You have a close friend who just has a newborn baby. She is exhausted because she is having difficulty getting her baby to sleep at night. She is considering trying the “cry it out” method. Based on your expertise on both conditioning and attachment, would you support her in trying this method? If you would, why? If you wouldn’t, why wouldn’t you and what alternative would you suggest?
Title: The Cry It Out Method: A Critical Analysis of Conditioning and Attachment Theories
As an expert in the fields of conditioning and attachment, I am presented with the question of whether to support a close friend’s decision to try the “cry it out” method for her newborn’s sleep issues. This paper aims to critically analyze the implications of the cry it out method through the lens of conditioning and attachment theories. By weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks of this approach, I will provide an informed perspective on whether to endorse or advise against it. Additionally, I will propose an alternative method that prioritizes both the emotional needs of the infant and the well-being of the parents.
Conditioning theory, particularly the principles of classical and operant conditioning, can shed light on the potential effectiveness of the cry it out method. Classical conditioning posits that associations can be formed between environmental stimuli and behavioral responses. Applying this to the cry it out method, repeatedly exposing the infant to the experience of crying while refusing to offer immediate soothing may result in the baby associating crying with the absence of comfort, encouraging self-soothing behaviors.
Operant conditioning, on the other hand, is concerned with learning through reinforcement or punishment. In the context of the cry it out method, caregivers may inadvertently reinforce the child’s crying by offering immediate attention and comfort. By withholding this reinforcement, the method aims to break the association between crying and parental attention, ultimately promoting self-regulation of sleep.
Attachment theory emphasizes the crucial role of secure attachments in an infant’s emotional and social development. According to attachment theorists, babies have an innate predisposition to seek proximity and emotional support from their primary caregiver. The cry it out method may raise concerns regarding its potential impact on attachment formation and the emotional well-being of the child.
Secure attachment is characterized by the infant’s trust that the caregiver will be responsive, comforting, and available when needed. Consistent and responsive care in the early years lays the foundation for healthy attachment bonds. The cry it out method may undermine this by denying immediate parental presence and comfort during distressed moments, potentially compromising attachment security.
Empirical evidence regarding the efficacy and long-term effects of the cry it out method is a critical aspect to consider. Several studies have explored the effects of sleep-training interventions, including variations of the cry it out method, on infant sleep patterns, parental well-being, and child development.
Proponents of the method argue that it leads to improved sleep duration and quality for both infants and parents. For instance, behavioral interventions based on extinction (i.e., allowing the child to cry until they fall asleep) have been associated with shorter sleep onset times and longer total sleep duration in infants. Additionally, some studies have noted improved parental mental health due to decreased sleep disturbances.
However, it is essential to note the limitations and divergent findings in research. Some studies have identified potential adverse effects, including increased stress levels in both infants and parents during the intervention period. Moreover, concerns have been raised regarding the potential impact of prolonged crying on infant emotional well-being, self-regulation abilities, and long-term attachment security.
Considering both the conditioning and attachment perspectives, an alternative sleep-training method called graduated extinction seems worthy of consideration. Graduated extinction, also known as the check-and-console method, combines elements of the cry it out method with intermittent parental soothing. This approach involves gradually increasing time intervals between parental checks while providing limited comfort each time.