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Introduction
What should parents do to soothe a crying infant? There are differing views on what parents should do to smooth a crying infant. Some believe that parents should pick up the crying infants immediately to soothe them in order for them to know that someone cares for them while others believe that infants should be left to cry on their own in order not to reinforce crying and spoil them.
Studies that support the idea of creating a “spoiled” infant
There are some research studies that support the idea that picking up infants when they cry will create ‘spoiled’ infants. A highly influential parenting book titled Psychological Care of Infant and Child was published in 1928 by the founder of the behaviorist movement in psychology, John B. Watson. He wrote that caregivers should ignore when infants cry and should not give too much affection to infants in order for them to learn to be independent. His book even influenced public opinion in the United States in the early twentieth century. Between 1920s and 1940s, the United States Children’s Bureau distributed infant care brochures to parents to educate them not to pick up infants when they cry. It was believed that picking infants up whenever they cry or whine will lead to them being very fussy. They will be ‘spoiled’ and will cry all the time in order to get what they want.
Based on another journal article written by Robert Epstein, it was stated that ignoring a crying infant will certainly educates the infant something positive. The infant left on its own will eventually learn to stop crying after a while and might also eventually try to soothe itself. Furthermore, in an article in the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, Thomas Dorsel’s number one suggestion for eliminating child crying is: ”Do not allow acquisition” (Dorsel, 1978, p. 158). He advised parents to not pick up infants and comfort them when they cry so as to never reinforce crying.
Studies that support the idea of showing the infant that someone cares
On the other hand, based on a journal article written by Jerome S Blackman which supports the view that infants must be picked up and soothed immediately when they cry, it was stated that without sufficient soothing, infants are unlikely to be able to develop basic trust based on Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. These infants will grow up to be suspicious and mistrustful and will not have confidence in the world around them. Even though in certain cases, infants will eventually stop crying on their own when parents do not pick them up to comfort them. However, these infants may grow up to be “low-keyed” toddlers if they are constantly or repeatedly being ignored. They will not cry as much but they may lack interest and enthusiasm for learning and other activities in the future. The journal article also wrote that infants are born with build in reflexes such as the sucking and rooting reflexes. These reflexes are very much associated with the pleasures of satiation and relief based on Sigmund Freud’s pleasure principle. Spitz and Wolf (1946) discovered that infants must be picked up and held, or else they will develop “anaclitic depression” and stop sucking. This may cause them to die due to failure to thrive.
Another research article written by Gail Poskey, Kris Pizur-Barnekow and Gayle Hersch suggested that when infants cry, most parents’ immediate response would be to pick up the infants and soothe them. It is as if it was an automatic response to soothe the crying. Parents would usually hold the infants and find out the cause for the crying. They will check if the infants’ basic needs have been met. For example, they will check if the infants are hungry, or does their diapers need to be changed.
To add on, a correlational study published in 1972 by a psychologist team from Johns Hopkins University suggested that infants of insensitive mothers who ignored them when they cry usually cried more than infants of responsive mothers who responded quickly when they cried. Mary Ainsworth and Silvia Bell also suggested through their findings that the most effective way in stopping infants from crying is to pick them up and hold them.
Relevant theories
Besides all these research studies and journal articles, there are also some theories related to infants crying. Based on emotional development in infancy, crying is the most essential mechanism newborns have to communicate. Crying is the only way for infants to express their needs since they are unable to communicate verbally. Infants are also born with different temperaments. The different temperaments are easy, slow to warm up and difficult temperament. Based on their temperaments, different infants require different amount of parental attention and soothing when they cry. Furthermore, based on attachment theory, secure attachment between infants and caregivers are crucial for infants to develop warmth and confidence. Attachment between caregivers and infants in the first year can also influence subsequent development of the infants. Picking up the infants when they cry to soothe them is believed to further develop secure attachment.
Moreover, according to Erik Erikson’s model of psychosocial development theory, from birth to one-year old, basic trust will be developed when infants experience care and comfort consistently from their parents. Research have shown that basic trust will be established when infants experience the parents’ care and concern when they cry. When infants successfully develop trust, they will be able to gain a sense of security and will feel safe in the world that they live in.
Advice to the neighbour with the new baby
Based on the above research and theories, I would definitely advice my neighbour who just had their first baby to pick up and soothe the baby when the baby cries. New born babies and young infants can only express and communicate their basic needs through crying. When infants cry, almost most of the time, they are actually showing signs of concern. For example, the infants might be feeling hungry or unwell. Thus, their cries should not be ignored. Since infants are unable to express verbally, crying means that they need something. Responding to their cries is not a matter of spoiling but a matter of meeting their basic needs.
Also, it is absolutely wrong to say that ignoring infants when they cry will allow them to grow up to become more independent. Infants will grow up with greater independence when parents constantly respond to their needs before they get distressed. When infants are being picked up and soothe when they cry, they will understand that they are being cared and they will fee warmth. This will allow them to grow up feeling secure and safe in the world that they live in. Infants need to receive constant attention from the parents in order to provide them with the foundation to grow emotionally, intellectually and physically. The more parents respond to their needs, the more secure their world becomes for them.
Furthermore, crying is not an operant behavior that can be reinforced by maternal responsiveness. it is not possible to spoil infants by picking them up and holding them whenever they cry. Infants whose needs are well met will grow up to be mentally and physically healthier. They will be kinder to others, less depressed and more empathetic. Responding to infants when they cry can even help to foster the development of communication. Therefore, I strongly advice my neighbour to pick up and soothe their baby when the baby cries.

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