Why you should spoil the baby

Will picking your baby up spoil him? 

Learning Stages

By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at http://NaturallyEducational.com. While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

Your baby cries and immediately your body reacts. Every part of you wants to go to your baby, pick him up, and comfort him. Then you hear the voice, "You'll spoil the baby!"

Perhaps the voice is an "expert" you've read or an older member of the family or possibly even your spouse. Instinct tells you that your baby needs you but maybe the voice is right—by "giving in" to your baby's "manipulation" are you setting yourself up for a spoiled brat later in childhood?

My opinion? Ignore the voice. Go with your gut.

Affection boosts brain power

Millennia of cultural history, evolutionary biology, attachment parenting gurus, and several recent studies, including a group of studies led by Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez, say that you should listen to your mother's intuition and give your baby as much affection as you can. This series of studies "confirms earlier work suggesting that children who get more positive touch and affection during infancy turn out to be kinder, more intelligent and to care more about others."

I've seen studies like these before. Bright from the Start, for example, is a book based on the idea that attention, bonding, and communication are the three biggest brain boosters for babies. The idea is that these create the security and confidence your baby needs to develop and learn. Babies are pre-programmed to respond to parental, especially maternal, affection. Attention from a consistent caregiver allows the baby's brain to start making all of the connections of cause and effect that will later form the basis of logical reasoning.

But will you spoil the baby?

Still, there are parents who believe that attachment parenting practices create later discipline struggles. They believe that if you "spare the rod," you "spoil the child." Others point out the stress and strain these expectations may place on the parents, primarily the mother, in a modern society. In a world with dual income families, busy streets, and little extended-family support, how realistic are these traditional practices? Critics of these studies also point out that, due to ethical concerns, it is nearly impossible to complete double blind studies in the realm of child rearing.

Our choices

For us, child-lead weaning, co-sleeping, babywearing, and "gentle" discipline techniques have been our pathway. First of all, we find that these are the quickest route to a more relaxed atmosphere in the home. Which is to say, mom and dad get more rest. We also find that these set the example we wish to model for our children and that our children feel secure enough to explore their independence age-appropriate ways. I'm not a perfect parent and I've lost my temper with my spirited eldest more times than I care to admit. And when I have yelled, I have found that it only escalates the situation and brings us no closer to where I want to lead my young family.

Listen to your instincts!

While I cringe at any "experts" who issue mandates, I am glad we have come a long way from doctors telling parents not to pick up their "fragile" infants. Babies need touch to grow and thrive.

So, if your maternal instincts say "pick up the baby," then I say, "trust yourself." I do not know if this will make your baby "kinder, more intelligent and...care more about others" but it will probably make you saner and baby happier.