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The Truth About Spoiled Babies

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Wendy Walsh: Back when my kids were babies, I always rushed to pick them up, rock them, sing to them and basically continually shower them with love.
Baby
I spent wall-to-wall time with my tiny angels, giving them baby massages or engaging their mysterious little whims. When I had to leave them, it was only for short periods -- and I was paranoid about the quality of childcare providers. But I did this at a cost. I endured the glances and comments from a chunk of our society who imagined that I was spoiling my children, and that this kind of spoiling could come to no good.

There is so much debate in American culture about how best to parent an infant. Should you let a baby cry, or pick him up? Teach him to self-console, or help him learn to depend on others for help in stressful times? The capitalist pressure for people to become independent quickly is at odds with the more socialist idea that we are an interconnected species with elaborate social structures that require a system of interdependence. (You know: the ability to lean on another's shoulder when needed, and to offer a hug when asked.)

Well, new research supports my personal maternal instinct. Researchers from Harvard, Duke and Brown pulled data from a 1960s study on mothers and infants, wherein psychologists had observed the interactions of mothers with their 8-month-old babies and ranked the quality of motherly affection from "little" to "normal" to "excessive." (Note the biased terminology: "Excessive" implied that it was too much, even before any hypothesis had been proven!) Anyway, the new group of researchers tracked down nearly 500 of the babies who'd been studied (who obviously are now in their mid-30s). And guess what? The group who received the "excessive" mothering had the lowest rates of depression and anxiety and the highest-functioning relationships!

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that no exception was made for children who came from stressful economic conditions, indicating that a parent's strong affection can be a buffer against the effects of poverty. So I can exhale. My kids won't grow up to be selfish brats. Hopefully they will have good mental health and, just as importantly, will have great empathy and compassion for others.

Now if I can only get them to make their beds and hang their clothes up without damaging their psyches ...!


next: Three Ways You Can Help a Mom With Autistic Children
26 comments so far | Post a comment now
tennmom August 9, 2010, 9:19 AM

I am of the opinion that you can’t “spoil” an infant under the age of one but children 2 and older are often “over indulged” (sp?).
In my family, at least, we find that if a baby is comforted when the cry they tend to learn to self comfort, sleep through the night sooner than the ones left to cry it out.
“No” is not a bad word and I’ve found that the toddlers/older kids benefit from hearing that word.

Anonymous August 9, 2010, 11:42 AM

Wow so a two year old can self comfort? Big deal. Should mom get a medal? This isn’t about being able to self comfort at two, it’s about how you turn out as an adult. Endulge away. They end up with lots of compassion as adults. As you can see by my sarcasm, I wasn’t excessively spoiled as a kid. Maybe mom should have showed a bit more comfort.

Anonymous August 9, 2010, 11:13 PM

the timing on this article could not be more “right on”. I was just “advised” yesterday that my husband and I are holding our 1 month old baby girl too much. Mind you she is our 5 child. My husband and I have never adopted this belief system but for some reason I found myself in a quick panic, thinking to myself..have I in fact “spoiled” my children? Is this my last chance to let the baby cry? I want to thank this author for this bit of info it is what parents today need to hear. Especially in these hard economic times. Some love and affection will go along way!!!

Anonymous August 9, 2010, 11:15 PM

the timing on this article could not be more “right on”. I was just “advised” yesterday that my husband and I are holding our 1 month old baby girl too much. Mind you she is our 5 child. My husband and I have never adopted this belief system but for some reason I found myself in a quick panic, thinking to myself..have I in fact “spoiled” my children? Is this my last chance to let the baby cry? I want to thank this author for this bit of info it is what parents today need to hear. Especially in these hard economic times. Some love and affection will go along way!!!

Renee Malove August 31, 2010, 4:28 PM

Ha! My kids are convinced they’re going to be traumatized for life for having to clean their rooms and eat their vegetables. (My 4 year old will tell you I’m starving him to death, since veggies are required before the chicken nuggets hit the plate.) The number one reason for childhood depression, however, is a perception of abandonment by one’s parents. While I can certainly tell you that spoiling and constantly entertaining babies can come back on you (I once had a day care provider drop my son because he demanded her undivided attention all day long) providing a good balance of love and affection with time to play by themselves for five…frigging…minutes in a safe environment with some sort of age appropriate stimulation while you take a shower turns out some pretty well balanced kids.

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