Family and Parenting

I Asked Jo Frost to Defend Controlled Crying, Here’s What She Said…

I aim always to blog with integrity. But also, I love a challenge; by which I mean I like writing about subjects which are controversial, taboo – provocative even. Respectful debate is healthy: I’m generally quite open-minded and I encourage discussion about other 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 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 be offending if I suggest those of you I’m referring to identify as ‘Gentle Parents’. I do myself loosely, and I like to think that’s how I’ve gained trust – because we tend to think the same way; our values match.

 

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?

There's no denying that CIO or Controlled Crying is controversial. But is it really harmful? Here's the truth according to Jo Frost herself.

 

Jo’s CTCT Method

Firstly, it’s necessary to clarify what this method is and what it is not. You can follow the link for a full explanation from Jo 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. (I’ve checked both out, and it seems clear to me that despite Jo’s implication, the Ferber doesn’t advocate leaving baby for longer than ten minutes on day one, whilst CTCT – unless I’m mistaken – is open-ended.)

Instead, you will 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.

Honestly, when I read this it did not sit well with me; 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.

(For the record, as I’m hitting publish, the following is based on memory only because despite having sent a request by email for Jo to clarify/expand, I’m 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.)

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 deny. However, I accept that there’s no obvious 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 right and which is wrong?

YOU – you’re the only person who can make that decision.

(The first post I linked to above also has some fairly compelling reasons it’s not so simplistic.)

I Asked Jo Frost to Defend Controlled Crying

 

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.

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 it may be.

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.

In fact, going back to the theory of values and how they’re made up of our instincts coupled with common sense, I’ve created a Facebook group for like-minded parents: those of us who lean towards the principles of Gentle Parenting – but with a healthy dose of reality thrown in. Because 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.

If you’re open to brainstorming parenting solutions and supporting parents who are not able or willing to rigidly stick to GP, you’re most welcome to join the community – we’d love to see you there!

o

10 Comments

  1. nomipalony

    May 10, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Interesting and objective piece. I personally hate the majority of her methods (thought they were great before I actually had kids).

    1. Kate Tunstall

      May 10, 2017 at 10:11 pm

      Funny that isn’t it, but I’m totally with you there. Seemed so obvious, until I appreciated the reality: implementing it feels cruel.

      1. nomipalony

        May 17, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        Definitely. I think if we wouldn’t treat an adult that way. Why would you treat a child that way?! There are better ways that retain respect.

  2. Clare's Little Tots (@ClaresTots)

    May 11, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    I so agree that the only way to parent your one kids is your way. If you’re doing something because a book / TV show / Health Visitor told you to and it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. There’s a lot to be said for motherly instinct.
    I remember my eldest always had a grumble before falling asleep right from her first day. She liked being cuddled to sleep when she was tiny but mostly preferred to be put down and used to grumble in her bed for 5 mins before drifting off. Picking her up just made her worse. Then my little boy came along and he’s the opposite, loves to be cuddled into a deep sleep although I think he’s growing out of it now :-(.
    I think you know your own kids best and each to their own but letting them cry until they’re sick doesn’t seem right to me.

  3. Jen Walshaw

    May 11, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Controlled crying in any shape or form didn’t work for me. They cried, which just made me cry! We were really desperate and I had post natal depression, but just couldn’t manage it.

  4. Donna

    May 11, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    I really respect your ability to write about many different topics and put really balanced pieces together. I’m glad you asked this question, and I’m glad she answered – although wasn’t keen to answer it in print…! But, I would never do controlled crying of any form. Babies cry because they want something or need something and that may just be a cuddle. Babies aren’t small for long, they don’t cry for long and the whole concept of controlled crying is just not for me at all.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      May 23, 2017 at 8:07 am

      Thank you so much, Donna! Yes indeed, I’ve still never heard back from her either… I’m often surprised by who does and does not advocate controlled crying, and though I don’t judge, my personal view is very similar to yours.

  5. Becky | SPIRITED PUDDLE JUMPER

    May 17, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Great post! We’ve been fortunate in that we never had to contemplate controlled crying with my eldest two as they settled into a good sleep routine from quite early on without screaming themselves to sleep, but I don’t think I could do it personally- listening to my own baby scream would be too upsetting. However, I’d happily leave mine for a few minutes crying if I knew they were tired and they would soon settle to sleep- anymore than that and I’d assume they would want me for a reason. However, I wouldn’t judge someone who was at the end of their tether and exhausted with an older baby, and felt that CIO was their only option to regain some sanity. Every situation is different I guess.

    1. Kate Tunstall

      May 23, 2017 at 8:13 am

      Thank you! Precisely, being whiny is quite different to crying, in my opinon. I can totally appreciate why many resort to it having had a non-sleeper myself (who is still a pain to put to bed at 2.5 years old), but I know I still won’t do it second time even if this one is the same!

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