Is It Possible to “Spoil” a Baby?
Your three-month-old baby is crying. Should you go to her every time she cries, or would it be a good idea to “let her cry it out” on occasion? A lot of people, and perhaps most prominently your mother-in-law, will tell you to let her cry it out now and then. After all, if you go to her every time she cries, she will become “spoiled.”
While that may seem like a good suggestion, it is not based on an understanding of cognitive development. The fact is that for the first six months or so of life, a baby does not have the capacity to retain information and experience in mental form. She lives strictly in the here and now. There is no past and there is no future. There is only the present moment. Therefore, all the things needed for “spoiling” to take place – memory, intentionality, manipulation, etc. – are far beyond the intellectual abilities of such a young baby.
So when the baby is crying, it is nothing more than a reflexive reaction to physical discomfort of some kind. She is hungry, cold, wet, or in pain. And to withhold nurturing services would merely be permitting her to suffer unnecessarily. She is not really going to learn anything that would subsequently alter her behavior.
Of course, after the six month mark, she will develop the capacity to retain information and experience and she will fully realize that when she cries, someone picks her up, holds her, and plays with her. Now she will start crying not only as a reflexive reaction to physical discomfort but also when she is lonely and bored and would like some company and entertainment. Consequently, you will have to change your strategy. But it’s nice to know that during those first six months, comforting your crying baby should not make you feel uncomfortable in any way.