Does holding my child spoil them?

All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love, and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection.”

Alice Miller

When a child cries, all too often, I’ve heard people say (not necessarily to me) ‘let them cry’ or ‘you’ll spoil them if you keep picking them up’ or ‘you’ll be making a rod for your own back’ (which means you’ll make it harder for yourself later).

I could understand why people would say this; but then I stopped to really think about it in some depth and figure out what was happening from a psychological and biological perspective. 

This is what I found out…

One thing to bear in mind is that crying is your baby’s ONLY method of communicating its needs and wants. Remember this every time your child cries. 

Even if your child can speak, they may not be able to express their feelings and so they cry and hope that you will help them to regulate and figure out what’s going on.

Believe it (or not) babies do NOT have the mental capacity to cry purposely to annoy us, even though it may seem like that! 

If we ignore our child’s cry, what are we effectively teaching them? 

We’re teaching them that at the time they need us the most, we’re not there for them. 

Babies and young children are not able to self-regulate their emotions. They haven’t yet developed the coping skills they need to do so. The feelings they experience are hugely magnified compared to how we would feel them and they don’t know how to handle that. So they look to us, as their parents/carers, to help them go through these big scary feelings and reassure them that we are there to protect them and take care of their needs. 

Now don’t get me wrong – we may still feel like we want to lose our s**t when the little one has pulled the full contents out of every kitchen cupboard or ruined their new clothes just before you were heading out to a party which you’re already 2 hours late for! 

As ‘conscious’ adults, we must be aware of these feelings and keep calm, no matter what. 

Easier said than done, I hear you say?! Yes, that is true. But it’s necessary.

What a child needs at a time of such vulnerability is comfort, attention and assurance that you love them UNCONDITIONALLY. Regardless of who is around. Regardless of what other people may say.

If we raise our voice or walk off in frustration or simply ignore the cries of the child, ask yourself: “am I showing my child unconditional love right now?” If the answer is ‘no’, change your behaviour. 

Then watch the magic happen. 

You may surprise yourself how quickly your child will respond to your energy and connection and dissipate any highly-emotional situation. And if you’re really conscious, you’ll see them naturally release any tension s/he was holding in her body, which is crucial to fight off long-term mental and physical health issues.

From a biological perspective, crying releases a stress hormone called ‘cortisol’. The impact of too much cortisol in the body can have a huge detrimental effect on both adults and babies. 

When cortisol is released into the body, it weakens the immune system, irrespective of what triggered the stress. 

For example, adults may be stressed about the amount of work they need to get done whilst juggling kids at the same time, and children may experience stress through crying or not having certain needs met. Both of these examples could lead to a weaker immune system and you may find that during these times, you’re more prone to illness and bad health. 

Excessive amounts of cortisol on a regular basis may also lead to more severe mental and physical health implications like cancer, depression, anxiety, respiratory issues etc. Don’t just take my word for it. Go and check out what some of the world’s renowned experts are saying about the impact on children when parents are stressed.

Trust your parental instincts; they’re usually right. 

Be physically and emotionally present with your child

If your child has a ‘tantrum’ or shows any anger or frustration, do not leave them to ‘self-regulate’ and do not punish them. Punishing children for their strong emotions teaches them that your love is conditional. It tells them that at the time they need you the most, you are least available. This has a detrimental effect on the child’s development and emotional stability. Be there for them at all times. 

If your child cries, don’t feel guilty for picking them up and comforting them. People will always have an opinion on how you should raise your kids. Do what works best for you and your child. 

Always remember what an amazing parent you are. 

YOU’VE GOT THIS!!!

Attention is the ultimate currency for children.

Jordan Peterson

*Photo is a side view of a mother carrying her sleeping baby by Jacob Lund from Noun Project

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