Child development is a step function?

Yesterday, after reading all your comments on my last post, and contemplating the sheer inanity of having so little evening time to myself (and my work and the housework…), I decided that we would try a new course with Minnow. Fish and I discussed it and we agreed that after we put her down at night, when she woke up we would do our best to comfort her in her crib as long as it wasn’t escalating to screaming. If screaming commenced, we would pick her up, calm her down, and put her back down. We would try this for some gradually increasing number of hours (starting with 2) and then resort to co-sleeping so that we could all get *some* sleep.

So last night when I put Minnow down in her crib, I was prepared for a long couple of hours in a battle of wills. It was later than usual (9 pm) because she’d had a lot of energy and took a long time to wind down and go to sleep. After I put her down, I decided to screw work for the evening and just read in bed (OK, I did read my textbook) for the few minutes I might have to myself.

At 10:30, 1.5 hours later, no noise had emanated from her room, yet when I checked she was still breathing. I read a little more (for fun) and then went to bed.

At 11:45, Fish came to bed.

At 12:30, I couldn’t stand it any more. Was she still alive? I couldn’t sleep for thinking about her. I got up and tiptoed into her room where she seemed to be restlessly sleeping. All was well and as I started to leave, she sat up in her crib, facing away from me, quiet.

Would she have played for a bit and gone back to sleep on her own without my help? I don’t know. Because I did a Bad Thing (in the eyes of some, I’m sure). I picked her up, hugged her close, brought her back to bed with me and nursed her to sleep. She woke unusually early this morning, but cheerful and babbling. Right now, she’s asleep in her crib for her nap. (I should be writing tomorrow’s lecture).

I don’t know what to make of it.

(But I promise a non-sleep related and non-picture post at some point soon.)


  1. #1 ScienceWoman
    November 28, 2007

    And two minutes after I posted this, she was awake. We’re off to daycare so that lecture can get written eventually.

  2. #2 ecogeofemme
    November 28, 2007


    keep us updated on the progress.

  3. #3 dave X
    November 28, 2007

    Ferber’s book “Solve your child’s sleep problems” seemed to explain some of how they think about sleep pretty well. It was technical enough for us scientists and had theories which even applied to our own 40+ year-old sleep issues. Little X learned manipulation of sleep routines early, and Ferber’s philosophy seems to be on redirecting the kid from being mad at you for not playing along with her to her focusing on falling asleep herself so she can re-fall asleep during the night.

    We did start the Ferberizing very wimpily: deltaT={1,2,3,4…} minutes. We were shocked by how well it worked compared to Sears and Pauley.

    My favorite winding-down technique for little X is retelling the events of her day or reading a story using a minimal whisper so she has to be quiet and still to hear.

  4. #4 Jane
    November 28, 2007

    Oh, yay! I hope the good sleep trend continues.

    (And I don’t think you did anything wrong by bringing her into bed with you, especially if it made you feel better!)

  5. #5 Nan
    November 28, 2007

    I wonder how long it’ll take her to learn that if she screams, you’ll jump?

  6. #6 ScienceWoman
    November 28, 2007

    Nan: I hope to hell that she learns “that if she screams, you’ll jump.” What sort of mother would I be if I ignored my child’s screams? (That’s a rhetorical question by the way.)

  7. #7 Jen
    November 28, 2007

    I’m going to have to go with Nan here. By leaving her in her crib for gradually increasing amounts of time, you are likely to achieve the opposite of the desired effect. You’re teaching that if she just cries a little more, eventually she will get what she wants. It’s just like the kid who asks 9 times for something, and the answer is no. Then, the 10th time he asks, the answer is yes. The kid has just learned that next time, if he just keeps asking, the answer is going to be the one he wants.
    If you’re going to go for extinction of a behavior, you really have to be willing to tolerate what might come with it. Giving, especially after holding out for a while is going to make things worse. If you can’t afford to spend the time doing it now, or just aren’t willing to, I’d suggest you go back to taking her to your bed as soon as she wakes up.

  8. #8 Schlupp
    November 28, 2007

    Amazing: Science Woman has already given her opinion about ‘crying it out’, and people still believe that they can turn her around…. Jen, if Science Woman gave in to you now, all you’d have learned would be that repeatedly ignoring peoples’ opinions works. You surely wouldn’t want that, would you?

  9. #9 Writer Chica
    November 28, 2007

    Let’s please make a distintion between “ignoring my child’s screams” and “allowing my child to scream while I remain calm, understanding and nearby.” Otherwise, I may be “that sort of mother.”

    I assure you Minnow already knows that you will be there when she needs you. She knows this because of everything else you do (feeding her, hugging her, bathing her, playing with her, looking in her eyes).

  10. #10 Kim
    November 28, 2007

    It sounds as if co-sleeping is comforting to you, as well as to her. And there’s nothing wrong with that – your preferences are important and valuable.

    (My “Bad Thing” was keeping nursing my son at middle-of-the-night wake-ups until he was eighteen months, and then, after he was weaned, still rocking him back to sleep when he woke in the middle of the night. Yes, I lost a lot of sleep. But those hours quietly cuddling helped me as well as helping him, and now that he’s four, he sleeps all night except when he’s feeling sick or when his blankets fall off his bed.)

  11. #11 Kate
    November 28, 2007

    ScienceWoman, can I just say how brave you are to make your parenting transparent in an atmosphere where commenters are so ready to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that they think what you’re doing is wrong? As a soon-to-be parent, I’m horrified at the “opinions” and “advice” lurking beneath the surface of what, in real life, are probably pretty nice people.

    I admit that I do place judgments on parents some times — I happen to have some expertise in human biology and can see a lot of American parenting behaviors as irrational — but I keep them to myself (no, this doesn’t necessarily make me a better person — I admit this even as I’m ashamed of it). While on the one hand I think it’s problematic to not ever question parents or parenting (which again, is why I applaud SW’s transparency because she’s sharing things that leave her open to attack, but are issues we need to be discussing), I think it is equally faulty to think that by doing so, that gives any of you the right to launch an attack. I’m confused about why you (Nan et al) think your comments might be productive or enhance this conversation. Then again, I might just be too generous in thinking you’re going for being productive.

    SW, I honestly think the way you handled that night was great. Who knows if it will happen just that way again (with all the peaceful sleeping), but there is some rational thinking in your wanting to keep nursing and co-sleeping, and babies and parents benefit hugely from cuddling and closeness. I’d rather appreciate you continuing to tell your story rather than have you have to constantly defend your decisions. We can take what we want from your experience; it’s not like you’re telling us to do things your way.

  12. #12 ScienceWoman
    November 29, 2007

    kate – Thank you for your comment.

    More generally, I will not ever do a total extinction Ferberizing of Minnow. That’s not the sort of parent that I am. In my mind, if she’s crying, there’s a reason and as a parent, I view my job as doing what is reasonable to help her out. And again, I don’t view leaving her alone in a room to scream for hours as reasonable *for my family.* I’m not going to pass judgment on others who come to different conclusions, but it just isn’t for me.

    I have a hard time with people who say that total extinction Ferberizing is the ONLY way to get a child to sleep through the night. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there (and enough anecdotes start to become data) that many, many children are never alone left to cry-it-out, yet they eventually DO learn to sleep on their own.

    FWIW, last night she went to sleep at 8:30 pm and woke up at 12:30. And then I brought her into bed with us. And that was a DAMN good night in my view.

  13. #13 dave X
    November 29, 2007

    On the total extinction Ferberizing, I didn’t really see that from Ferber’s book. Total extinction sounds more like 60’s era Dr. Spock-like stuff. Our experiences with no-cry and co-sleeping were that we didn’t get sleep and Dr. Ms. X ended up being the one crying about not getting things done & being a failure. Ferber’s version of Ferberizing seemed a lot more gentle than hours of crying on both sides. After reading the Ferber book, I don’t think I ever got to 15 minutes of uninterrupted crying. If it got close to that, we’d take a walk around the house and see that everything was dark and boring and she wasn’t missing out on anything fun & we would start over. The continual, short interruptions of Feberizing also helped teach us the difference between her being upset about us not playing with her and her having something physical wrong with her.

    Maybe there’s older Ferber advice out there, but the total extinction ferberizing seems like an unhealthy strawman that others attack.

    Do what works for you, but I found Ferber’s explanations of how children sleep much more helpful in handling this than Sears’ exhortations about how proper parents should act.

  14. #14 ScienceWoman
    November 29, 2007

    Hi dave X: I haven’t read Ferber’s book, so you’re right that I may be mistaken about exactly what he proposed. But if I interpret some of the commenters on this post and the previous post correctly, they were arguing for total extinction. My mistake was confusing the two. Ferber’s approach, as you describe it, sounds a little more bearable. But my co-sleeping experience differs markedly from that of Dr. Ms. X. I’m happy with it for 75% of the night, it’s just the few evening hours that need to be changed.

  15. #15 KT
    November 29, 2007

    1. Good parents co-sleep with their children.
    2. Good parents put their children to sleep in a separate bed.
    Both of the above are true. Children get (day or night) cuddle time in either method. However, if either party is unhappy (child or parent) then something needs to change. It is okay to try to get Minnow to sleep by herself so that you can get work done in the evening or sleep peacefully in your own bed. You are a wonderful parent (from what I’ve observed in this blog and can see in your lovely Minnow pictures). You will continue to be a wonderful parent, co-sleeping or independently sleeping.

  16. #16 Jen
    November 29, 2007

    Just to clarify… I do not think total extinction is the only way to get a child to sleep through the night. Nor do I believe that leaving a child screaming alone in his or her crib or bed is a good thing. I am in agreement with the belief that if a child is crying, he or she is trying to communicate something.
    However what I also believe is that when one is attempting the extinction of a behavior, giving up or giving in, particularly if the behavior has persisted for some length of time, will only serve to strengthen the behavior.

  17. #17 Dave X
    November 29, 2007

    Dr. Ms. X really enjoys the cuddling and co-sleeping, but sometimes gets to the end of her rope and snaps: crying, arguments about how much time she spends cuddling and the unfairness of not getting her work done while I do get to work. While breastfeeding, little X could easily snuggle up 4-6 hours of Ms. Dr. X’s evening time, but she would get to resent it and feel like a bad mother. Our experience is just an anecdote, but I think Ferber helped us a lot. I did want to defend him against the cry-it-out/total extinction label because it really didn’t seem like what he advocates. We found his book well worth reading and darn useful.

  18. #18 Nan
    November 30, 2007

    If she screams to manipulate you, your jumping is pointless and you’ll pay for it down the road. So will Minnow. Learning to distinguish between when a child is screaming because she’s ticked off that she’s not getting exactly what she wants and when she’s screaming because there’s something seriously wrong and she genuinely needs you ASAP isn’t easy, but it’s a skill every parent needs to work on.

  19. #19 LM
    November 30, 2007

    I have a really hard time believing that babies are as devious and calculating as some of the posters here seem to believe. I doubt that Minnow is consciously trying to manipulate her mother.

    IMO, crying it out is not a good parenting technique. Granted, my kid is only a couple of weeks old, but when she cries she’s got a good reason for it. Once I fix what ails her, she’s fine. If a baby is crying, there is a reason for it… isn’t it a parent’s job to figure out what that is and fix it? I think so.

    P.s. For parents with colicky babies: read Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp. Those five Ss really work.

  20. #20 dave X
    November 30, 2007

    LM: My 2.5 year old still isn’t devious–she was proud to show us how she can climb out of her crib. Babies are geniuses in learning what works for getting what they want. After you get past that 4th trimester you two might have differences of opinion about how to fix what’s wrong. For instance, whether mommy or daddy should change a diaper. Once she’s old enough to form an opinion about it, it might not be an issue you will want to fix. I’m certain I’ve forgotten lots of things as I look back, but it was really amazing to see the gears turn in her head as she /decided/ to cry to get something. My kid’s current big crying issue is that she likes the diapers with Pluto on them, but not Minnie, which makes half the box potentially an issue.

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