Should Your Baby Cry it Out?

Popular Parenting Opinion: Esteem is formed from independence. If you cater to your baby’s every whim, you may or may not be “spoiling” your child, but you may be spoiling his/her chances of independence.

It’s a popular opinion, but it’s not true.

You Can’t Spoil a Baby

If you are worried about spoiling a baby under six months of age, don’t. The baby under six months who has needs met promptly is less likely to be dependent, whining, or still clinging to you as a toddler. In fact, babies whose needs are met promptly as an infant seem to cry less as a toddler.

After the age of six months and before the age of one year, there seems to be some question about spoiling, even among the “experts.”

And most questions of spoiling seem to revolve around crying. Crying is your baby’s only means of communication:

  • Should parents let their baby cry?
  • How long should parents let the baby cry?
  • When should parents let their baby cry?
  • When should parents not let their baby cry?
  • How do parents stop the baby from crying?
  • Should parents let their baby cry just until the parents “can’t stand it anymore?”
  • And so forth.

Some babies this age cry at night instead of sleeping. Then parents worry if they are spoiling the baby because they go to the baby instead of letting the baby “cry it out.”

Other babies this age cry during the day instead of sitting cheerfully in the corner playing with their toys. Then parents worry if they are spoiling the baby by giving the baby too much attention or food. They wonder if they are being manipulated by the future makings of a spoiled brat.

Or worse yet, if they are doing something else wrong as parents.

Crying for attention helps babies associate someone out there with the sensation of feeling better.

T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., in his book “What Every Baby Knows” writes, “A crying baby can change a well-ordered household into a disordered nightmare. An inconsolable baby will reduce even the most composed adult to a state of frenzied helplessness. Parents say they feel desperate when they can’t comfort their crying baby.”

Attempts to quiet the crying infant often simply increase the tension in an already wrought-up situation. The tension fuels the crying rather than reduce it.

Friends and relatives often put their two cents in, making it harder to know when baby is being spoiled and when baby is only having his/her needs met in a a reasonable manner.

Burton White, Ph.D., in his book “The First Three Years of Life“, notes it is crucial that babies have their needs met in the first six months of life. The cycle begins with the child’s distress; the child cries; someone comes to comfort the child. The child learns through thousands of experiences to associate someone out there with the sensation of feeling better.

White writes, “Because of the natural learning that takes place when experiences and the people involved in them recur over and over again, babies learn by the time they are four to five months of age to deliberately use the cry as a call for attention.”

Who can blame the six-month-old child, unable to walk around, bored, either lying on stomach or back or stuck sitting in one place, who cries to be picked up or at least have a bit of entertainment? White believes if this strategy succeeds, and it usually does, this useful cry becomes reinforced.

Crying will eventually develop into exploration and effective communication.

However, when baby begins to crawl and move around, this bored cry should be replaced by baby’s explorations of the world.

Some babies cry day and night–a lot. If you are in that situation, this is definitely one of those times you should ask your doctor for advice.

Or try the solution Harvey Karp, MD, offers in his book “The Happiest Kid on the Block”. It seems to work for most young babies.

Other babies only seem to cry when they are uncomfortable or hungry. Most babies do both.

One thing is certain. Parents should never get in the habit of offering food as a major relief from crying. While it might not spoil a child, it is setting the stage for other, potential lifelong problems.

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