Can I Spoil My Baby?

New parents, along with their precious little bundle of joy, also get given a free invisible sign as they leave the hospital. In fact this sign often arrives before your baby is even born!

“Please give me your opinion and advice on all things baby related!”

This sign can be seen from every direction, even when you avert your gaze or turn in the opposite direction, and can be sniffed out by both family and strangers alike!

 

When it comes to the topic of spoiling your baby there are as many opinions on the matter as there are people offering you their “free” advice. Can you identify with these areas in which others feel you are spoiling your child:

  • Feeding your new baby whenever he is hungry rather than when the clock says it’s time
  • Going to and comforting your baby when he is falling asleep or during the night instead of letting him “cry it out”
  • Responding as soon as you can to your babies needs and comforting him when he is upset rather than “teaching him” his needs can’t be met quickly all the time
  • Picking him up often, giving him loads of cuddles and wearing him in a baby carrier instead of trying to get him to keep himself amused for as long as possible
  • Talking, singing and interacting with him when he is awake rather than placing him in a baby chair or on a mat with a toy

 

Are you worried that by attending to, comforting and interacting with your baby “too much” you may be raising a spoilt child who will end up being demanding, manipulative and unable to do things for himself? When deciding how to parent our children it is helpful to understand how they are developing in each stage. Discipline, frustration tolerance, concentration, feeding and play interaction, for example, will be very different for a 4 month old and a 4 year old because of their stage of development. With this in mind let’s look what is happening in the first few months of life.

 

Your tiny baby is not able to take care of his most basic needs. He can give you an idea that he is needing something, but cannot yet even ask for that. By reading his cues you are able to understand what he needs and help him to get it. As this happens you are building on his trust. When he is hungry and he roots or cries, if his need is met and he gets fed he knows he can trust that you will take care of him. If his need is not met, he gets anxious and stressed (with an ever increasing dose of stress hormones being released into his body) and his ability to trust diminishes. By responding predictably to his requests for food, touch, comfort and interaction you are building a secure, loving relationship with your child. He is too young to manipulate you into getting what he wants and therefore by attending to him it will simply help him to form a secure bond with you that will have lasting effects even into adulthood. High levels of stress hormones in a baby can take a long time to disappear from their systems, which means that long after the stressful event your baby is still feeling the effects of this at a physiological level. Stress levels in babies permanently affect the stress responses in their brains, which later in life can impact on memory, emotion and concentration.

 

You may be wondering when this stage of responding to your baby as much as possible will end. As your baby grows and develops he will move on from needing to be close to you all the time. If there is a strong, secure attachment between you and your baby, he will feel more comfortable with exploring the world around him. If he knows from past experience that mom or dad will come and help him if he moans or cries, then he will more likely crawl into a new room or explore a different toy on his own. You would have built into his self belief and given him the confidence to try things that are new for him. Manipulative behavior usually makes its appearance while your baby is exploring the “cause and effect” relationship. You will start to notice around 6 to 8 months that he will throw a toy off his high chair and see what will happen. Then he will do it again…and again…and again! He is trying to work out “if I do this, then this is the result”. He may then move on to testing this out with his behavior as well. For example, if I cry to get a biscuit, will I get one? If I cry harder and for longer, will I then get the biscuit?! During this stage you will have to breath in patience and breath out consistency! But in those first few months, your little treasure is not trying to manipulate you and thus the amount of attention, comfort and interaction you give him is not going to be too much.

 

The areas which produce the most stress for young babies include physical needs (e.g. pain, fatigue, hunger, over stimulation), unresponsive parents or caregivers (e.g. depression or ignoring them), separation (parent or caregiver not near them or touching them) and environmental stresses (e.g. too much noise or bright lights). Hopefully this will be helpful in deciding how to respond to your young baby and realizing that you cannot spoil him at this very young age.

 

All too quickly you will be at the stage where your child is very independent and needing far less cuddles and help with everyday tasks. As I climb up to the top bunk of my very independent 8 year old and squish in next to him to make sure I get in some cuddle time, I am so very grateful for our decision to be “responsive” parents so long ago when he was just a newborn.

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