The Misunderstood ‘Ferber’ Method

Ok, for all you moms who are thinking about “Ferberizing” your child because your mother-in-law, husband, grandmother, etc., insists that you need to let your child cry himself to sleep or that you are spoiling your child . . . what ever happened to your maternal instinct? Who knows best for your child? Someone who isn’t even the parent? I am sure that these people are all well meaning and everything, but what would you say if you knew that Dr. Ferber himself even said that what he wrote in his book was largly misunderstood?

“Dr. Ferber, 61, says that he has been largely misunderstood. When he first published his book in 1985, “there weren’t any others,” he says. The book, which has been reprinted 45 times, contains advice on a range of sleep issues, from bed-wetting to teens who can’t get up for school on time. But he is most known for his signature controlled-crying method, which involves leaving a baby alone in the crib to cry for progressively longer intervals until he or she falls asleep. Parents are instructed to go into the room at the end of each interval to console — but not touch or pick up — the child.

Dr. Ferber, who is also director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston, says that now, “we’ve had a lot more experience. There really are a lot of different ways” for children to learn good sleep habits.

Dr. Ferber says that he will be revising his book because some parts need to be updated. For instance, he says new research suggests that babies don’t need as much sleep as he originally advised. And he wants to clarify that his crying technique was targeted at a specific problem: the child who can fall asleep only while being rocked or held. While he still presents this approach in his new edition, he says he tells parents they can use gradual steps to wean a child off of rocking and soothing behaviors. And he clarifies that some children such as those suffering from anxiety will not be helped by the crying method.”

Also, about the statement he made in his book which reads “Sleeping alone is an important part of [your child’s] learning to be able to separate from you without anxiety and to see himself [or herself] as an independent individual,” Dr. Ferber said in an interview he did for an article in Newsweek,  “That’s the one sentence I wish I never wrote. It was describing the general thinking of the time, but it was not describing my own experience or philosophy” http://www.healthplans.com/articledetails.php?articleid=6042

From personal experience, I find that my oldest, now 15, who I used the “Ferber” method on before I knew better, is actually the least confident and the least independent of my four children. I used attachment parenting with the other three. I wish that I had had more of a backbone to resist well meaning but un-neccessary criticism and advice from those who did not know my child the way I did. It would have saved me several nights of sitting outside my baby’s bedroom door on the floor wringing my hands with tears in my eyes while she cried, while I told myself over and over that I was doing what was best for my child, until she finally fell asleep with tear stains on her cheecks.

This “Ferber” method is not even what Dr. Ferber intended, but it is what so many parents have misconstrued his words to mean.

Shout out to all moms! Study up on things before you inflict them on your kids instead of just taking some well-meaning relative’s word for it. Actually read the book they are supposedly ‘quoting’ for yourself, and then read about several methods for the same thing, but most of all, trust your God-given maternal instinct and do what you feel in your heart that your baby needs no matter what so-and -so tells you! After all, YOU are the expert on YOUR child, not Dr. Ferber.

2 Comments

  1. Geoff Kira
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks for publishing this little snippet about Ferber. I had never heard of him or the method until my wife pointed it out to me. We’ve been lucky enough to stumble across attachment parenting and the Sears series of books. Like you say, getting your research and reading done really does help make a decision about which way you’d like to go. We’re in New Zealand and have recently experienced two General Practitioner’s (both young and have children) who have recommended cry-it-out as a solution to a sleeping problem our child has. It’s sad to see that they haven’t done their research. Anyway I’m sure we all have stories to tell, thanks again for publishing your notes about Ferber. Many regards Geoff and Anette Kira

  2. Posted January 29, 2010 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    Geoff, I love attachment parenting. I have noticed that there is a huge difference in the level of self confidence that my younger three children have compared to my oldest, who is 15. It makes me feel bad that I had to experiment on my own kids! My younger children co-slept with us, the youngest still does, in fact – she is 4 and we are ‘weaning’ her out of our bed by having her sleep with one of her older siblings. That worked really well with child #3 as well. also, I have nursed longer without having as much stress from well meaning family members who thought I shouldn’t still be nursing a 1 or a 2-yr old. I wish you luck on you family adventure.