Babies are essentially helpless and they rely on you to give them every last thing they need -- food, clean diapers, baths, comfort and unconditional love. Most reasonable people agree that meeting a baby's basic and essential needs isn't optional. When someone says that you're going to spoil a baby, they usually mean by holding him too much or picking him up every time he cries. However, children can be spoiled by tangible things, not attention. Contrary to the old saying, you can't spoil the baby with love.
Attachment parenting is the hot parenting topic of the moment: Babywearing, crying it out, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and more. The Wall Street Journal even published an article by Erica Jong that likened attachment parenting to prison.
So, is holding your baby when she cries, doing your best to make her feel secure, a form of attachment parenting? Or is it simply mothering? Many experts and parents insist it's the latter -- that moms who consistently respond to their baby's need for comfort, when they are able, aren't "practicing" any popular "style" of parenting, but instead simply parenting. Regardless of how you classify it, the bottom line is that you can't spoil a baby by holding her.
Meri Ramey-Gray, former president of Northern Virginia Family Services and author of Babies' Guide to Parents (and Other Important People), explains that as babies grow, they need to trust that you'll be there for them. By consistently meeting their needs and their wants, you are teaching your baby to trust you.
"When we give them what they need [as babies], children have confidence," says Ramey-Gray. "Being held, taught trust, and feeling as though needs were met" builds confidence and self-esteem in children. Your child will learn that mom is there, no matter what. You're not spoiling your baby by responding to her needs -- to the best of your ability -- but instead helping her to feel secure. That security carries through well beyond the first year of life. Confidence and self-esteem are essential in life, so why not do your best to build them as early as possible?
As Dr. Jenn Berman explains in her book SuperBaby, "You cannot spoil a child with too much love or affection. You can, however, spoil a child by giving him too many things in place of attention, affection, and kindness." Showering your baby with love, meeting her needs and wants and holding her when she cries isn't going to motivate her to become a spoiled toddler, preschooler or pre-teen. Giving your child too many material items later on is another issue.
Most importantly, as Ramey-Gray notes, you're not committing yourself to carrying your child for the rest of her life by simply holding her and responding to her wants when she's a baby! Toddlers often enjoy the independence that learning to walk offers and prefer to be held less. Ramey-Gray says that her son wanted to be held all the time until he learned to walk, at which point he became less interested in being consistently held and more interested in exploring the world around him.
Even if it takes some tots longer, let's be realistic. Do you see many 5-year-olds that insist on being carried everywhere? Of course not! But among those 5-year-olds who were "spoiled" with attention as children, what you might see are happy, confident and self-reliant children.
How do you feel? Do you think it's possible to spoil a baby by holding her too much? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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