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  • Writer's pictureClaudia Glassman

"You Can Spoil a Newborn" and Other Myths About Babies and Toddlers

Throughout my career I have head many myths about babies and toddlers. Beliefs that have been handed down from generation to generation and often reflect historical viewpoints on how children should behave and parenting in general. It is no secret that there is no "how to" manual for parenting, and as a result we rely on these suggestions from past generations. They are handed down with the best intentions but are often somewhat misguided. We really need to look at how babies and children grow and develop (emotional, physical , and brain develop). We need to look at our individual child and how they are developing (which may or may not be at the same pace as their peers).

Below are a few myths that I have heard more times than I can count.

1) Babies can be spoiled by holding them too much. This is probably the most popular thing I hear. Parents hesitate responding to their crying baby because they are afraid of spoiling them. Babies are born with no ability to survive on their own. Unlike many other animals that can walk within a few hours, human babies take over a year to accomplish this. Babies are born unready to deal with the world . They need their parents to survive. A baby that is frequently held and comforted on command (fed when hungry, held when crying ,etc) learns that the world is a safe place for them. They learn that they have parents who will care for and protect them. These children develop a view of the world that lets them feel safe and cared for. You will not be making them dependent on you. In fact, a child that believes the world is safe and that they have a parent who will help them and respond to their needs, will be more likely to explore the world independently. The challenge with this myth is that children who are ignored will in fact eventually stop crying.However, the reason isn't because they have learned how to soothe themselves, it is because they have just given up the belief that mom (or dad) will respond to them. This child will feel the world is not safe and that their needs don't matter so why cry out for help. In terms of development this child may struggle. How can a child grow up healthy and happy if they are continuously stressed and afraid?

2) I Shouldn't respond when my child is crying for attention: This is an extension of the first myth. Babies don't manipulate. They can't manipulate yet because their brains aren't developed enough to do this yet. They cry if they have a need. The need may be hunger, comfort, or attention. IT really doesn't matter what the need is, they are all legitimate needs that need to be met. For parents who worry about responding to a child's need for attention, I often ask parents what is so wrong with wanting attention? Even if this is the only reason they are crying (or acting out in some other way) why is this not something they should have? Think about it. Aren't there times as an adult that you just want some attention. You want someone to see you, notice you, hug you. It human to want this. We are connected beings and need this connection to others. Children are no different. So, If you baby or toddler is doing things just to get your attention, find a time to give it to them. It may not be in that moment, but take note, and find a time to connect with them. I have found many toddler attention seeking behaviors can be redirected if you get down to their level and give them your attention.Meeting your child's needs will allow you to create a relationship based on trust which is essential in any relationship, the parent-child one is no different.

3)Babies should be able to calm and soothe themselves within a certain timeframe: This is a skill learned over time, not by 4 months, 12 months, 2 years, etc. I know many adults that still have some things to learn about soothing themselves and not losing control or having a "tantrum" every now and then. For the first several months of age babies see themselves as an extensions of their mother (mom and baby are one entity). They rely on the parent to help them soothe. They need you to calm them just as much as they need you to feed them. Left on their own to work it out, they may eventually stop crying. But again, this is because they have given up not because they have figured it out. Extended crying without the support or nurturing of an adult also causes an increase in stress hormones. This increase can actually change development and has been shown to inhibit the development of nerve tissues in the brain.

4) A tantruming child is spoiled or "bad" : Tantrums are a normal part of growing up. The reasons for them are endless. A child may be hungry, tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, etc. Some children tantrum more than others, but inevitably all children tantrum. Even adults have tantrums sometimes (they just look a little different). Do you ever have a day where you just want to yell, kick, and scream to let it all out? Maybe you snap at your partner, or even your child, because you are overwhelmed and they pushed a button that elicited a response that was more extreme than warranted. Your child is no different. They only difference is that they don't have the brain development or experience to figure out other ways to cope with these feelings. They aren't tantruming to make your life difficult (although sometimes it feels that way). They are tantruming because they are having a hard time. Maybe they are upset you said no to something, and they can't handle the feelings of frustration. Maybe it has been a long day and they just need a release (what better way than to ave a tantrum). Either way, these are the moments that the need your support even if it is just sitting near by quietly waiting for it to end.

5) A child can't do anything for themselves: In our attempts to help our children and teach our children new things, we often forget that there are things that they can do for themselves. Provide your child opportunities to do things for themselves. They will enjoy mastering new skills and gain confidence. When they need help they will ask. I recently saw an older family member spoon feeding an almost 2 year old who can feed herself really well with silverware. The child was frustrated and wanted to do it alone but the adult wouldn't let her. What is the worst that can happen with a spoon and some food. It gets messy but the child is learning important skills. Full disclaimer: allowing your child to do things for themselves (that are age appropriate) means that things may get messy and may not be done the exact way you want them done. This is where it is beneficial to let go a little and focus on the importance of your children being able to do things for themselves to boost self esteem, independence, competence, and a sense of mastery. You will be amazed at what your child can do when given the opportunity. It may even help you in the long run. Letting my 3 year old put away her clothes and sort laundry has made things so much easier for me (even though we do not share the same opinion on folding and hanging). I now have a little helper to manage the baskets of laundry I have to keep up with.

There are no shortage of myths our there. They vary from culture to culture and even generation to generation. What are some of the other myths you have heard in your parenting journey?

Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parent Coach. Mighty Oak Parenting was started as a way for her to share all the things she learned from being a therapist as well as a parent. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.

Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parent Coach. Mighty Oak Parenting was started as a way for her to share all the things she learned from being a therapist as well as a parent. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.

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