DO NOT LET YOUR BABY “CRY IT OUT”.
(Parents please read)
For the last century there has been a belief amongst parents that letting the baby “cry it out” is good to help build resilience in the child. This could not be further from the truth.
Infants have very alive and sensitive nervous systems which are still adapting to the world, the infants body is building a survival pattern in the formative years of life and this continues up until around the age of 7 and the foundations of that prior to age 2.
Let me tell you what happens within a infant or child’s physiology when we let them “cry it out”.
The new studies around trauma show that trauma is imbedded within our nervous system. Trauma is an adaptation of our body’s survival instinct. When we are infants we perceive our parents as our source of survival, the love and nurturing we get from a parent is a primary need of our body, mind and soul. Just like food and water. If we are screaming, crying, or in need and no one comes our body goes into survival mode. This means we go into FFFF (fight, flight, freeze, fawn). The amygdala, which is the survival part of the brain that activates when a tiger is running at us starts firing and tells us our life is in danger. This also happens when we are shamed/yelled at for crying and expressing these needs.
The first stage is the crying, when no one comes and the crying proves futile the infant or child then moves into a state of rage. This is a survival rage, the rage of our primal/survival instinct that is attempting to protect us from death. Once this rage has also proved to be futile, once no one comes the child moves into a state of terror, the terror of annihilation. The brain, body, nervous system and every cell in the body believes it is going to die.
After this terror has hit the child then moves into fawn/freeze response, which is like playing possum. A state of powerlessness. Playing dead. This is another survival response our bodies carry. It is like a mouse playing dead when a cat is going to eat it. The childs system goes into complete shut down. At this point the child may stop crying, and the parents say “oh good, hes cried it out”.
The result of this causes the infant/child to leave their body. It becomes to painful to exist within the body, so we dissociate and may never fully inhabit our body again, so we end up with adults living primarily in their minds, we end up with core beliefs about life that say “its not safe to be here, there is something wrong with me” we end up with high stress levels, anxiety disorders, depression and other issues.
These end up as survival patterns and unprocessed emotions that get locked into our system. Studies now have shown that unprocessed emotional pain is a cause of many physical, emotional and mental health issues including cancer, diabetes, addictions, anxiety disorders, chronic pain and more. In a threatening situation the amygdala fires and tells the body there is danger, this cuts off blood circulation from our brain and organs and sends it to the limbs. Trauma happens when this survival response gets stuck on, the body never completely comes back to “calm and safe”. It may show up as a subtle feeling in the background that “something is wrong”. We may experience it as a free floating anxiety that is always there, we may experience it as always feeling powerless, shut down and never good enough.
This is what happens in a child/infant when they are left to “cry it out”. The effects it has later in a child’s life can be catastrophic and we now see so many people medicated, living with high levels of stress, anxiety disorders, addictions, depression, suicidal ideation all stemming from large amounts of unprocessed trauma. We slap labels and damaging diagnosis on people and ignore the stored survival stress within the physiology and expect them to just “get over it”. This is survival physiology, it is stronger than willpower, we cannot just “get over it”. Telling someone to “get over it” is simply asking them how far down can they push it, how well can they pretend it is not there? And this has consequences.
Parents and educators, please become trauma informed. The next generations depend on it.
Dr Julie Yau - Healing trauma SAND.
When the body says No - Gabor Mate
The body awareness workbook for trauma - Dr Julie Brown Yau