Bed-sharing, “Crying It Out,” and My Toddler Daughter: Sometimes Babies Just Get Angry

Poppy CryingThat babies cry is a fact of life for parents, as Enyo over at Motherhood Looms so aptly explains. Babies cry. Babies cry for a variety of reasons. Babies sometimes even cry when mad.

The other night while I was listening to my daughter scream from her crib in anger, I posted the following status on The Parenting Patch Facebook page:

“My daughter is in her crib screaming her head off. I gave her the choice of laying still with me or going to her crib. After 5 minutes of rolling around and talking, I put her in her crib. I will get her after she calms down or 15 minutes. I am not a fan of cry it out, but, at 13 months, she is getting old enough to learn about choices and consequences. And she should go right to sleep once I bring her back to bed.”

I am well-versed on the potential problems with the “cry it out” sleep training method. Some of the negatives of allowing a baby to “cry it out” include the following consequences:

  • Missing out on stimulating touch
  • Missing out on nutrition
  • Increased cortisol levels and neurological damage
  • Increased pulse, blood pressure, and temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Potential SIDS risk
  • Learned helplessness phenomenon
  • Potential effects on breastfeeding
  • Potential effects on secure attachment

However, my daughter is thirteen months old, not thirteen weeks old. Unlike a newborn or younger infant, her awareness and understanding of the world is, although still developing, more sophisticated. She understands cause and effect. When she pets her kitty nicely, the kitty sticks around. When she lays on top of the kitty, the kitty runs away. When tossed at the ground, a ball bounces. When she signs milk, her mommy nurses her. When she hits her mommy while she is nursing, the nursing sessions stops. My daughter is a baby, but she is not dumb.

Second, I was not allowing my daughter to “cry it out.” I was exhausted and needed to sleep. As an individual (and not just a mommy), I am allowed to have needs and have those needs be met. I was not going to stay up all night, allowing my daughter to stay up and crawl all over me (literally) because she wanted to. As a parent, setting boundaries is one of the things that I must do to help guide my daughter into adulthood. A child without boundaries can grow up to be out of control, selfish, and all sorts of other negatives that I do not want for my daughter. Giving my daughter two choices (hold still or go to her crib) teaches her about choices, consequences, and that she is not the center of the universe. Would she prefer to get her way all the time without any regard for anyone else. Of course, she would. She is a baby whose frontal lobe is still developing. But I would not be a very good parent if I always let her get her way.

Furthermore, babies understand a lot more language than given credit for. Even though she cannot recite a tome on world peace, my daughter understands a lot of what I say to her. She knows what her crib is. She knows how to lay still when asked. She can follow simple directions. She knows the words for a lot of things in her world. She can say and sign some words, but her comprehension is vastly beyond her ability to use language at the moment.

Poppy ScreamingAt first, I received some negative feedback to my Facebook status. I was told that I have “very high expectations of a 13 month old.” I was also told that my daughter will now “make the association between crib/bedtime and being abandoned and not responded to” and that she was “crying because she is alone and sad and probably scared, which is an evolutionary response and not a ‘choice.’ ”

I know my daughter. I know when she is scared, and I know when she is just plain mad. When I put her in her crib the other night, she was screaming because she was angry. Toddlers are very smart. And I treat my daughter like she is very smart. I verbally told her that she had two choices: (1) lay still with me (not sleep, just lay still) or (2) go into her crib if she wanted to stay awake. She thought about her options for a minute (lay still versus crib). After laying still and thinking for a minute, she then proceeded to try to climb on me again. Did she fully comprehend the two choices that I had given her and the potential consequences of her choice? Maybe, maybe not. Is she smart enough to know the difference between “lay still” and “crib”? Definitely!

Once I realized that she was not going to lay still with me (and I gave her a generous amount of time to calm down and hold still), I told her that she was going to have to go in her crib. I picked her up out of my bed, carried her into her room (which is lit with a nightlight), and put her in her crib. As soon as I lowered her into her crib, she stood up and started screaming in anger. She wanted to crawl on top of mommy, not be in her crib. I told her that I would come back in fifteen minutes or once she had calmed down. Fifteen minutes later, I went back into her room and got her. I explained again why she had been in her crib. After we laid down again in my bed, she laid still and went to sleep pretty quickly.

My daughter had been screaming, not because she was scared and lone, but because she was angry at not being allowed to do as she wanted. No, I did not like hearing my baby crying from her crib. Yes, I think that I made the right decision. I could have given in and let my daughter stay up, crawling all over me as she pleased. But always giving in to a child is just as bad as being a parental dictator. And, as another commenter wrote, I did not “abandon her in the woods or in a cave,” and I intended to go back and get my thirteen month old after fifteen minutes. My daughter is smart. She can understand choices and consequences, especially since I allow her to make choices and experience consequences. She also knew that I was in the next room, not abandoning her to the wolves.

Did putting my daughter in her crib for a short timeout work for us? Yes. Would I leave my daughter to cry in her crib for hours on end without attending to her needs? No. Do babies sometimes cry out of anger? Most definitely. Did giving my daughter a short timeout in her crib (where she could have stayed awake and played had she chosen so) irreparably harm her or our relationship? Definitely not. Sometimes a short break is just what a mommy and a baby need. And, yes, my daughter was not happy about not getting her way. But, then again, my job as a parent is not to make sure my daughter is happy 24/7 or to let her get her way all the time. (In fact, doing so would be just as bad as abusing or neglecting her.) My job is to guide her through childhood into adulthood. As a parent, I must set boundaries. When I set those boundaries, sometimes my daughter is just going to be mad.

Babies cry. Babies cry for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is anger. When I put my daughter in her crib because she would not hold still when I wanted to go to sleep, she was crying out of anger. My daughter had two choices: lay still with me or go to her crib (where she could have stayed up all night if she had wanted). She wanted to stay up all night in the bed with me. When she did not get her choice, she was angry. And so she cried because she was angry. Because babies sometimes cry out of anger.


Dangers of “crying it out”:

Image Credits

Poppy Crying © 2012 Heather Johnson
Poppy Screaming © 2013 Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson

Heather Johnson is a mother, wife, writer, librarian, and linguist. She earned a BA in English studies with a minor in creative writing from Illinois State University in May 2007, an MS in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2009, and an MS in English studies with an emphasis in linguistics at Illinois State University in December 2011.

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