Can You Spoil a Baby?

Sometimes you need to cater to your baby's every whimper; at other times, you need to let him figure things out on his own.

Where's the Risk?

Before I had my first baby, I made a vow: I would never become an infant-indulging pushover. I had watched in horror as my friends jumped up every time their babies burped or whined, and I was certain that I had more fortitude than that. But you can probably guess the second half of this story: I had a baby -- and did all the same things.

With each new transgression, I shuddered at the thought of raising a spoiled child. But, according to experts, most of my worries were baseless. "During the first six months, it's really impossible to spoil a child," reassures David Mrazek, M.D., chairman of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota. "Meeting an infant's need to be comforted, held, and fed in a predictable fashion helps him feel secure and builds a loving relationship between parent and child. It does not lead to spoiling."

Responding to your toddler also fosters independence, says Peter Gorski, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatricians' National Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care. "A child will be more willing to explore boundaries and explore his world if he knows he can depend on his parents," Dr. Gorski says.

It's not until the second half of a baby's first year that the risk of spoiling even begins. That's when you may find it necessary to make a few adjustments. "At this point in development, children need to learn to trust themselves as well as their caregivers," says Ester Schaler Buchholz, Ph.D., author of The Call of Solitude: Alonetime in a World of Attachment (Simon & Schuster, 1997). "Of course, your baby still needs your care and love. But he also needs to start figuring things out for himself."

Obviously, this is often easier said than done. "Our older son, Gregory, always wanted to sleep with us," says Amy Pentz, of Suffield, Connecticut. "At first, we thought it was cute, but eventually we wanted a decent night's rest ourselves. It was a nightmare getting him to sleep in his crib. When our second son, Jackson, was born, we helped him go to sleep in his crib from the start."

Fostering independence, however, is not the only way to stop spoiling in its tracks. Here, three top tips.

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