My wife and I have had success with a form of the "cry it out" strategy with our three children. I know it's not for everyone, but our household has gotten into some healthy sleep patterns without long periods of crying. If it's possible for anyone to be successful with the technique, we have been.

So we have children that generally sleep through the night and a bedtime routine that works well for us. But occasionally relatives come or we visit them, which inevitably disrupts the routine. As a result, our infant twins have difficulty falling asleep and cry more than usual. For one particular relative, even a few minutes of fussing is beyond endurance and she will want to comfort our babies until they (or she) falls asleep. That would be fine with us if it didn't mean another 2 or 3 nights of readjustment.

Most of our visitors are understanding; our babies cry a little more than usual when we have company. But other people assume our children cry much longer than they normally do as a result of something akin to observer effect. How can we explain our technique to people who believe it is wrong or cruel to even temporarily withhold comfort from a crying baby?

  • 5
    Not an answer, just an observation. So long as your children are happy and healthy, you're doing it right. You are not responsible for someone else's preconceived notions of what a particular child-rearing method feels like to the child. Give yourself a bit of a break if you feel stressed in these situations.
    – Valkyrie
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 9:58

4 Answers 4


First, you are not withholding comfort. You are allowing them to express themselves in a way which requires them to handle the issue without forming a dependency. Being comforting is not the same thing for every child and every situation.

For relatives, they likely have children. That being the case, I'd ask them if any 2 of the children were able to be raised in exactly the same way. Undoubtedly the ultimate answer (all BS aside) will be that each child is unique.

Once that admission has been gained, you can then point out that each parenting technique is different. For you and your parnter, allowing your children to work through their expressions is something you have found to be productive and effective (I wouldn't call it the "cry it out" strategy -- that just alludes to "I don't care" strategy in my view, making your explanation harder for them to accept).

Now, what's above is the kind way of putting it to them. Another way is this: They are my children, I am not hurting them, and in my opinion I am helping them in the near or far term, so accept it or you are welcome to leave.

I take my family's advice and opinions in raising my daughter, but I don't allow them to interfere with my decisions. I do, however, prefer a kind attitude before becoming brusque where (very rarely!) necessary. :)

  • Hear, hear! +1 for trying kindness first, although my first instinct with my kids is a protective bear growl.
    – Valkyrie
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 9:54
  • +1 for "I take my family's advice and opinions (...), but I don't allow them to interfere with my decisions."
    – SQB
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 18:49

I did not use "cry it out" but we followed other strategies that some relatives didn't. Frankly, it's impossible not to: between how long the child nurses for, cloth vs disposable, using a walker or not, how they go to sleep, how often they have a bath, what solid food you introduce first and so on it is simply a statistical impossibility that you did everything the same as every relative. Even for the "important" choices it is not possible.

So. My approach is NOT to convince these people that your way is right, or even that it is right for your children. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. After all, you're doing it because it's right, and they're interfering because they think it isn't right, so if you just fix their misconception, they'll stop interfering, right?

But no. They are interfering because they think their opinion is relevant. It is actually easier to convince even very close relatives that their opinion is not relevant than to get them to change that opinion. It's more pleasant, too. Instead of barraging them with arguments about why they are wrong (and possibly even were wrong when raising one of you) you simply remind them that you are the parents and this is what you are doing. You thank them for their advice if advice is being offered. You reassure them of the baby's health and happiness if they seem to be worried about that. And you stick firmly to the position of "this is what we have decided to do in our family."

This worked wonders with a relative who felt that four months was the longest a baby should get any breastmilk at all and was seriously perturbed that weaning wasn't even started yet, much less completed, as each of my children reached that age. We didn't tell her any facts, studies, or doctor opinions. We didn't rebut her facts and studies and decades earlier doctor opinions. We just said things like "I know" and "I remember you telling me that" and just kept right on raising our own children. When asked "aren't you going to wean soon?" we said either "no" or something similarly simple, including "we'll let you know!" When prompted to do something at bedtime that wasn't a bedtime thing for us, we said "we've tried that, and this is what we do now." Had someone offered (or flat out just tried to go and do) to do something that wasn't part of our routine, we would have stopped them in the same polite way you stop relatives from cleaning your bathtub or other too-intrusive helping. "Mom, please, no! Really! I can't let you do that!" We didn't include any right-and-wrong arguments (in your case "it will take days for them to get the routine back if you disrupt it" or the like) because (and this is the key) she didn't get a vote so she didn't need to be convinced.

You may feel the first time you play the "we're the parents" card without using any facts to back it up that you will crumble beneath the knowledge and experience of Aunt Alice or your mother or your father in law. But my experience (and that of many of my friends) is that you get your way and the arguments stop. There's nothing to argue with. You're not saying your way is better or right. You're just doing it your way and that's that. You're the parents. Try it.


I have two suggestions.

The first is to not refer to it as a "cry it out" technique. The phrase has some significant negative connotations, and the implication that children are just left to cry until they pass out is not an accurate description of many (most) of the variations that fall under that umbrella.

If you refer to it as "sleep training", or avoid labeling it at all by simply saying "this is how we have decided to do it", it may be more palatable for relatives or visitors.

That won't help much for the one relative who insists on going in and picking up the babies as soon as they start to cry, though. This may possibly be more a function of her wanting to hold the babies than any implicit criticism of your decisions. In any case, your best bet for this may simply be to say "no, you relax; we've got this," and then either you or your partner then goes into the room where the babies are sleeping, closes the door, and employ a variation of your preferred method that doesn't involve you actually leaving the room.

It may not be ideal, but it should be less disruptive than having your relative actually hold the babies until they fall asleep. It also politely, but firmly, establishes that you will take care of it, while removing the relative from the situation enough that she should be less able to criticise your choice.


There are a few things I do.

  1. Don't call it "Cry it out" that term has gotten a bad name.
  2. Point out the results, and that instead of years of fighting over bed time, it's a few months of "controlled" bed time.
  3. Explain the core mechanics. "We don't let him cry for ever. We start with a small amount of time, and work our way up. So yes some nights he is crying alone for 10 mins. But most nights it's over with in about 2 mins."
  4. Explain the core benefits. "He goes to bed on time, is well rested and not cranky. He even asks for naps when he is tired, and when he is sick we have a tool that we can use to help him get the extra sleep he needs."
  5. Never explain the downsides if you kid doesn't go though them. Sure there's the article with the kid crying so long they soil themselves. Is that a problem your family faces? If not then there's no reason to comment.
  6. If they are in your house, then remind them that they are the reason for the disruption, and most nights this process is done with in a matter of moments. That there presence tonight, is the wrench in the works.
  7. Stick to your guns. When "Grandma" starts to go, "I don't care it's wrong, I'm going to go check." Then you respond by asking/forcing her to leave. Most family won't do that, but some will. If they do, then they need to not be around at bed times.

As for "withholding comfort" I have found it's best to simply accept that people think that, then try to change their minds, and instead explain it like a boo boo. If your kid gets a boo boo and you need to clean the cut and add neosporin and a band-aid, your not torturing your child because your causing them pain or fear, your providing for their needs, it's just that those needs, right now, happen to involve you causing a bit of pain and fear. That you try to minimize it, but it still needs to be done to avoid larger issues down the line. Just like with sleep training, handling a boo boo sucks. You know it hurts, your know it's a bit scary, but it doesn't matter, you still need to do it. Then once it's done, you get to be comforting and soothing, but when it's happening, and your doing Dr. Mom, and the child is screaming murder when ever you try to lift the shirt to see the scraped elbow, there's nothing for it. Most parents would get that analogy, because they have had to do that. Non-parents, well they are trickier, but you can usually point out that shots suck and make kids cry, but they still need them.

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