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Spoiled Infant?

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I was told that in the first year you cannot spoil a child, yet my 4-month-old-infant seems to be very spoiled. I visited my family in another state and being that I have a large family my daughter recieved constant attention. Now I am a single mother and my daughter does not want me out of her sight I hate to see her cry so I always end up giving into her. People tell me to just leave her crying in the crib but I can't do that. Please give me another suggestion.

A: I don't usually use the word "spoiled" to describe a child, especially within the first several months of her life. But it appears that indeed your infant may be spoiled, because she is constantly demanding your attention with her cries and you are always "giving in," picking her up and feeling like a slave in the process. My guess is that your baby was carried around constantly by your doting family members and that she quickly learned that anytime she cried someone picked her up and did something nice with her. So she's just responding like any infant would by continuing to perform her "part" of the equation.

Babies do need us to initially respond to their cries, as this is a major component of teaching trust. But you do need to consider your own needs and limitations as well as hers to strike a healthy balance. Sometimes your baby's crying may be an indication that she does not like something, not that she needs to be picked up and coddled. Babies need to learn how to deal with their dissatisfaction without always being picked up and soothed.

Carrying her everywhere you go is unnecessary and sends her the wrong message. Responding to her every cry by picking her up and soothing her gives her the wrong kind of "power". It's not a good lesson to teach. Why don't you break this pattern over time? When she cries, pick her up for just a few minutes, cuddle and soothe her, and then put her in a playpen, perhaps with a musical mobile. You could also place her in a safe infant seat so she can watch you while you do things. You can engage her by talking to her, singing to her, making noises, etc. Your baby should not remain in a playpen or infant seat for long periods of time and you should not be a slave to her every cry.

Your baby may want you to hold her all the time but she doesn't need it. I know you can feel great guilt by not picking her up when she cries, especially when your holding her can immediately stop her crying. Trust me, she will learn to cope with the different ways that you attend to her.

On a parting note, when you do bring her to see your family, let them know how you are handling her cries and ask them for their cooperation.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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