The Ferber Method Reviewed

Most parents are prepared to get up in the night with their newborn baby, at least for a short period of time. Some children have a difficult time sleeping and seem to have their days and nights mixed up. However when sleepless nights continue for longer than expected, exhausted parents become desperate for a break and willing to do anything for a few hours of sleep. Although there are many techniques available for parents to try, the “Ferber Sleep Method” is one that has received a great deal of attention over the years.

Who Is Dr. Ferber?

The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders is located at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Ferber, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders is the creative source behind the sleep method that is widely known as “Ferberizing.” While many parents find the information contained in Dr. Ferber’s book “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” is just the answer they have been looking for, others are not so sure about leaving their child to “self-soothe”.

The Ferber Method

The Ferber Method is regarded as a form of “graduated extinction” and is one of the most well-known and controversial methods of sleep training available. Parents are required to put their child to bed while they are still awake. Once parents put their child to bed they are instructed to say goodnight and leave the room. If the child cries, parents are recommended to wait a certain amount to time before checking in on them. The amount of time that a parent waits before checking in on their child is dependent on the parent’s comfort level, how long they have been using the method and how many times they have already checked in on the child that night.

Parents who go back into their child’s room to check are to comfort the child and rub them with their hands without picking them up or feeding them. Dr. Ferber feels that children who wake up frequently or do not sleep are associating their behavior with some kind of reward such as being picked up or fed. By removing the reward, Ferber feels that children learn to go to sleep and stay asleep on their own.

Once parents have been using the method for some time they gradually increase the amount of time between the checks. When the child realizes that they are only getting a short visit from a parent, nothing more, they will quickly learn to fall back asleep.

When to Start the Ferber Method

Dr. Ferber recommends that parents do not start his method of sleep training until a child is a least five or six months of age. By this time, children should sleep through the night without needing a feeding.

How Long Does it Take to Work?

Most parents who stick to the plan, begin seeing improvements in their child’s sleep patterns within a few days to a week. Complete training should only take four weeks, at most. It is, however, imperative that parents are consistent and work hard to continue the program until they begin to see results.

Sticking to It

Many parents, who are afraid they are neglecting their children, or that the method may do long-lasting damage, drop out before they begin to see results. This is in part because some children become more distressed than usual at the beginning of the training and often throw tantrums or cry harder, louder and longer, which worries parents. However, Ferber encourages parents to stick to the plan even if their child gets so upset that he/she vomits. If this happens, Ferber suggests going to the child, cleaning him/her up, offering reassurance and leaving the room. Dr. Ferber provides a great deal of constructive advice and support to parents who may struggle with his method.

Those in Favor

Those parents in favor of the Ferber Sleep Method are generally the ones who have been able to stick the program out and see positive results. For these parents, the few days of stress and intensity they endured was well worth it to get their child to sleep through the night.

Those Against

Parents who are against the Ferber method feel it is too harsh. They are not comfortable with letting their children “work it out” on their own. The continued crying can be very hard on parents, especially those who are exhausted. For many parents it is just too easy to give in and pick the child up. It is true that this method is not appropriate for those who are fainthearted. If it is difficult for you to listen to your child cry, this method probably will not be successful for you.


Some who criticize the Ferber Method feel that it makes children feel isolated and alone. However, this is often because the method is misunderstood. It was never really Ferber’s intent to have parents leave their children crying for extended periods of time alone. The frequent and regular checking is meant to comfort the child and provides reassurance to the child that they are not, in fact, alone. Another well-known misconception is that this method works for all parents and children. In his book, Ferber clearly acknowledges that the process of sleep training is difficult and does not always work with every child.

While there are many parents who find great relief using the Ferber Sleep Method, there are others who do not consider this the best approach for them. Like anything, parents must find what works best for them. Children are unique individuals with their own personalities, and for some, this is just the right method, while for others, it only seems to exacerbate sleep problems and create stress. Parents are encouraged to discuss their child’s sleeping problems with their pediatrician who will first rule out any health-related issues, prior to trying any sleep-training program.

1 Comment

  1. This article is so useful that it can be used to teach my students. Thank you for your good information.

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