) asked former Supernanny Jo Frost to defend controlled crying.
Through making readers aware of my opportunity to put questions to Jo, it has become abundantly clear to me that many of you have very strong feelings about certain aspects of parenting. I’m not a big fan of labels, but I don’t think I’ll cause offence if I suggest those of you I’m referring to identify as ‘Gentle Parents’. I do loosely myself, and I like to think that’s how I’ve gained trust – because we tend to think the same way; our values match.
So, for anybody reading who doesn’t subscribe to any form of sleep training, you may be interested in checking out my top tip on how to get more rest, even when your baby fights sleep. It doesn’t involve controlled crying or any ‘techniques’ at all, and is simply a way of maximising your own sleep whilst meeting your baby’s needs.
I Asked Jo Frost to Defend Controlled Crying
If you follow me on Facebook you’ll likely already be aware that the question I put to Jo was:
‘There’s a lot of bad press about Controlled Crying. I accept it works in terms of improving sleep habits, but what would you say to those parents who are fearful of negative longterm implications caused by employing the technique?’
I was impressed with how willing Jo was to discuss this subject. So, what did Ms Frost have to say about her controversial recommendations regarding her so-called controlled timed crying technique, and cry it out, aka CIO?
Jo’s CTCT Method
Firstly, it’s necessary to clarify what this method is and what it is not. You can check out Jo’s website for a full explanation from the lady herself, but essentially, she makes it clear that it’s not the same as the Ferber technique – it doesn’t suggest leaving your child to cry with no contact. Naturally, I checked both out, and it seems clear to me that despite Jo’s implication, the Ferber method doesn’t advocate leaving baby for longer than ten minutes on day one (whilst CTCT – unless I’m mistaken – is open-ended.)
Instead, you return to them after two minutes, lay a hand on their tummy, shush them and then leave the room. This process is repeated, with the time you leave them doubled on each occasion. Until they are asleep.
When I read this it did not sit well with me at all; however, I was going to give the respected expert the benefit of the doubt, and I was intrigued to hear her answer to my question.
N.B. For the record, as I hit publish, the following was based on memory only because despite having sent a request by email for Jo to clarify/expand, I was yet to receive an answer. I’ve promised this post to my readers so here it is. Naturally, should I receive any direct quotes from Jo at any point, I’ll update accordingly. Update Feb 2020: no response ever arrived.
Jo’s main counter-points are that:
1) Studies/research is inconclusive.
I’m no scientist but I am a voracious reader, and I’ve read enough in the past to leave me with concerns.
That said, I was struggling to find a credible article to link to confirming the potentially harmful period for an infant to go through sleep training. What I found instead was plenty of material suggesting that Jo is correct in saying research is inconclusive.
It made me uneasy because if I’m not to be a hypocrite, it meant I had to reevaluate my own instinctive feelings about the matter.
But then I read this and, though I avoid judging others, it’s enough for me to know controlled crying is not right for me or my family.
2) Jo personally knows grown-up children whose parents employed the CTCT method and who have become well-adjusted adults, with no signs of any resulting issues.
A difficult one to comment on, because really that statement is subjective and impossible to confirm or disprove. However, I accept there’s no severe lasting damage from using the technique – if there were then half the population would be suffering as a result… (It’s impossible to calculate for sure, but I do wonder where the prevalence of anxiety today stems from, and whether perhaps there’s a connection..?)
And the one I found most interesting:
3) Cortisol (the specific hormone that parents tend to fear triggering in their children through controlled crying), is released in many other situations which are beyond our control – we’re not able to completely shield our babies from it.
For example, when placing our children into education – a situation which is mandatory unless you choose to home school – anxiety is inevitable if there has been no previous separation. In this sense, the cortisol can be delayed until this time, or it can be brought on sooner with sleep training. Who’s to say which is the better option?
YOU – you’re the only person who can make that decision.
(Note, the first post I linked to above also has some fairly compelling reasons it’s not so simplistic.)
Values and Styles of Parenting
Since this is really what we’re talking about, I’ve been thinking a lot about values and where they come from, and here’s what I came up with:
Our values are made up of our instincts and intuition, combined with common sense, ie. research and studies which validate those gut feelings.
Controlled Crying – Is It Right For Your Family?
One of the tougher facets of parenting is allowing ourselves the room for our own ideas to evolve without experiencing guilt for ‘doing it wrong’ – because we’ve not lived up to our own previous ideal. To grow and develop our own values into something less rigid takes guts and humility, because it’s an admission that perhaps we’ve been making mistakes. But here’s my own bottom line:
Where parenting is concerned, there’s only one right way: your way.
Of course I have strong opinions and values of my own, and I believe there are many ‘wrong’ ways to parent which are counter-intuitive or plain unhealthy. But I try never to lose sight of the fact that the right way is a huge spectrum, and ultimately it comes down to what suits your family.
With all that in mind, guidance and shared tips have their place and can be indispensable, particularly to new parents or those who are struggling.
Where advice is welcomed, it’s, well – welcome.
The ‘gentle parents’ I referred to earlier often feel passionately that any kind of controlled crying falls into the ‘wrong’ category. It’s not something I have done or intend to do for many reasons – I suspect my maternal instinct to pick up my crying baby will continue to outweigh any need I have for sleep, however great that may be.
Not to mention the fact illness, teething, and sleep regressions can put you right back to square one, requiring you to implement the technique you employ all over again. Perhaps gentle night weaning might be a better solution to help the family get some more rest?
Ultimately, how we choose to parent is intensely personal, and though I can’t say I’ve been swayed by my chat with Jo, I do appreciate that the families who employ her method are desperate.
There’s no doubting that the vast majority of those who implement CIO love their own infants every bit as much as the rest of us do. It’s not for me and mine, but I refrain from judging those who choose to take that route.
At the end of the day, we are none of us perfect; our children are individuals with their own personalities and what works for one may not for another.