Probably the two best-known examples of Modified Cry-It-Out are Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, and Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Whether you swear by them or merely swear at them, you’ve almost certainly heard of them.
What is modified CIO? Essentially it’s a softened version of full-blown CIO. (Full-blown CIO, which Ferber calls “cold turkey”. Good term.) While modified CIO doesn’t attempt to completely eliminate tears as do the no-cry methods, it does offer parents a system whereby their baby can be reassured of their presence.
Ferber is all about sleep associations. It is normal to wake briefly in the night. Everyone does it - adult and infant alike. The problem is that baby has never learned to put him/herself back to sleep. What does the child associate with being able to fall asleep? Nursing, rocking, singing, a parent alongside? These associations must be broken and new ones which allow the child to get back to sleep on his/her own must be established.
Ferber offers a system of parental presence at increasing intervals, starting with 5 minutes and, over the course of a week, increasing to 45 minutes, in a pattern all laid out in a handy chart. Thus, a child is put down to sleep and the parent leaves the room. If the child is still crying after the proscribed interval, the parent goes in to soothe the child. The child is not to be picked up, but the parent can shush, sing, pat his back, etc., for no more than 2 - 3 minutes before leaving. Remember, Ferber point out, you are “going in to reassure [your child] and yourself, not necessarily to help him stop crying and certainly not to help him fall asleep.” The point is to teach the child to fall asleep on his own. After you’ve let the child know you’re still there, you do not return until the set interval has passed.
Weissbluth, unlike Ferber, doesn’t have the parent go in at set intervals. A child can be allowed to cry for up to an hour for daytime naps, and at night? A parent can go in two or three times, but no more. Like Ferber, the child isn't to be picked up, but soothed briefly. The idea is to disassociate getting to sleep from the parent's presence or actions. He wants to empower the child, make getting to sleep something the child can do for himself.
Weissbluth spends more time than Ferber giving parents ways in which they might be able to minimize tears by preparing the child early in life for good sleep patterns, and by attuning parents to the child’s signals of drowsiness. Catch the child when they’re drowsy but not overtired, he directs, and there will be much less fuss. Let them get overtired, and the struggles can be monumental.
If I may be allowed a complaint. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is possibly the most poorly edited parenting book I have ever forced my way through. A stressed-out, sleep-deprived parent should not have to wade through this sticky morass of exceedingly poorly-organized information to find what they need to know. However, as a source of “why is sleep important for my child”, he’s hard to beat. There are many very compelling reasons to make our childrens' sleep a priority; Weissbluth puts forth a strong case.
After all, if quality sleep weren’t truly important to our child, no parent would be willing to suffer so for it!