This must be one of the most common questions asked by concerned parents. “Will I spoil my baby if I pick him up each time he cries”?” Will I spoil my baby if I take her to my bed when she wakes up at night?”, or: “My mother in law told me my child will be a little brat since I feed her on demand”.
Everybody shudders at the thoughts of raising a spoiled child, but can you really spoil a baby?
According to experts, it really is impossible to spoil a baby. At this early stage of the child’s development, the baby basic needs are to survive and to feel loved. The infant is completely dependent on her parents to provide her with these basic needs. The baby does not know she is a separate being, some even call the first few months of the baby’s life “the 4th Trimester” to emphasize this strong bond. Therefore, meeting the infant needs to be fed, comforted and held in a predictable and loving fashion, will establish in the baby his sense of security, his trust in the world around him and his positive self esteem.
Recent research in attachment theory shows that when the parents respond sensitively and timely to their child’s needs, the child learns not only to trust his caregivers but also to internalize “loving parental figures”. These internal models will help foster the child’s ability to self regulate, self sooth and his sense of independence. The richer and fuller the child’s internal world is from his parents loving input at the beginning of his life, the more well adjusted the child will be. The well adjusted child is able to play more independently, able to be more self reliant, and is less needy of his parents.
At about 6 months, the baby starts seeing his parents as people separate from her. Her favorite game is “Peek a Boo” where she gets so excited anticipating that her Mommy, hiding behind a book, will pop up at any moment. Before this time, the baby’s concept of “object permanency” (the mother goes away but will come back) was only very faint. As the baby’s world expands, both through cognitive development and better motor abilities, she experiences great excitements and sees the world as her playing field! At this point baby needs to learn to trust herself in addition to trusting her parents. The baby’s needs for safety and her desire for exploration go hand in hand. Parents can help their babies achieve both needs by guiding her play, encouraging her to try on new behaviors, and by setting limits.
Setting boundaries, creating routines, and allowing the baby to have alone time when offered age appropriately, will strengthen the baby’s self confidence, and help her feel safe in a world that is becoming more challenging. It is at this time that the baby’s sense of creativity and mastery of new skills will flourish.
Whether engaging the child in play, reading a book, putting the baby to sleep or setting limits, parents can follow certain principles:
- Listen to your baby’s non-verbal cues
- Identify what your baby may be feeling.
- Reflect on how your baby’s feelings resonate in you
- Verbalize the baby’s experience to the best of your understanding
- Treat your baby with the respect. Even when you say NO, say it kindly but firmly
- Treat yourself kindly. Try to stay calm. If you get overwhelmed, ask for help
Following these guidelines will lead to a very rewarding experience for both you and your baby, and you deserve it!
Clinical Director, Listening Mothers™, Reflective Parenting, The Community of Mindful Parenting.