Let me illustrate with some examples:

  1. A 5 month old wants to be held to sleep, and will cry hard if you put her down even for 1 min. She's clearly unhappy when not being held to sleep. Assuming no physical illness, should we just keep holding her to keep her happy, or put her down for some version of sleep training, and therefore sacrifice her happiness for physical health (better sleeping habits, self-soothing, more solid sleep in the long run).

  2. A 1.5 year old wants to drink Coca cola all the time and will cry like no tomorrow if you don't give her a bottle of coke 3 times a day. Should we keep her happy by feeding her coke, or keep her healthy by rejecting her demand and thus keeping her angry and sad.

Which is a more important need: happiness or health?

  • 2
    Better that you provide real-world scenarios. Then it's a bit easier to infer what is a parenting psych problem and what's a child psych problem. Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 21:01
  • If it's about a real baby, check for reflux
    – user26442
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 0:11
  • 5
    Please don't answer in comments, and also don't get too distracted by the example of soda -- the parent is clearly aware it's unhealthy and said so ;)
    – Acire
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 14:23
  • 1
    It might be important to consider the difference between "happy" and "content". A child whining about sweets is not really something that would lead me to call them "unhappy" in general.
    – user11666
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 19:55
  • 6
    Why on earth did you let your 1.5 year old drink Coca Cola in the first place!? You caused that problem.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 22:21

10 Answers 10


There isn't a cut and dry answer to this. Both are important. And part of parenting is striking the right balance there. Given your situations above:

  1. Baby wants to be held to sleep: well, keeping the baby happy here is important, both for her to be able to sleep (which will help her be healthy) and for your sanity. But at the same time, if you never help her learn how to take care of herself by being able to self soothe and sleep, you are sacrificing her long term health AND happiness.
  2. Giving a toddler soda: like the sleeping scenario above, there is a balance that needs to be struck here. Giving her soda every time she demands it will keep her happy in the short-term, but will probably lead to poor health later on. And that won't make her happy.

It seems to me that the crux of the problem here isn't so much happy vs. healthy as mutually exclusive options. It's more of a short-term fix vs. long term benefits choice here. And there is room for both of those things.

  1. If you always hold the baby while she sleeps, she will be happy in the short term and she will sleep. But in the long term she will never learn to be independent and be able to go to sleep on her own. On the other side of the coin, if you never hold the baby and let her cry always, she will learn that you don't care because you don't respond to her cries for help. She might learn how to go to sleep by herself, but there will be lots of trust issues down the road. So it isn't just do one or the other. You need to be responsive to the baby's needs, but also teach her how to sleep on her own.
  2. Giving in to a child any time they throw a fit may keep them happy short term, but leads to having a spoiled, entitled child later. Once they know they can get what they want as long as they cry loud enough, they run the house, not you. And when you try to change that, it will be a massive pain. On top of that, drinking tons of soda every day isn't good for her health. Never letting her have soda isn't going to remove the desire for soda, it just means that she learns she can't get it from you. You may be able to control it now, but as other people see her (think grandparents) she will get it. And as she gets older, she will get it from friends, at school, etc. It might even lead to straight out rebellion later. A better strategy would be to teach her discipline and good food choices. Having self-discipline is a great life skill. So is knowing when to allow yourself some indulgences. This is an opportunity to teach her.

Basically, a choice favoring one extreme or the other is not likely to turn out well. Balance is going to work out better. And that is one of the great challenges of parenting.

  • 5
    This is a great answer, all I'd add is that parents do have to make difficult choices because that's the job. You know what is good for your child and even though you will have to go through some stress when you say "No", it will be worth it in the long run.
    – WRX
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 18:02
  • 2
    This is good thoughtful information but doesn't really contain a bit of solid advice (if there is any to be given).
    – user11666
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 19:59
  • 1
    There is no balance to be struck with soda. A baby should not be drinking soda, period. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 15:24
  • Adding to this good answer having held both our babies to sleep for their growing years. No they won't be dependent -fear not. Being happy & healthy are not contradicting choices. Being creative as parents will afford you both. For example, you can find ways to soothe the child with a lullaby, a melody you whistle for her when she feels sleepy. I did this & the tune almost became a hypnosis. Padding her gently & rythmically will also bring comfort. I noticed after doing these things, the babies just dropped into sleep like magic. There are always creative ways to make things work. Seek them. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 2:41
  1. Hold the child unless there is a problem. The child cannot be spoiled at this age, and will still sleep unattended later. The only limitations are physical needs of the parent. Is the parent too tired and needs sleep? The child can be both happy and healthy.

  2. Do not give the child coke in this amount. The phosphates will erode bone density and make the child very unhealthy and this in turn will extremely reduce happiness (frequent bone breaks). By denying the super sweet foods, the child's pallet will develop to prefer better variety and healthier options.

Both of these cases are short sighted. A child can be happy and healthy in both circumstances with proper parenting choices.

  • 5
    "The child cannot be spoiled at this age" citation needed.
    – user11666
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 19:59
  • 1
    @DoritoStyle I'd say "citation needed" for both claims.
    – user420
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 14:52
  • "The child will still sleep unattended later": not necessarily, based on personal experience with two seven-year-old children who still complain bitterly if mommy is not with them in their bed until they fall asleep. Yes, I'm reasonably sure that they will go to sleep alone by the time they are fifteen, but to be honest, the damage to their parents' relationship is already done. Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 16:11

There's quite a difference between your two examples and I would give a different answer in both situations. A 5 month old is too young to understand why you don't hold them when they cry. Generally, strict sleep training is not recommended until 6 months old. In this situation, I would encourage good sleep habits where possible but if the baby cries too much, go to help.

As the baby gets older sleep training is more of a personal choice, so you have to make a judgement on that. I don't know how much affect it has on a baby's health to need help to sleep, I would say that's more a thing to help the parents as long as the baby sleeps enough. But as the child gets older you can start having some rules that the child can understand.

In the second situation, you can start explaining to a 1.5 year old why they shouldn't have coke all the time. It would be easier to avoid the child that age even knowing about the coke in the first place and avoid having it available. As the child gets older and sees other children having unhealthy drinks and snacks then I would suggest not forbidding them altogether as that may make them want it more. I personally think an occasional treat is ok. If you keep it as a treat then they won't expect it all the time.

As a general rule, it's important to weigh up the harm and the benefits of whatever the child wants to make them happy. Something very harmful should never be allowed, no matter how happy it makes the child (e.g. you wouldn't let a child smoke whatever they did to try and persuade you). Something slightly unhealthy could be allowed occasionally. Even something unharmful might not be good to give them all the time. Sometimes it may be unavailable or there may be another reason why they can't have it. If the child gets its own way all the time, you will end up with discipline problems.

More than fizzy drinks or treats, lots of love and attention are more likely to make a child happy. When a child requests something you think they shouldn't have, try playing a game with the child or giving a cuddle. The happiness from treats is very short-lived but a child who is respected, loved and appreciated is more likely to be happy in the long term.


As your examples demonstrate: It's more complicated than that. In both cases the happiness/health question doesn't even come into play.

Both examples differ by age (in the second example, the child is more than 3 times as old as in the first example), and by motivation of the child (need vs want). The examples are not comparable and require entirely different approaches.

In the first example, the important metric is trust - You generally don't just walk away from a 5 month old when she's crying (exceptions apply, it's complicated). See Is it okay to let a baby cry at bedtime?

In the second example, she's at the age where she's trying to throw a tantrum to get her what she wants, which is not something you want to encourage. See What's the best way to deal with a toddler who cries/paddies when she doesn't get her own way?


Health is most important, though everything should balance each other.

1) Newborns have no sense of self during the first months and letting them to sleep alone might not be the best solution. But if you as a parent become unhappy because you cannot sleep well, it will have bad repercussions on your baby and thus it might be better to let the baby cry alone until he gets used to it.

2) If you stop giving Cola, the baby will only cry until his bad addiction is forgotten and so quite quickly he will be both healthy and happy. By giving the cola, you are buying yourself peace of mind at the detriment of your baby who is going to suffer long term health problems including addiction and bad development due to high sugar intake.

It's also never good to let babies have everything they want, as they will be much more likely to develop crappy personalities (see spoilt children). You should make the rules, in the interest of your child as well as your family as a whole, and if you say no never let him get what he wanted by crying.


Happyness and Health need a better definition.

You do something to give Happyness and Health in the future.

Is it the near future or a long term future?

Coke is a good example: It makes happy for the Moment but unhealthy in the future.

Holding the child to get it to sleep is more complicated. in a short perspective happy and healthy and you can only speculate about impacts in the future. Coke leads to tooth decay, adipositas and diabetes with a great probability which might make the child unhappy. But I don't know if there are studies about children sleeping in the arms of the mother ...

So it is up to you to balance between between the longterm and shortterm happyness.

But perhaps we have to go further. Whether you are happy or healthy depends very much on the environment. The environment for a child is mostly defined by the parents.

So its you defining the environment. If you are convinced that coke is bad than you can't be happy if your child drinks it, so the child will not be happy with coke because the environment gets unhappy when coke is consumed.

If you are unhappy and tired carrying your child all night, then you have to find another solution. Because it might be a vicious circle "Because you are tired and cranky, carrying your child, the child feels unhappy during the daytime and has a fear of loss and is afraid to sleep...

If you are unhappy with the behaviour or habits of your child, the first check is whether you, as environment, is amplifying this behaviour. (Do you drink coke?) Change it. If you are happy and healthy, if you live happy and healthy the child will be healthy and happy as well.

Apart from the occasional monster under the bed ;-)


A 5 month old wants to be held to sleep, and will cry hard if you put her down even for 1 min. She's clearly unhappy when not being held to sleep. Assuming no physical illness, should we just keep holding her to keep her happy, or put her down for some version of sleep training, and therefore sacrifice her happiness for physical health (better sleeping habits, self-soothing, more solid sleep in the long run).

This is too complex for a quick yes/no either/or answer. I would suggest:

  • Try some kind of sleep training (e.g. the variant where you let them cry for a few minutes, then hold them for a few minutes, then let them cry for a bit longer before going to them again and so on) for a few days.
  • If it worked, great, you're done. If it does work, according to the book I have, it will work within a few days.
  • If it does not work, then think long and hard about whether this kind of training is correct for this person. I have experience with this with multiple children, and it worked a charm with some of them (and didn't hurt long-term either), and did not work at all with others. Hint: if they turn blue in the face from crying, then it just might not be the right tool.

Everybody will learn sleeping at some point, it's just body stuff. The important thing with babies is to make them feel that they can trust their parents, that they feel loved, appreciated and all that. The word in German would be "Urvertrauen", and I have no idea how to translate that. That is important.

I personally, after experience, could not care less about a baby not being able to sleep without the parents. That is just the parents' problems (be it stress or logistics), not the baby's, and most things the parents do, in my opinion, are more designed to get themselves out of the conundrum, not to do much for the baby. Now, don't get me wrong, I do not say it is easy for the parents, or anything like that. But one thing it is not, and that is the baby's "fault".

In the long term, every tiny bit of positive relationship you have with the child will pay back thousand times, so staying with the child is just an investment here.

A 1.5 year old wants to drink Coca cola all the time and will cry like no tomorrow if you don't give her a bottle of coke 3 times a day. Should we keep her happy by feeding her coke, or keep her healthy by rejecting her demand and thus keeping her angry and sad.

Completely clear: drinking the coke will make the baby ill, period, in every fashion possible (teeth, stomach, brain=coffeine); it will foster sugar dependance, wreak havoc with their insuline circle and all that good stuff (it's poison for adolescents and adults as well, you know). The short-term enjoyment is absolutely unimportant and immaterial.


This is how I see it. Friends have a priority of keeping friends happy. Parent have a priority of keeping baby healthy, help them be independant. Trying to do all them in a fun way. But you assume that not holding the baby is healthy, this is a very gray zone.

1- This is a very controversial topic and there's no realy scientific concensus. We hold our kids and they still ended up self-soothing and having good sleeping habits.

2- Cola is not healthy.

We see it this way, don't always give what the kids want but always be there emotionally for them. This mean holding them at night and helping them settle the emotional pain of not having what they want (hug them, talk to them, ...).


Happiness is important to the overall and long term health of your child. It is not something that (unless we're talking catastrophe) that happens today or tomorrow, but over the course of a childhood. I say that today's happiness or unhappiness isn't all that important in the context of a food/drink or toy your child wants today.

This is a key to good parenting. We put their health and long-term happiness over other choices because that is our job.

You have already said that pop/soda is not what you consider to be a healthy choice. I think you will see caffeine withdrawal. It may result in headaches, other pain, crabbiness and can take as long as a week to get through. These results vary by individual. Your doctor might suggest a way to help, I think just stopping certainly works, but the doctor might be able to help you slowly reduce caffeine through the use of a supplement. I really do hope you'll ask your doctor, but it truly can be unpleasant to stop caffeine and at 1.5, it might be difficult for your child to articulate how s/he feels. One way or another, you should consider setting the example. You give up the soda, too. If it isn't in the house, you can't supply it.

If you know that your infant is okay -- fed, fresh diaper, warm or cool enough and healthy, then there are answers all over this site. My own opinion is that you gently touch the child, say something soothing, and stay where they can see or hear you until they fall asleep. We teach children to sleep and as much as people will tell you it is natural -- it is equally natural for children to keep on going until they cannot go on any longer. You need them to sleep so that you get rest. They are always resting -- so it isn't as big a problem for the little one. You might consider taking turns sleeping, getting a relative or sitter to help you get rest at other times of the day, or co-sleeping.

I am certain that you are looking for answers because you know the situation is just a little outside of your comfort. You can handle it! This is the hardest job you'll ever have and millions of people do it well. We have it within us to manage and manage well.

Good luck!


Healthy, healthy, healthy! there's a reason they call it "spoiling". When my daughters are poorly I indulge them a bit more than usual to keep their spirits up. During this period (only a couple of days) the behavior of the youngest (2yo) always declines noticeably. She becomes more irascible, demanding and entitled very quickly and it takes her a day to get back to normal when the pampering stops. With my older daughter (6yo) the effect is much milder but still there if you're looking. Similarly when they spend much time in the company of their grandparents (who spoil them rotten as grandparents should) they get more cheeky and entitled very quickly and have a "grandparent hangover" for a day or two afterwards. Basically, if you constantly try to maximize their happiness they will just become harder to please which will serve them very badly in life.

That's not to say you should be all Victorian Dad about it. As everyone else has mentioned it's a balancing act. Prohibiting things entirely is likely to be counter productive too. I try and teach them moderation and give them sweets and chocolate from time to time, just not a lot. The youngest used to wail like a banshee when the sweets stopped, now she just cries a bit. The eldest used to cry, when she was older she sulked a bit, now she is disappointed but takes it on the chin.

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