38

My husband and i have differing opinions on this. I don't believe in the term 'spoilt'. I would be very happy if my daughter was 'spoilt' in the sense that she expects to be treated with the highest possible respect and love and affection in all her relationships.

Also it would not bother me if she think she is special and unique (that's exactly what I want her to think). Mother's face is a mirror for the baby - through the mother's reactions and attention, the child learns that she is a lovable and valuable human being.

I spend all my time with my baby when she is awake. I play games with her, I smile, and laugh, and I never ever let her cry. I rush to pick her up immediately, even if it's the middle of the night, I force myself to get up, no matter how tired I am (I admit it's hard sometimes, and I do let her cry for 10-20 seconds sometimes, but never more).

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    How old is your baby? – anongoodnurse Feb 24 '15 at 8:07
  • 1
    Related: parenting.stackexchange.com/q/2433/303 – KennyPeanuts Feb 24 '15 at 15:57
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    @sbi My 2 year old wants to be picked up quite often, especially when he's crying, but I would certainly answer this question differently for a 2 year old compared to a 2 month, 6 month, or 12 month old. – user11394 Feb 24 '15 at 18:17
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    @sbi That's a very good point, actually. Even in the US, I think you'll find the term used differently by different people. I personally refer to my son as a toddler, but my baby. – user11394 Feb 24 '15 at 19:31
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    I always went to the aid of my kids when they cried, regardless of circumstances. I wanted to teach them (with actions, not just words) that I will always be there for them no matter what. As they grow, you can have a conversation with them about 'appropriateness' of crying but more often than not, I end up telling them it is OK to cry and let their feelings be known (that's must IMHO). – blurfus Feb 24 '15 at 20:19

11 Answers 11

80

Babies cry. Maybe it helps to know what an infant's 'normal" crying pattern is. Fuss/cry durations peak in the first 2 months (peaking average: 6 weeks), are highest in evenings, and decrease approximately 50% by 12 weeks of age. So, the first two months are the worst. Also, not all infants are alike; some are very compliant, some are very persistent, and there's everything in between.

In 1972, two researchers at Johns Hopkins, Silvia Bell and Mary Salter Ainsworth, wrote a seminal parer on infant crying ("Infant crying and maternal responsiveness") that challenged the (predominantly male espoused) idea that quick response to an infant's cries led to "spoiled babies". Further research has supported their conclusion that prompt maternal response to infant crying led to less crying and better language and communication development by the end of the first year. Form the abstract:

...consistency and promptness of maternal response is associated with decline in frequency and duration of infant crying. By the end of the first year individual differences in crying reflect the history of maternal responsiveness rather than constitutional differences in infant irritability. Close physical contact is the most frequent maternal intervention and the most effective in terminating crying. Nevertheless, maternal effectiveness in terminating crying was found to be less powerful than promptness of response in reducing crying in subsequent months. Evidence suggests that whereas crying is expressive at first, it can later be a mode of communication directed specifically toward the mother. The development of non-crying modes of communication, as well as a decline in crying, is associated with maternal responsiveness to infant signals. The findings are discussed in an evolutionary context, and with reference to the popular belief that to respond to his cries "spoils" a baby.

How, then, does this myth that letting a baby cry is good for the infant? It seems people confuse cause and effect: they think that a quick maternal response (the "cause" rather than the effect") to a baby's cries trains the baby to cry more often. (Of course a baby will cry again. Babies cry. That's how they communicate. But they do not cry more!)

There have been debates in the literature as to exactly what "secure attachment" and other variables mean, but in general, the sensitivity to maternal response to crying and infant contentedness has a positive correlation.

A 2009 study agreed:

This study examined associations between mother–infant nighttime interactions and mother–infant attachment when infants were 12 months old. ...Mothers of securely attached infants had nighttime interactions that were generally more consistent, sensitive and responsive than those of insecurely attached infants. Specifically, in secure dyads [mother-infant pairs], mothers generally picked up and soothed infants when they fussed or cried after an awakening.

Whatever the belief, it is clear that

human infant crying evolved as a primarily acoustic, graded signal, that it is a fairly reliable, if imperfect, indicator of need for parental care and that its primary function is to promote parental care-giving.

Some pediatricians see evidence that if a baby's crying is ignored, the more compliant baby gives up, stops signaling, becoming withdrawn once realizing that crying is not worthwhile, and (maybe?) concluding that he is not worthwhile. The baby loses the motivation to communicate with his parents, and the parents miss out on opportunities to get to know their baby. The persistent infant (highest-need babies) don't give up, instead crying louder and escalating, making his cries more and more disturbing. This tends to upset parents, who see it as a power struggle.

Dr. Sears recommends a middle approach:

A quick response when baby is young and falls apart easily or when the cry makes it clear there is real danger; a slower response when the baby is older and begins to learn how to settle disturbances on his own.

However it is handled, I agree that is it not possible to spoil a young baby. When a baby is older and can be taught to self-soothe, it's more appropriate to respond to different cries differently.

Infant crying and maternal responsiveness
Nighttime maternal responsiveness and infant attachment at one year
Maternal sensitivity behavior and infant crying, fussing and contented behavior: The effects of mother's experienced social support
An ethological analysis of human infant crying: Answering Tinbergen's four questions
Why do babies cry?

  • I know it's an old paper, but were you able to find the complete 1972 paper anywhere? Also, note that in the "Nighttime Responsiveness at one year" paper, mothers with secure attachments were more likely to pick up and soothe AND were more likely to have no response to baby's cries at night as compared to insecurely attached babies. Which suggests that it's the consistency that matters more. – swbarnes2 Jan 24 '17 at 21:18
  • @swbsrnes2 - I was able to find it, but it's been a while. If you google a quote from the highlighted section (on regular google, not scholar), you should be able to find it. Sometimes it takes a bit of looking. :) – anongoodnurse Jan 24 '17 at 21:58
35

You can not spoil a young baby. Being born is a very discomforting experience: the world is cold and full of harsh lights and loud noises. The only comfort you know as a baby is being fed or cuddled.

Also, when babies grow older and develop, they discover new things all the time, which they do not understand and might confuse them, also leading to discomfort.

At such times, it is comforting for the baby to know there are people taking care of her.

I guess that at a certain age (after a year maybe), you will find out when the baby is no longer crying for discomfort, but only for drawing your attention. At that moment you can draw the line for yourself. Almost every parent will be able to distinguish between a cry for help and a cry for attention.

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    You can not spoil a young baby. This. +1. – sbi Feb 24 '15 at 9:19
  • The few memories I have remaining from a very young age were scary as hell. Shadows, echoing noises, all kinds of weird stuff. The good memories have faded into the 30 years that've followed. – Slipp D. Thompson Feb 26 '15 at 22:01
12

We carry lots of evolutionary baggage with us. For millions of years, children have been sitting on their mothers' hips all day. Lying around somewhere on their own for a lengthy period of time would mean they had been left behind in the high grass of the savanna.

The only way for children to survive this would have been to be loud enough to be heard by their mothers, and for the mothers to be eager to find and pick up their children. A couple hundred years of civilization, and a few decades of strollers, won't change this.

So follow your instincts and pick up your child. These instincts match with those of your children.

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    Yes, it's good to remember that being left alone is not really "normal" for a small baby. That's probably the reason baby slings and carriers work so well. At least our child always liked being carried. – sleske Jul 15 '15 at 8:58
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    @sleske: All my kids loved being carried. In the first half a year of his life, one would never sleep unless being attached to someone else's body. – sbi Jul 16 '15 at 13:07
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Babies lack the necessary development to communicate by most other means, so to express that they have a problem they typically start crying. Luckily the checklist of, "What can it mean?" is pretty short.

  • Are they hungry?
  • Are they tired?
  • Are they too hot/cold/uncomfortable?
  • Do they have a messy/wet diaper?
  • Do they need some love/affection/physical contact?

If I run through the list and haven't found a probable cause, then I'm cool with saying, "Well, maybe my kid just needs to cry."

That being said, I honestly can't recall a time that any of my children (as babies) were crying and I couldn't find one of the above problems.

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    Add "bored" and "scared" after 6 months and "trying to get their way" after 18 months. – wberry Feb 24 '15 at 23:28
  • I can easily recall instances where nothing of the above (pretty good, BTW) list helped. (What about what's believed to be stomach aches? Ear pain? And one of my kids just wouldn't sleep in the first year without bodily contact to someone.) Still, at least it always helped a bit to pick up the child and provide comfort. – sbi Feb 25 '15 at 10:32
  • @sbi I stuck burping/earaches under the "uncomfortable" category. I guess I should be more explicit that love/affection means physical contact. – Wayne Werner Feb 25 '15 at 14:47
  • @Wayne: Um, no, that makes sense, I think. I just wasn't seeing the big picture, I'm afraid. – sbi Feb 25 '15 at 14:55
7

There is very little to add to the excellent answer by anongoodnurse, but I will try anyway and play Devil's advocate in the process.

It depends. In some cultures there is a tradition to let babies cry, and this is not necessarily a stupid tradition. In my opinion it's an immoral one, but that's not the same thing. Whether it's also stupid depends on what you want to achieve.

If you want to raise a tough, somewhat psychopathic child who will make an excellent soldier.
If you want to make sure that your child will respond to caning by obedience rather than rebellion.
If you are already planning in detail a career for your child as a successful and rich lawyer or estate agent.
In all these cases it sounds like a 'good' idea to start the child abuse early.

Under the Nazi regime in Germany, every mother received a copy of the book "Die deutsche Mutter und ihr erstes Kind" ("The German mother and her first child") by pulmologist(!) Johanna Haarer. It advised to let even small babies sleep in a separate room and not to enter it at all during the night to prevent spoiling. Obviously this led to a lot of heartbreaking crying -- but that was supposedly good training for the child's lungs!

My daughter initially had a lot of digestive trouble and consequently cried a lot. Somehow I doubt that she would have turned out such an all-round intelligent, communicative and empathic child if we had made it a habit to ignore her for longer than absolutely necessary. Fortunately I had taken the first two months free from work.

In the first weeks it took three adults (me, my wife and my mother-in-law) working in shifts, and even so none of us got much sleep. But it was definitely worth it.

By the way, when my mother-in-law got her first child she had had to ignore similarly insane advice that was printed in East Germany: Feeding babies strictly after the clock.

4

I definitely wouldn't pick up a baby every time it cries, unless it's yours.

But seriously, depending on its age, you will kill yourself with tiredness teaching your baby that the way to summon Mummy is to start crying. Once your baby has learned this, you won't get less tired.

It's nice to start with, because a very young baby is just going to cry until you do something, but by the time your baby is 6-12 months old, s/he should be able to sleep through unless they're quite unusual. If you reach that point it may be worth consulting a sleep trainer or something.

And try to avoid people's advice that put you at the centre of it all (no-one can train your baby to sleep better than you!) It's very flattering and seductive, and anyone listening would be out of their mind to contradict even obvious logical flaws such as this, because of the potential nonsensical argument that would generate, but it really isn't the case. Do your best to raise a good kid, regardless of how much help you need. And the more help (not advice) you get, the better.

For example I had a hernia op as a baby. Some well-meaning person told my parents that they should never let me cry, in case the hernia came back. For a year, my parents didn't let me cry, and I didn't sleep for a year. And neither did they. Then one night I was crying (obviously; I wanted attention) and they were so exhausted that they just couldn't get to me. Eventually I stopped crying, and from then started sleeping at night.

  • Note that "not letting a child cry" does not have to mean the child does not get to sleep. The standard advice I heard is to come to the child, but comfort him/her in bed instead of picking them up - that way they are comforted, but still encouraged to fall asleep. – sleske Jul 15 '15 at 9:02
  • @sleske agreed, and teaching your baby that the way to summon Mummy is to start crying is a general statement that covers that case. My example from my life was just...an example. Not meant to imply anything further :) – Robert Grant Jul 15 '15 at 9:08
3

Infant babies do not cry unless they need something. Food, changing, tired, get-up, burping... and the like. If they are crying in night you can wait a little longer each week or so to feed and change, without much ado, and put them back to bed. When you know that they are well taken care of and they are just being fussy, you can take more time to pick them up.

Babies learn self-soothing tecniques, and independence in this way.

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    Hi Susie, and welcome to the site. Your answer would be better if you used more formal style and grammar; we attempt to be professional in our posts here. You also should try to include more information that might differentiate your post from others here; right now, it looks like you're largely reiterating what others have said in more detail, in which case an upvote is appropriate for their answer. – Joe Feb 25 '15 at 17:44
3

I'm just throwing this out there. My daughter is 5 almost 6 gets in my bed every night. She slept with me from newborn till a little after one. She is a picky little turkey but for now I just deal. However my son who is 11 months sleeps in his crib ( and has from the start).

When he wakes at night, if he does I get up check binkie and still will make him a bottle. I don't hold him but instead give it you him give him a few minutes to drink and replace binkie and then take the bottle out of his crib but unless his is absolutely in distress I do not pick him up at night. I even change diaper in his crib without getting him up.

During the day he is played with, held often and loved a bunch but I am 3 months pregnant and we all need our sleep including him. There are ways to soothe baby without picking him up :-) I will add however I started this at 10 months when I felt he could start some self soothing. Good luck!! And I know this conversation is long gone but just in case someone stumbles across it like I did

0

When I had the same question, I did not base my behaviour on the opinion of the specialists or scientists. Some years ago, they would say this creates dependency, and now I always see some specialists saying that this is good to reassure that the baby is worth being loved. As you see, specialits opinion are always changing and you can always see it one way or other.

I myself decided to hug and cary my son as often as I can, because I know there will be an age where he would be too heavy for me, or this would be too annoying to him and I will not be able to do this anymore. So better enjoy it now than regret it later.

And even if you are worried that you might be overdoing it, remember that your partner is doing the opposite, so the kid is getting a ballance between you two, what his healthy anyway.

0

I think we teach our children empathy, right from the very start of life. I do not believe that allowing children to cry is good parenting, but I also know that some babies are more prone to cry and that a good parent might not choose running right away. If your child has been fed, changed and is in safe surroundings and has been crying (at the very most) for two minutes, I think you should check. Two minutes will probably feel like a very long time to an infant.

As a parent, you are the defender and the superhero. A baby will not learn to be dependent because you love them too much. Link:Parenting

I would suggest using a soothing voice and saying something simple that you can repeat. "It's okay. I am here." and repeating it for a minute or so before picking up the child -- that is of course if you can plainly see that they are physically fine and safe. I once had a 'safe' child in my classroom start screaming and had I not looked I would not have seen they'd been bitten by ants. So you really need to look. A child who is nonverbal cannot tell you what is wrong and it is the caregiver's responsibility to really check. I was lucky because that student was not a cryer so I looked immediately.

As children mature and they have hurt feelings we can allow them to cry longer, but after we've tried to sooth them. I am not talking about sick or physically hurting kids. We can always point out feelings and give them a name for toddlers and older children. Once they are around four, you can actually teach empathy. You do that by expressing your feelings and helping your child to identify their feelings and what they think others might be feeling.

-2

Forget about spoiling or not spoiling. The actions you take now will affect how your child acts tomorrow, next week, next year, and beyond. How do you want your child to act as they grow and mature? What do you want your relationship with them to be like in the future? The more they come to rely on you to make everything better now, the more they will do it in the future. Is it important to you that they be independent, free thinkers? Then don't pick them up constantly. Is it important to you that they come to you first for everything? Then pick them up constantly. In my experience raising 4 kids, what you do now WILL affect how your children act in years to come. Don't only think about immediate consequences when making decisions about how to deal with children. Think long term also. Grandparents (your parents) seem out of touch and just OLD, when you're a young parent. Why listen to them? As you gain more experience as a parent, you may start to understand the wisdom they tried to share with you. They've raised kids - ask them their opinion. The value of this is that they also know you and can give you very personalized advice. It might drive you crazy, but ask them.

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    Babies must rely on adults and are not independent free thinkers. They have to be weaned, not thrown into the woods and told to learn to hunt. – Matthew Read Feb 24 '15 at 21:56
  • You can not spoil a young baby. – sbi Feb 25 '15 at 10:58
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    I don't understand the connection between "independent, free thinkers" and the amount of attention one gets as an infant. Could you elaborate on this? – Acire Feb 25 '15 at 14:55
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    @Robert: I disagree. My kids all slept in their parents' bed whenever they wanted. (They rarely needed after their first year.) Their bed was in our sleeping room until they were old enough to be proud to be old enough to move into the kids' room. Of course, when a two year old has a bad dream I react different than when a 0.5 year old weeps. But react I will. They doesn't spoil them, it reassures them. – sbi Feb 25 '15 at 15:00
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    @Robert: I never told anyone to do so. I just found the idea ridiculous that you have to let a baby/toddler cry in order to make them strong and independent humans later. I think it is the opposite: They need love and reassurance in order to be self-sufficient. – sbi Feb 25 '15 at 19:30

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