One of the first pieces of advice I got as a new mom was “not to spoil your baby.” Find out what research says CAN spoil your baby. It’s not what you think.
By today’s standards, Amanda was a young mom.
At twenty-three-years-old, she was sensitive to the fact that most of the moms around her were older and more experienced. When it came to three-month-old Mila, she really wanted to do it right.
Every Thursday she would pack up the stroller and take a bus to the health unit. On the second floor was a brightly coloured room filled with fisher price toys, blocks, and babies doing their best to roll around. Moms gathered to learn hear a public health nurse speak about different topics such as tummy time and first foods to feed your baby.
She always arrived a little late and embarrassed.
The bus dropped her off with only minutes to spare. She was always slightly sweaty from pushing the stroller uphill from the bus stop. Anxious, she would press the elevator button several times begging it to come faster.
Upstairs, she was the last to park her stroller and go in. Her entrance always seemed to turn heads. Silently, she pled that the moms in the already formed circle of chairs would let her in. Their babies were all on the padded flooring trying desperately to grab toys just out of reach. She would hold onto Mila.
She felt out of place amongst the other mothers who had established careers and long-standing marriages. They were coiffed, composed, and ready.
Despite the perceived judgment, Amanda went anyways.
After the talk, the moms would exchange stories. Every week was the same.
“Is she sleeping through the night yet?” they would ask.
Each week, Amanda would shake her head no.
“You’re holding her too much,” one mom suggested. “You can spoil your baby by doing that. She thinks she can rely on you instead of learning to self-soothe.”
This wasn’t the first time Amanda had heard this. Both of her aunts, her mother-in-law and her grandmother had warned her she was spoiling Mila.
In truth, she did hold her a lot during the day. Any time Mila so much as whined, Amanda scooped her up. Night time rolled around and Mila would wake as many as three time to nurse and, of course, be held. Because of this Mila never really cried.
Not wanting to fail her child, Amanda resolved to let her self-soothe more and hold her less.
Friday morning rolled around and Amanda didn’t respond to Mila’s whimpering or whiny. When she started to scream, Amanda did her best to hold only hold Mila until she calmed. Then she put her down the instant she stopped crying. This only devastated Mila further.
Can you spoil your baby by holding her too much? Here is what science says…
When it comes to understanding if you can spoil your baby, attachment theory is the best way to get your answer. Based on this theory, how a parent or caregiver responds to their infant determines whether a child securely attaches or not.
A parent who ignores a baby’s need for comfort or basic nurturing can lead to an insecure form of attachment. Due to a lack of responsiveness from their parents, young children either become more difficult to console or are more emotionally ambivalent. So when we leave a baby to cry, he will either become more stressed and cry more. Or, he will stop recreating and suppress his needs.
In contrast, securely attached children develop based on how reliable and consistent their caregivers are. These infants seek their parents when distressed and know they will be comforted. To read more about the different types of attachment including the different variations on insecure attachment, click here.
So, you can spoil your baby; it’s just not the way you would think
Taking the immense amount of research on attachment theory into account, spoiling a baby is possible – just not in the way the old wives tale would have us believe. An infant or young child who comes to expect their parent for security – one that has been held, hugged, and soothed often – actually becomes more independent. These young children start to view their caregivers as a secure base. Because they know their parents will be there when they need them, these kids feel empowered to venture out into their environment and, eventually, the world. Conversely, a parent who backs away from their child when their child needs them creates insecurity and uncertainty. These young children are reportedly less independent and competent.
And so, spoiling your baby is possible. And, it does become possible based on the frequency we respond to their cries and the amount we hold them. It’s just the reverse of what the old wives would have us believe. Not holding and responding to our children is proven to do more harm than help. Responding, holding and consoling our babies is, in fact, the best way to parent during this tender age.