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SPOILING INFANTS AND TODDLERS: THE MYTH THAT CAN AFFECT A LIFETIME
by Peter Ernest Haiman, Ph.D.
Many research studies make clear that the following child-rearing belief is
not true: You will spoil your young child if you constantly fulfill the child’s
needs. The opposite is closer by far to the truth. Cooperative independence,
achievement, emotional and physical well-being, and good behavior patterns
develop if you fulfill the needs of your young child. You will spoil your
infant and toddler and make child rearing difficult if you regularly fail
to meet your child’s needs adequately.
The key to easier and better parenting
is the relationship you create with your infant or toddler. A child’s
satisfaction, which is the result of your appropriate and consistent responses
to your youngster’s normal needs,
makes child rearing enjoyable for your child and for you.
Of all primates, human
beings have the longest period of normal developmental dependency. Child-rearing
practices often overlook this fact. The profoundly important needs of the
young child are too frequently ignored or inadequately met.
It is important that infants and toddlers have continuous and ready access
to the parent(s) with whom they have developed an emotional attachment. That
parent is usually the mother. Numerous research studies point out patterns
of behavior that build a child’s secure attachment to parents. These are:
(a) loving physical contact between the parent and child; (b) the parent’s
regular ability to soothe the child by holding; (c) the parent’s sensitivity
to the child’s signals, and ability to time interventions in harmony with
the child’s rhythms; (d) the mutual delight that the parent and child get
by being in each other’s company; and (e) creating an environment that
permits the child to derive a sense of the effects of his or her own actions.
parents consistently provide these elements to their infant or toddler, they
create the foundation for an emotionally healthy life. In addition, they build
into the child’s personality a resilience that, in future years, will enable
the individual to cope with life’s problems and challenges successfully.
help their children when they give their infants and toddlers as much attention
and recognition as they need. The origins of child, adolescent, and adult
problems regarding attachment to and love for another person often rest in
too little responsive mothering or mothering that is provided by a constantly
changing variety of people. Mothering is nurturing behavior that can be given
to the child by the father and other family members as well as by the mother.
require interpersonal relationships that foster the development of trust.
It is a parent’s accurate interpretations of and appropriate responses
to the infant’s signals that nurture the child’s felt security and
the development of trust. Research shows that babies who are held often and not
left to cry mature into six- and seven-year-olds with more stable, self-controlled,
and resilient personalities than do infants who cry without being quickly comforted.
They also are more self-disciplined and less aggressively dependent. In the presence
of caring adults, infants learn to trust that others will give assistance. They
also gain confidence in their ability to get the attention they require.
it so important for infants to experience a sense of trust in their world?
First, because trust enables the expression of curiosity. The expression and
development of early, intrinsic curiosities are the roots of motivation, intellectual
interests, and achievement. Secondly, a sense of trust promotes self-confidence.
When children experience the world of their parents as a nurturing, helpful,
and predictable place, they risk reaching out and making the efforts needed
to achieve their goals. When children reach out and achieve their goals with
the support of their parents, they learn to trust and have confidence in themselves.
Third, the amount and quality of a parent’s interactions with an infant
can determine the susceptibility to physical disease in the child’s early
years and beyond.
In an article from La Leche League International’s Breastfeeding
Rights Packet, Edward R. Cerutti, M.D., discusses the importance of breast
feeding to a child’s emotional development. “This is one of the
few countries in the world where breast feeding is not considered fashionable
after six to twelve months of age. This is an erroneous and completely unnatural
belief that originated in unfounded psychological principles of 1920. The
child who nurses for two or three years is often more secure and less anxious.
The ‘problem’ of
the late weaner does not rest in the mother and baby’s relationship
but in our own distorted perception of the relationship of mother and child.”
an article on infant bed sharing, James McKenna, Ph.D., writes, “Bed
sharing and breast feeding mutually reinforce each other since biologically
they are an integrated, time tested system that maximizes—not threatens—human
infant survival as well as maternal health. Research shows that when babies
sleep closer to their mothers and breast-feed more, both mother and infant
actually sleep more in total minutes than when they slept in different rooms.
Moreover, routinely bed sharing mothers evaluated the quality of their sleep
as being as good as, if not better than, mothers who routinely sleep apart
from their infants—contrary
to popular conceptualizations.”
Our parents, and those parents in the generations
before them, loved their children. However, they did not have good information
to guide their child rearing. Often they were guided only by their intuition
and the child-rearing customs of the time. In the past fifty years, extensive
studies have been done on child development and child rearing. Today we have
the opportunity to use that information to guide us as we love our children.
In child rearing, when knowledge replaces myth, parenting is easier and better
It is evident that the physical, emotional, social,
and intellectual well-being of an individual throughout life has, at its foundation,
mothers and fathers who meet the needs of their infants responsively and continuously.
Parenting can spoil an infant’s life and future if mothers and fathers
regularly fail to satisfy the needs of their young child.