While every parent shares the goal of getting their child to sleep through the night, most disagree on the "correct" approach. The cry it out method — also known as interval training or controlled crying — is a technique in which parents allow their baby to cry for short periods of time without being consoled. This approach is notorious for being less-than-easy, and that's just when there's just one baby at home. So, how do you do cry it out if there's a sibling in the house? After all, part of bringing another kid into the mix means adjusting everyone's schedule, including the oh-so proud older siblings.
While cry it out is controversial and a somewhat contentious sleep training technique, a 2012 study out of Australia and published in Pediatrics found that cry it out sleep training has no negative, long-term affects on babies. The study highlighted findings that should put all sleep training parents at ease, including the fact that "sleep techniques are cost-effective and safe to use." The study went on to say that "parents and health professionals can feel confident using behavior techniques for managing infant sleep."
Safe doesn't necessarily mean easy, though, and additional problems can occur when parents are attempting to sleep train a baby while simultaneously tending to that baby's older sibling. Hey, nobody said this parenting thing would be easy, right?
The problem, of course, is right there in the name: cry it out. There's no way a baby going through this particular sleep training method isn't going to cry, and those cries can prove to be a distraction that could impact the quality of sleep an older child was previously enjoying before their baby brother or sister arrived. A lack of sleep can make children grouchy, temperamental, and unable to perform as well in school. Researchers from Healthy Sleep at Harvard Medical School highlight the adverse effects of sleep deprivation, saying:
"A lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury."
A baby's cries disrupting an older child's sleep isn't the only potential road bump in your journey towards eight hours of bliss-filled family sleep. Small children understand that crying is a symbol of sadness. They may find it emotionally distressing to hear their brother or sister cry and not be comforted by mom or dad. Parents Magazine suggests involving a friend, relative, or partner to read or play with the older child so that you can concentrate on the baby. Parents advisor Jodi Mindell, Ph.D. and author of Sleeping Through the Night also encourages parents to involve the older sibling in the baby's nighttime routine, as toddlers are particularly set on schedules. "Your older kid may be a junkie for routine, but her baby brother hasn't had time to get hooked. So go easy on yourself — and just have the little guy come along for the ride — especially if you're the only parent at home."
This way, your toddler will know the inevitable crying is just part of the bedtime routine their younger sibling is learning to adjust to, and not the result of malicious neglect on behalf of the parents.
Parents can help to ease their older child's worries by carefully explaining that they are teaching the baby how to go to sleep, and not, in fact, punishing the baby or ignoring the baby altogether. Prepare your older sibling to witness at least a few tears, and maybe even consider sending them to sleep over with their grandparents or friends while you get through the worst of the sleep training process.
The Baby Sleep Site also suggests parents lean on the help of white noise, so that baby doesn't hear every noise made by the older sibling or, you know, their parents. The site suggests parents purchase a sound machine or download free and/or inexpensive white noise apps. And, of course, whether you're sleep training a baby with a house full of children or by themselves, consistency and a set schedule is key.
Hopefully you'll end up with two great sleepers and a quiet house because, well, that's the parenting dream.