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Crying it Out
(When children 6 to 18 months cannot fall asleep on their own and are waking throughout the night)

Fortunately the need for the “cry it out” method is rare as most children have already learned to sleep through the night.

When children older than 6 months still have regular nighttime wakings, there are basically three options:

1.) Hang in there. Continue sleep training techniques (bright & stimulating daytime, dark & boring nighttime, consistent bedtime routine and feeding avoidance) with the hope that your child will eventually learn to sleep through the night. Older children who have not yet learn to sleep through the night seem resistant to routine sleep training. Often their long history of poor bad sleep habits, makes them difficult to teach good sleep habits. This is reasonable, if you are only recently trying some of these techniques or if you child is “close” to sleeping all night.

2.) Accept that your child does not sleep well. Continue to rock them to sleep, co-sleep with them and feed them in the middle of the night. I know many families that choose this option as they cannot stomach “crying it out”.

3.) Cry it out. After 6 months old, “Crying it out” is the quickest most effective way for children to learn good sleep habits. “Crying it out” should be a method of last resort as it is difficult for both parent and child.

It is essential that parents work to together on these issues. I will admit, I am probably quick to recommend “crying it out”. “Crying it out” is hard but it directly and effectively addresses the child’s sleep issues. These long term sleep issues put unneeded stress on individuals, careers and marriages. I have seen several marriages crumble over failure to resolve their child’s sleep issues.

“Crying it out” is not for everyone! There are many books on the market to help parents with sleeping problems, if you cannot stomach “crying it out” then find a book and try their method. It is essential to work as a team and develop a plan.

“Crying it out” is an old school technique best used to teach children to fall asleep on their own. It works, but it takes committed determined parents to implement it. Initially, I recommend working on falling to sleep and then working on the rest of the night later. Parents should go through a strict bedtime routine and then place the child in their bed awake.

The bedtime routine will vary based on age. For a 6 month old it would typically feed (bottle/nurse), bathe, dress, feed a little more and place in bed awake. For a 12 month, it often would be bath, brush teeth, read, prayers and place in bed awake. If you’re struggling to teach an older child to sleep, get them tired by letting them play outside for a couple hours in the evening.

When you do decide to let your child cry it out realize that the first night will be horrible, but the 5th night will be worse. I do not recommend frequently checking on the child as this serves to only anger the child more. It is okay to check on them as long as the child is unaware of the parent’s presence or if your worried about the child’s safety. If you try to let them “cry it out” you cannot give up and go to them. If you give in, then you will only encourage more crying in the future as you are rewarding the child’s crying behavior. You should not begin to let your child “cry it out” unless you are (1) willing to let them cry all night and (2) believe that doing it is in your child’s best interest.

Many children will bang their heads or vomit in their beds when upset. If you allow these things to cause you to give up then you will get more crying, vomiting and head banging. If the child vomits in their crib, I recommend you change the sheets and clean up after the child falls asleep.

After two weeks, your child will have learned to fall asleep on their own. During the initial two weeks go to your child if they wake in the middle of the night. After, they have learned to fall asleep on their own most children will learn to put themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night.


Crying it out not working

Our almost 8-month-old daughter wants me to hold her all the time and cannot self soothe - I can't walk out of the room for one minute even when I'm in eyesite; she wants me within arm's reach constantly. I've tried the cry-it-out method during playtimes throughout the day and at night in her crib, but she (... more on Crying it out not working)

Cry it out at nap time

I have mastered bedtime with my son and now trying to master nap time.  He is 16 months old and we use to co-sleep only at nap time.  For the past 3 days I have tried to rock him; sing him a few songs; put him in crib; put sound machine on; close the door and for the past few days has been crying for (... more on Cry it out at nap time)

Written June 2010, updated January 2014
Gregory Gordon MD, Orlando Pediatrician


 is intended to help parents understand the needs and behaviors of children. The information presented in the site is the opinion of Gregory Gordon, M.D.and does not reflect the opinion of his partners. This website is owned exclusively by Doctors insights LLC. The advice in this site does not apply to all children. Always consult your healthcare provider for your individual needs.

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