To train an infant or small child to fall asleep on its own.
"Sophie used to be up every two hours through the night until I Ferberized her," I heard one mom say. Answered another: "Noah won't sleep, either, but I don't have the heart to Ferberize him." (Linton, 2001)
The word, usually only heard among new parents or seen in parenting articles, is derived from the work of pediatrician Richard Ferber, whose book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, suggests various ways of diagnosing why a young child won't go to sleep.

Parents have had so much success with one specific technique in the book, however, that "ferberize" often refers to a sleep plan that teaches a baby new associations with the process of falling asleep. It is based on the behaviorist model, which posits that a baby has learned that it can only fall asleep while being held, rocked, or nursed. To "Ferberize" a baby, then, is teach it new associations. The child is put down to sleep alone, and parents let it cry for 5 minutes before comforting it. Leave the child alone again, and this time wait 10 minutes before comforting it. The time gradually increases, and in theory, the child will learn that it can fall asleep on its own. In Ferber's experience, it may take up to four weeks for new sleep patterns to be established, although one or two weeks is more common (In my own son's case, at six months of age, it took only three nights). The method is simple but requires discipline to pull off, as the conscious act of leaving your child to cry uninterrupted (even for a finite period) will create emotional distress in parents-- our brains are hardwired that way.

Attachment parenting advocates and parents fearful of letting their baby cry may use the term "ferberize" to mean a method of "let the baby cry it out," where a baby is left alone in a crib to cry until it falls asleep. This technique is not advocated anywhere in Ferber's book.

Sources:
BabyCenter Editorial Team. "What does it mean to "Ferberize" your baby?" BabyCenter. <http://www.babycenter.com/expert/baby/babysleep/8118.html> (18 July 2002)
Ferber, Richard. Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Simon & Schuster, 1986.
Linton, Marilyn. "Children, Sleep, and Ferber." C-Health. 15 January 2001. <http://www.canoe.ca/Health0101/15_linton.html> (18 July 2002)

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