Parenting Matters: Bonding versus spoiling

In the first years of life, parents and others in contact with the new baby lay the foundation for all that is to come. It isn’t just the foundation for learning but it is also the foundation for the child’s social-emotional learning. It is a critical foundation for life.

It begins with birth. Babies cry. Parents are conflicted. They have heard they need to bond with their new baby but they also worry that they might respond too much to this new little person.

Every contact you have with your new baby causes you to bond with her. Bonding is complicated and sometimes takes time. As long as you take care of your baby’s basic needs and cuddle with her regularly, she won’t suffer if you don’t feel a strong bond at first sight. Being a new parent is very tiring. If you had a long, difficult delivery, you may need to feel better before you can concentrate on bonding with your baby.

Your baby is a new person in your life. Give yourself time to get to know her. A few things can help the process along.

• Have some skin-to-skin cuddle time where you hold her and stroke her gently. Human touch is soothing for both you and your baby.

• Look into your baby’s eyes and talk and sing to her regularly.

• From the beginning days, talk with your baby. With every word, you are teaching her. Your baby is listening.

• If your baby has to spend some time in intensive care and is hooked up to wires and monitors, ask the hospital staff to help you safely touch and hold your baby.

Over time, you’ll get to know and enjoy your newborn, learn how to comfort her and your feelings will deepen. And one day – maybe the first time you see her smile – you’ll look at your baby and realize you’re filled completely with love and joy.

Crying, trying

On the opposite side, parents want to do the right thing when their new baby cries. At times they aren’t sure whether it is best to respond each time the baby cries or if this will teach the baby to cry.

You don’t spoil a newborn. Newborns cry because they have basic needs; they cry to be fed, held, comforted and loved. Your job is to respond to those needs and wants as best you can. When you respond to her cries, you’re teaching her to feel secure and confident. That security and confidence will result in less crying and more independence in the long run. When babies feel a deep trust in their parents they are more likely to develop a secure sense of self that helps them later on. Your behavior toward her teaches her to trust you and the world.

So each time you or your partner quickly responds to your infant’s cries for food, a cuddle or help nodding off to sleep, you’re reinforcing the notion that you’ll be there for your little one and that she can count on you. This notion will not spoil a newborn but will instead help her develop a healthy bond with you, her parents.

It will let your infant know she’s loved. A baby who’s secure in her bond with her parents is a happier, less needy baby. This baby as she becomes older will have the courage to take on the world.

Once your baby gets to be about 6 months old, however, her wants will become more known and they are not in the same category as her needs. She may want to pull your hair or bite your shoulder. This kind of behavior might necessitate setting some limits and teaching discipline. She is now old enough to understand that Mommy or Daddy don’t always give her what she wants, but they still love her. She has truly bonded with you and hopefully you with her.

There is much more to say about the lessons left to teach, but that is enough for now.


Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.


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