Can You Spoil a Baby?

3 Tips to Stop Spoiling

Learn your baby's signals. Many parents don't realize that crying isn't always a sign of distress. "Infants use crying to convey a range of feelings, from hunger to exhaustion to overstimulation," Dr. Gorski says. Which means that rushing to hold and amuse your infant isn't always the right response. "Try your usual routines for comforting," Dr. Gorski advises. "If the crying persists, your child may just need time to rest without social stimulation." The break may do you both some good. "Spending some time alone is how a baby learns to entertain and soothe herself," Dr. Buchholz explains. "If a parent is constantly misreading her signals, the child may think it's natural to be held all the time." If your child averts her eyes, whines, or pulls away from you, it's time for a break.

Watch your own behavior. At 6 to 8 months, babies begin what is called social referencing. "They read their parents' facial expressions and actions to understand how to behave in different situations," Dr. Gorski explains. "If you appear anxious every time your baby encounters something new, he'll think there's something to be anxious about and become more needy."

Behaving in a calm, encouraging manner lets your child know that it's okay to explore. For example, if your baby starts to crawl into another room, don't jump up and run after him. Instead, as long as the place he's wandered into is safe, follow him and offer words of encouragement.

Let him cry -- a little. If your child is struggling with a toy, allow him to fumble some. He may wail a bit but may also learn a new skill. "Coping with minor frustration can be a good learning opportunity for babies," Dr. Mrazek says.

Your baby may also fuss when you try to establish routines such as bedtime. "It's important for you -- and your child -- that everyone get enough rest. There's nothing wrong with enforcing bedtime," Dr. Buchholz says.

Does this mean you should let your baby cry herself to sleep? "It's never the first choice," Dr. Mrazek says. "But if you have already tried every sleep-inducing nightly ritual you can think of, it may be the only way." He reassures parents that it will probably be harder on them than on the baby.

Ultimately, employing all of these tactics -- judiciously -- will teach your baby the two most important lessons: that his parents will always be there for him and that maybe, just maybe, he won't always need them.

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