Everyone has an opinion on how to handle a baby. Swaddle the baby. Don’t swaddle. Keep the baby in a bassinet in your room. Keep the baby in his own room. Pick up the baby right away when she starts crying. Let him cry for a bit to “toughen up” because baby needs to learn to be independent and know you won’t come running at every whim. There are at least two views for every decision you make about your child — so essentially, there are more opinions than children in the world.
Opinions aside, when new parents ask if it is possible to spoil a baby, the short answer is no.
The threat of spoiling your children has received attention in the media to the point of controversy. You are a bad parent if you give your child too little attention, but also a bad parent if you give too much.
Mary Ainsworth is the founder of attachment theory, and Dr. William Sears is an advocate for a strong mother-child-attachment.
Attachment parenting (AP) proposes a parenting philosophy focused on keeping the mother and baby as connected as possible. At the core, it is about promoting maternal responsiveness facilitated by physical closeness — like sharing a sleeping space, breastfeeding and babywearing.
“AP assists moms in trusting their own maternal instincts,” says Liz Maseth, RN, IBCLC at Akron Children’s Hospital. “It improves a mother’s ability to know specific needs of her baby, emotionally and physically. With attachment parenting, you naturally know what the baby needs without having to guess. It begins with kangaroo care, also called skin-to-skin.”
Early in childhood, an infant is upset for a limited number of reasons: hungry, overtired, needs a diaper change, or just wants to be held/close to someone. Therefore, baby cries and Mom or Dad responds accordingly.
While it may seem like parenting overkill to some, AP is essentially being in tune with your baby. Many just follow their maternal instinct and consider it good parenting until learning it is called attachment parenting.
Some parents worry that with AP, their child will become too attached, clingy, and simply unable to be physically apart from their parents. Maseth shares, “The concern about a child becoming too dependent on the parent is unfounded. In fact, the opposite actually happens because a child feels more secure in themselves and can independently explore the outside world more comfortably. AP builds trust, respect and affection — and it improves a child’s long-term foundation for social interactions throughout their life.”
However, everyone has seen the classic image of children behaving badly at a restaurant, toy store, supermarket or mall. Upon seeing this, parents internally cringe and secretly might say, “Please don’t let this ever be me and my kids.”
Even so, it’s commonplace and nearly every child will be “that kid” at some point (most likely more than once). So, are the children who act out actually spoiled?
“There is a difference between responding to a child’s needs and letting children rule the roost with demands,” Maseth says. “Lack of discipline is not associated with attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is not a discipline style and it does not mean the child will disrespect adults or figures of authority.”
So when does discipline start? Discipline begins when a child misbehaves and it is clear they know what they are doing. If your child breaks a rule, like good listening, then discipline is in order.
You may know when discipline is needed, but what do you do when your kid is having a good, ol’ fashioned atomic meltdown? Here is a radical suggestion: look at the nonsensical meltdown as the child’s desperate cry for love and attention. They are emotionally overwhelmed and unable to control themselves enough to calm down on their own.
This is the moment parents can physically and emotionally spoil their child with love. This has worked for kids of many ages, especially when they are so distraught they cannot catch their breath between sobs. Try gathering your child up in your lap, cradling them, and then gently sway/rock back and forth until they calm down.
If someone thinks this is spoiling a child, then it’s OK. Give it a try and see how it works for you — you’ve got nothing to lose.