Letting your Child “Cry it out”: A big No-No according to Scientific Studies

March 27th, 2018
Darcia Narvaez, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, recently wrote in Psychology Today how excessive crying out could be dangerous for children, leading to a lifetime of harm.
In trauma research, foraging patterns are used to study stress responses by replicating different attachment models.
A research team led by Leonard Rosenblum and Jeremy Coplan from the Primate Behavior Laboratory at the SUNY Health Sciences Center, Brooklyn, studied infant primates nursed by mothers randomly assigned to a variety of foraging conditions.
Using this research model, stress hormones were elevated in infants whose foraging pattern was totally unpredictable (Nonhuman Primates Exposed to Unpredictable Early Rearing: Relevance to PTSD, Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1997).
Their findings support the notion that adverse early rearing experiences have longstanding effects on neurochemicals relevant to emotional regulation.
By manipulating foraging conditions, these researchers created a laboratory model that corresponds to a parent who is unavailable during the critical “rapprochement phase”, described by Margaret Mahler.
Mahler`s benchmark of successful development requires the transition from a symbiotic dependence on the mother to the achievement of a stable individual identity within the world.
Mahler refers to this process as essential for the successful psychological birth of the child, or separation-individuation The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, Margaret Mahler, Fred Pine, and Ann Bergman New York, Basic Books, 1975).
In order to simultaneously facilitate the process of the child`s individuation, the parent has to “walk through” each developmental stage with their child in a sharing and empathic way, paying attention to the child’s bonding cues.
Mature object-relationships require the right balance between nurture and graded separation.
In order to accomplish this, the “good parent” remains only as far as the child can tolerate, and is predictably available for emotional “refueling” upon recall by the child.
This process of internalizing and then self-regulating, is what Masterson calls “secure attachment” where adequate ego functioning must develop within the child to constrain the frustrations inherent to separation.
How the infant internalizes his experience of the caretaker is what determines the final outcome of how the infant will experience himself.
Resolution of the rapprochement crisis is considered by Mahler as essential developmental requirement.
It would appear that this process of “early-soothing” (provided by the good caretaker), also ensures the healthy development of those limbic structures in the Hippocampus that are responsible for subsequent “self-soothing” function (described by Winnicott in “The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment”).
These early experiences are also “downloaded” to form the templates for a variety of subsequent self-functions, including sense of agency, affect-regulation, and sense of empowerment, which are crucial assets for recall during times of psychological trauma.
Extended caretaker failure to provide empathy may lead to deficits ranging from shyness and introversion to serious disorders of the self.
Successful conclusion of this stage is what enables victims, following a trauma, to summon surrogate caretakers such as friends and family in order to reawaken latent soothing self-objects from childhood.
Kohut notes that victims do better when they have assimilated the positive emotions of their caretakers (Restoration of the Self New York: International Universities Press, 1977).
This includes the caretaker’s gentleness, tone of voice, mood, and empathic responses.
If a victim successfully internalized the parent as a good self-object during childhood, the individual will be far more receptive to being comforted during stress by surrogate caretakers.
Under favorable caretaking (foraging) conditions, developmental psychologists explain that these initial good “self-objects” become internalized, and are easily rekindled via bonding with new significant others (such as spouses, siblings, friends, chaplains, or therapists) who can then function as soothing “transitional objects” during times of crisis.

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