If you’ve ever been accused of spoiling your baby with cuddles when they cry, prepare to fist pump, because new research confirms your instincts are correct!
Baby cries for a reason
Research led by Notre Dame psychologist Darcia Narvaez has found children will grow into healthier and happier adults if they have parents who are affectionate, sensitive and playful towards them from birth.
“Sometimes, we have parents that say, you are going to spoil the baby if you pick them up when they are feeling distressed. No, you can’t spoil a baby,” Professor Narvaez told WSBT.
We all know there can be many reasons a baby cries and Professor Narvaez says parents are never in the wrong for wanting to offer comfort.
“Part of it is following your instincts because we as parents want to hold our children,” she says.
“We want to keep that child close, follow that instinct. We want to keep the child quiet and happy because the cry is so distressing.”
The research Professor Narvaez completed with two colleagues is set to be published in a future article in the journal Applied Developmental Science.
The trio surveyed more than 600 adults about their childhood experiences, from how much affectionate touch and free play they had as children to the amount of positive family time they enjoyed.
Collating the answers, she found the adults with less anxiety and better mental health were those who had positive childhood experiences.
“These things independently, but also added up together, predicted the adults’ mental health, so they were less depressed, less anxious, and their social capacities — they were more able to take other people’s perspective,” Professor Narvaez told WSBT.
“They were better at getting along with others and being open-hearted.”
The message to parents
Professor Narvaez encourages parents to be responsive to their child’s needs – to hold, touch and rock them as much as they want, knowing it is good for them.
“What parents do in those early months and years are really affecting the way the brain is going to grow the rest of their lives,” she says.
“(Children) grow better that way. And keep them calm, because all sorts of systems are establishing the way they are going to work.
“If you let them cry a lot, those systems are going to be easily triggered into stress,” she adds.
Find your village
There is another side to all of this.
Personally, I found there were times in my first few weeks as a new parent where the crying seemed endless.
I felt exhausted and at times had to step outside of my son’s room, leaving him to cry in his cot, to take a breath.
My husband was at work and we lived hours away from my immediate family and strongest support system.
This is where Professor Narveaz says a community of caregivers is important.
Let’s face it, while your instincts might tell you to pick up a baby, if you have had no sleep and barely find time to eat it isn’t always that simple and those instincts serve only to feed (in my case) mummy guilt.
Professor Narvaez says grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends should play an active role.
“We need to, as a community support families so they can give children what they need,” Professor Narvaez says.
“We really didn’t evolve to parent alone. Our history is to have a community of caregivers to help – the village, so that when mom or dad needs a break, there is someone there who is ready to step in.”