Parenting: Know When to Hold 'Em (cont.)
When your baby cries -- and the typical infant will cry about three hours a day in the first three months, more if she has colic -- it isn't because she's trying to manipulate you. She hasn't learned how to do that yet. She's crying because she's hungry, tired, lonely or plain uncomfortable, and that's her only way of letting you know.
"A spoiled child is one that's manipulative, but babies don't learn until they're about 9 months that they can cry to get you to do something for them," says Dr. Barbara Howard, assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on psychosocial aspects of child and family health.
Ten Tear-Taming Techniques
After checking to make sure your baby isn't hungry, in need of a new diaper or physically ill, try these calming strategies:
By paying attention to a baby's cries, parents aren't just responding to the child's physical needs. "Babies learn a sense of security, comfort, nurturing and warmth," which in turn gives them the confidence to explore and learn, says Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
In fact, studies show that babies who develop that sense of security from their caregivers in the first year will be more independent, self-confident and happier later.
"Babies can sense even in those first few months the unavailable parent," says Nugent, a father of two, ages 18 and 21, and a professor in childhood and family studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Infants can become disconnected and develop "a real sadness, like 'somehow nothing seems to be working for me.'"
On the other hand, you won't cause your baby irreparable harm if you let him cry on occasion, either.
"In the first year, always do what you can, but especially if you feel like you're going to lose it and throw them out the window ... you should definitely put them down and walk out of the room," cautions Dr. Howard. "People need to know it's normal to feel that way ... it's just that you run out of steam."
When a child passes the 9-month mark and begins learning the art of persuasion, parents can become more selective in responding to cries, says Dr. Howard, who has two children, 5 and 8, and two grown stepchildren.