01 Sep 2011

Can you “spoil” a baby by picking them up?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 

2.2 Self-Regulation

Emotion Regulation

  • becoming calm when comforted by familiar adults
  • comforting self with thumb
  • recovering from distress and over-stimulation in a secure relationship
Respond to infant’s distress by supporting his self-soothing behaviours. 

When recovery from distress is supported by an adult, the infant’s attachment to the adult is reinforced. The infant learns that strong emotions can be tolerated and recovery is hastened.

The one thing that I wish that I could tell every new parent and caregiver is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up too often. I know that seems like common sense to many people but unfortunately that old way of thinking is still present in our culture today. I think that almost every person I have encountered with a young baby has had an older relative or neighbour tell them not to pick up their crying child.

What we know now, however, is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up. We also have a much better understanding of how important it really is that we respond to an infant’s distress. It is through our consistent responses to an infant’s distress that we reinforce our attachment with that infant. This  helps them to feel secure and is the foundation upon which a child learns to regulate their own emotions and behaviours. By consistently demonstrating to infant’s and young children that we will be there if they need us, they are able to learn to calm their own distress, knowing that their caregiver will meet their needs.

Understanding this, I also want to caution caregivers to “look before you leap”. What I mean by this is rather than rushing in to swoop up a crying infant, take a moment to determine why the infant is crying first. Do they have a physical need; are they hungry or tired? There are times when intervention is required by the caregiver, but there are other times when the infant simply needs comfort or support. This might mean engaging the infant in a different way. Rather than picking up the infant, you might choose to get down to their level, talk to them or place a reassuring hand on their arm or back, as you would with an older child or adult. We can offer this type of support, especially as the infant  becomes older and is learning to self-regulate.

It is through the consistency of our responses to children’s distress that we form secure attachment relationships and within those relationships, children are able to learn to regulate their own emotions. The way that we respond to children’s needs is so important and although there are no expectations that we will be perfect, our consistency and responsiveness is key to helping children’s socio-emotional development.

Photo by: Dan Harrelson (Flickr)

written by
A registered Early Childhood Educator and former President of the Halton Branch of the Association for Early Childhood Educators of Ontario.
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