Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Sleep Email Series Issue1234

Dealing With Crying & Refusal to Sleep

"He just won't stop!"

"How can he still be crying?"

"I have to be to work early. If he keeps this ​up, my day will be ruined!"

Your child won't sleep. All he or she does is cry and throw a fit when you try to leave the bedroom. You're at your wit's end. The good news is, you're not alone, and there are steps you can take to deal with this extremely frustrating issue.

However, before you address this on your own, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your child's pediatrician to rule out any medical reasons for his or her crying at bedtime. Assuming none are found, the answer lies in how you respond to your child's nighttime crying or refusal to sleep.

Unfortunately, the best thing to do in this situation - ignore your little one's crying - is not the easiest thing to do. It is vitally important to understand that ignoring the crying will not physically or psychologically harm your child. In fact, it's always worse for the parents than it is for the child. After all, it goes against everything you've learned: When a child cries, you respond. If strictly followed, however, this "cold turkey" approach can cure bedtime problems in three to five nights.

But be warned. It's difficult not attending to your child's crying at night. Time will seem to stand still, though most infants stop after an hour. Ignoring the crying may be harder on one parent than the other, and arguments may result. It becomes even more difficult when one or both parents must work the next day. The good news is that the situation should be resolved in a few nights.

If you simply cannot bring yourself to ignore your child's cries, you may want to try the Ferber Method. Developed by Dr. Richard Ferber, this approach calls for parents to ignore the child for specific lengths of time, gradually increasing the time periods. So, on the first night, the parents may respond after five minutes, on the second night after 10 minutes and so on until they go for 45 to 60 minutes. This graduated method is recommended for parents who cannot go cold turkey. However, in the end, a parent who chooses this approach must be willing to endure crying for a longer time - up to two or three weeks - before the situation is resolved.

With either approach, the primary objective is to help children learn to manage the distress they experience when they wake up and to put themselves back to sleep.

Teaching Activity

Cold Turkey

This week, your goal is to try to use the cold turkey method to address your child's bedtime crying issues - at least for a day or two. If you simply cannot resist responding to the cries, then use the Ferber Method as outlined earlier. You can of course postpone this if it becomes too difficult, but the longer you put it off, the more sleep you'll lose.

Social Skills

Persevering on Tasks & Projects

Once again, this skill is for the parent who is in this stressful situation. Ignoring the nighttime cries of your child is extremely difficult, and you will be tempted to give in. So while these steps are broad and can apply to any task, they are going to come in handy in dealing with this unfortunately all-too-common situation.

  • Know - Know exactly what must be done in order to complete a task or project.
  • Start - Get started promptly without procrastinating.
  • Persist - Remain on task until you are finished.
  • React - Deal appropriately with frustrations or ​disappointments (see sleep issues email 1 on "using relaxation strategies").

Coming up in Issue 4

The Sneaky Co-Sleeper




Giving Instructions

Read Our Guides        
Ask A Question