Letting babies “cry it out” — the first experience of abuse for many children

I’m sharing an article from Psychology Today about how important it is to nurture a baby. I’m also sharing it to show how we harm our children from early on, in infancy, while telling ourselves that the harm we impose on innocent babies is for their own good. It’s a good example since we do it to kids and adults too, throughout the entire human life cycle, in all sorts of ways.

I’ve talked many times about our culture being one of abuse. So much so that many times we are not even aware of the harm being done. This is one of the many reasons “mental illness” is so incredibly difficult to get a handle on.

Good people abuse their children everyday because they’re told to by authorities. It’s not intentional and education can make a big difference!

Letting babies “cry it out” is an idea that has been around since at least the 1880s when the field of medicine was in a hullaballoo about germs and transmitting infection and so took to the notion that babies should rarely be touched (see Blum, 2002, for a great review of this time period and attitudes towards childrearing).

With neuroscience, we can confirm what our ancestors took for granted—that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation. 

 The discredited behaviorist view sees the baby as an interloper into the life of the parents, an intrusion who must be controlled by various means so the adults can live their lives without too much bother. Perhaps we can excuse this attitude and ignorance because at the time, extended families were being broken up and new parents had to figure out how to deal with babies on their own, an unnatural condition for humanity–we have heretofore raised children in extended families. The parents always shared care with multiple adult relatives….

The fact is that caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994). Soothing care is best from the outset. Once patterns get established, it’s much harder to change them.


When the baby is greatly distressed, the toxic hormone cortisol is released. It’s a neuron killer.
Panksepp, 1998 read the rest

That’s right, neurons are killed. That’s brain damage!

I actually have distinct memories of screaming in my crib. I asked my mother about it some years ago and she verified that they used that method. It’s a horribly brutal thing to do and it was something that struck me as obvious many years ago well before I studied this sort of thing. My mother realizes now it was a mistake…she was young and doing what she was told to do. I imagine my father was supporting it as well. And like the article above suggests, people were trying to cope without extended families and really didn’t know how to manage.

There is reason to calmly and rationally explain these sorts of abuses and not blame young parents who are often struggling with all sorts of hardships. If people are given the skills and support they need most will opt for healthy parenting. Too often parents simply don’t have the resources, internal/emotional and/or external/financial resources to be the best of parents. This does not make them bad people. We must create a society where these sorts of basic needs are met so that all our children can get what they need to be healthy in body, mind and spirit.

The fact is all of us as human beings sometimes unintentionally harm others. Being courageous enough to find how we ourselves do it can also help us be kind to those who’ve not yet learned to do it for themselves.

If we want to heal our sick society and bring up healthy children who turn into healthy adults, we start by taking our own inventory.

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters