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  Home  > The First Year  > Myth: Fully Meeting an Infant's Needs Creates a Spoiled and Overly Dependent Child

Myth: Fully Meeting an Infant's Needs Creates a Spoiled and Overly Dependent Child

Fact: Attachment parenting implies responding appropriately to a baby, spoiling suggests responding inappropriately or intermittently. While the overindulgent mother's possessiveness may cause her to spoil a child and keep him from doing what he needs because of her insecurities, a stage of healthy dependence is necessary in order for a child to become securely independent.

The most powerful enhancers of brain development are the responsiveness of the caregiving environment to the cues of an infant and the quality of the parent-infant attachment. The consistent availability of a caregiver builds confidence and helps a child learn to trust herself; and attachment enhances development.

There used to be the notion that constantly indulging a child's need would make her spoiled; she would demand more and more. It is quite the opposite.... It is not indulging a need that matters; it is fulfilling it... once a need is fulfilled there will be no more inordinate demands. No one wants more than they need, unless of course, they demand more to fill up an early lack.

-Arthur Janov, PhD

In indigenous cultures there is no concept of a spoiled child. Having their every need for human nurturing met, they develop a deep sense of security and wellbeing. Newborns are nursed, held, or carried from the time of birth. Mother knows that her infant's cry is designed for her survival--not to disturb her needlessly. She knows that a baby whose cries are not met does not become a "good baby" (though he may become a quiet baby); he becomes a discouraged baby, falling into a state researchers call "learned helplessness." His world is unpredictable, unreliable, and frightening. He learns he can't communicate or trust that his needs will be met--a belief he will carry throughout his life.

Attached babies, feeling responded to, connected, and valued, cry and fuss less--which means they have more time to learn and grow in positive ways; and they are more receptive to interaction with and learning from their environment.

In no way is mother beguiled by such nonsense as the notion things must not be too easy for the infant, lest s/he think the world is a bed of roses. She knows that frustration does not build concepts in the brain. Concepts build through assimilations (the ability to accept and digest new experience), and successful accommodation (new patterning to handle dissimilarities and make new muscular coordinations of response).... the mother knows that the infant is prompted from within by an enormous drive that goes ahead of ability... and there are frustrations aplenty in that.

--Joseph Chilton Pearce

As toddlers, children parented this way join their mother as she goes about her daily chores. Following and mimicking mother, the children appear as "a thread in the weave of their daily lives." Whether it be foraging for food or tending a fire, a child assumes only as much of the task as she shows interest in. At night, the families sleep together. The children of these indigenous cultures are remarkably poised and self-confident, and remain so as they grow into adolescence--the outcome of having received so full a measure of the security and affirmation of belonging in the early years. One result of this self-confidence is a strong bond of friendship between peers. Self-assured children are less likely to be aggressive, need less supervision, and are more interested in playing together. Learning the ways of their culture through direct tangible examples and participation, they grow naturally into independence.

Discipline Is Eased

The sensitivity that attached parents develop allows them to see things from the child's point of view, and the commonly dreaded practice of "discipline" is eased as it becomes something you do with rather than to a child. "Disconnected" children are more difficult to discipline because they operate from a basis of anger rather than trust. Attachment parented children become children who care, for other people and the world; and accustomed to being fulfilled from their interpersonal relationships, they develop a strong capacity for intimacy. Then too, parents develop confidence sooner, enjoy parenting more, and develop a sensitivity that carries over into other aspects of their life.


Arthur Janov, The Biology of Love
Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept*
Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child*
Jan Reynolds, Mother and Child: Visions of Parenting from Indigenous Cultures*
William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN, The Baby Book*

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