Can You Spoil Your Baby?

Difficult behavior is a normal part of child development.

Posted Jul 05, 2012

New parents worry a great deal about whether or not they are spoiling their baby. "Should I pick him up every time he cries?”, “Am I feeding him too often?”, they wonder. These fears are often based on the notion that if I cater to my child's needs too much, my child will grow up ill behaved. At moments when we are trying to make perplexing parenting decisions, the image of an out of control child having a tantrum in the supermarket, quickly comes to mind. As a parent you certainly do not want your child to grow up and act like this. You want your child to be a good listener and accepting of the word no. How can you avoid a negative outcome?

Years ago, in an effort to prevent children from being “over-indulged”, experts recommended that babies be put on a four hour feeding schedule. This system was not to be varied, even if the child screamed for hours. Modern parenting theory supports a more child-centered approach. Parents must fulfill young babies' needs because they are totally dependent upon us. Babies cry to let us know they are hungry, their diaper is soggy or they need attention. They do not have language to tell us what is troubling them, so we must respond to their cries.We are not spoiling them when we do.

The primary developmental need of babies in the first year of life is to bond with their parents and gain the security that their parents will take care of them. Your job as a parent is to give your baby this assurance through your loving care.

The issue of spoiling causes many disagreements amongst couples. This happens because each parent grew up in a different household with a varied approach to discipline. If a parent came from a strict environment, he or she may either be a disciplinarian or bend over backwards to take a more lenient approach. It is important to talk through your differences with your spouse and come up with a positive joint approach.

Relatives and friends may also disagree with the way you are handling a situation. For example someone might observe you giving your child a new toy and say, “You're spoiling her. She'll rule the roost.” The older generation in particular supports a more strict approach. These critical words are very powerful for new moms who generally feel anxious and insecure (especially when it is a parent who is being critical.) When this occurs, you can respond in a respectful while setting a limit. You might say for instance,“Thank you for your suggestion, but this is the way I feel most comfortable.”

As your baby grows you will begin to observe behaviors that make him appear spoiled. For instance, your toddler might crawl to the light socket or throw food over the side of his high chair even though you repeatedly tell him not to. In actuality, the difficult behavior you are witnessing has to do with natural child development.

Young children are curious. As they crawl around a room they fall in love with the amazing light socket that simply cries out to be touched. They are completely fascinated as they observe gravity at work when they throw carrots from their high chair to the floor. Small children are also impulsive. When they do not get what they want or you try to stop them, they will naturally raise a fuss and even hit, kick or bite. Your job as a parent is to manage these issues.

Over time, as your child develops cognitively and emotionally and you set appropriate limits with her, she will slowly gain self-control. She will then have the ability to give up a desired object or stop her behavior when you ask her to. In the long run, her trust in you and your love and support will help her to make positive behavioral choices.