Question: can you spoil a baby? Answer: absolutely not!

There is no one more vulnerable than a newborn baby. Totally helpless, they rely on us for everything. As a parent or carer, it’s your job to love, care for and attend to your newborn. This is no easy feat, and frankly, it’s a lot of work. But contrary to what some believe about spoilt children, all this fussing does not cause any damage. Today, researchers are adamant that there is no such thing as too much care and attention.

In other words, you cannot spoil an infant. Giving a baby the care and attention it needs during the first six months is actually a necessity – and won’t lead to a spoilt child.

According to David Mrazek, MD, Chairman of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, “meeting an infant’s need to be comforted, held and fed in a predictable fashion helps him feel secure and build a loving relationship between parent and child. It does not lead to spoiling.”

As a baby is new to the world, they are yet to develop rational thoughts or understand cause and effect. Therefore, they are not capable of manipulating you, thinking, ‘if I scream for long enough I can control my parent.’

A baby’s needs and wants are the same.

If a child is making a noise or crying or looking unsettled, it is because something is wrong and they are trying to communicate to you that they need your help. The baby may have a dirty nappy, be too cold, too hot, hungry or frightened. Ignoring a baby is not going to achieve anything except to prolong the baby’s distress.

Caring for a baby is good for the baby

As babies are totally at our mercy, they rely on us to care for them. The more we care for them, the more we bond with the baby. In the first six months, the baby develops trust and learns that when they are in need, someone will be there for them. This is essential for the baby to become more confident and secure over time.

In fact, caring for a baby is not only good for the baby but good for you too. Trying to ignore a crying baby for fear of spoiling the newborn can be terribly distressing for everyone within earshot. A baby’s cries are designed to trigger a mother’s nurturing instincts – and everyone can relate to how upsetting it is to listen to a crying baby. By addressing the baby’s needs, and providing physical comfort and love, you will feel calmer and happier. The child will cry less as it will feel more comforted.

Compared to insecure babies, those that trust their parent and have bonded well become better adjusted and can cope better with stress as they develop. It’s also been shown that they can socialise better with other children. Even as adults they are more likely to be emotionally and physically healthier.

After the age of about six months, a baby’s brain becomes a little more sophisticated. She may try to get more of what she wants rather than what she needs. For example, she may pull at your hair or want to touch objects that are attractive to her, but may not be safe. In these instances, you may slowly start to set boundaries so the baby knows that certain activities are not acceptable. However, it’s essential to realise that the baby still requires a lot of love and care and shouldn’t be ignored.

As babies grow into toddlers and then small children, the rules change again. For example, toddlers become extremely curious and develop the first understanding of cause and effect. Pre-schoolers start to understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Not managing this behaviour appropriately can lead to the side-effects of a spoilt child. But this is further down the track. Not when they are babies.

Learn to understand your baby’s signals

As your baby develops, there are some key points to keep in mind that help you understand why your baby is crying. These tips were suggested by Peter Gorski, MD, an assistant professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School, in Boston and chairman of the American Academy of Paediatricians National Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care.

Babies often cry for reasons other than distress. They may just be hungry or tired – rushing to pick up an infant may not be the best solution. Always picking up the baby may lead the infant to think that it’s natural always to be held. Tell-tale signs of other issues at hand include the baby averting her eyes, pulling away or whining when you try to pick her up.

Learn to understand your baby’s signals - Sage Institute of Child CareAddress your own behaviour. At around six to eight months, the child learns ‘social referencing’, which is where they learn to interpret the parent’s face. They begin to read your face and understand how you react in various situations. If you’re constantly looking anxious, the child may pick up on this.

Let your child cry – just for a little bit. Sometimes a child momentarily cries due to frustration, such as when playing with a new toy. In such instances, it’s healthy to let the child use this as a learning experience, and then settle on their own accord.

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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