UTLOT - Myth #3

Myth #3

Babies need to cry, it is a way they exercise or release energy, not a sign that they need something or are unhappy. If you respond to a crying or fussy baby, you will reinforce bad behavior and the baby will cry more in the future. For a baby to learn to expect a comforting response to its crying is to ``spoil" the child and make him overly dependent and in need of instant gratification.

The above attitude toward children came into vogue in the late 1800's on the basis of two secular self-proclaimed baby specialists: the American Dr. Luther Holt, who published his book Care and Feeding of Children in 1894, and the British Dr. Truby King, who published his book in 1910. Basing their recommendations on animal studies, and the by then widely-held theory that humans were merely more evolved animals, their books became the new ``Bibles" of infant care. They considered it dangerous ``indulgence" to respond to a baby's crying and recommended rigid control of eating and sleeping schedules no matter how much a baby cried. They called crying ``the baby's exercise,... necessary for health,... and it should be repeated to keep the lungs well expanded." Dr. King even advised extending parental control to the bowels, using enemas if necessary to get the baby to clear his bowels on schedule (from age of 2 months) and no night feedings from birth. Babies who did not sleep when they were supposed to be sleeping were seen as attempting to manipulate and dominate their mothers.Playing with the baby was severely limited and considered unnecessary. They also advised very strict cleanliness procedures, boiling the milk given, for example,-the latter which had such a significant effect on the death rate of infants at that time that their recommendations were adopted in all areas.

However, it is very important that we as Christian parents remember that our babies are human beings, created by God in His own image, just as we are. When they are born they are not ``blank slates" devoid of a conscience - like animals. They are as intelligent as we are, and have all the same feelings we have, including feelings of ``right" and ``wrong." However, they are born without knowledge or understanding and with the basically self-centered sin nature which is common to us all. We must, therefore, deal with them on the basis of their level of understanding, in such a way that they learn what is true. It is very important to remember that very young babies ``learn" what they experience and feel. Our second son crawled into a pool at the age of nine months and almost drowned. From then on he would panic whenever his head was wet. Over the years he slowly adjusted to baths, but had a very difficult time time learning to swim. Finally, at nine years of age he explained to me his feelings: ``whenever my head goes under the water I panic because I know I will never be able to get it out." I was able to explain to him how he had learned this ``truth" which now that he was older was no longer true. As a baby, he was unable to interpret what was happening, so to this day he has no conscious memory of drowning, however, he did have a very significant emotional memory that was interfering with his ability to learn truth in the present.

Because their level of understanding changes significantly during the first two years, the way we respond to a newborn will not necessarily be the way we respond to a two-year-old. The important thing is to be teaching the child the truth within his or her own level of knowledge and understanding. In order to do this it is necessary to exercise empathy as well as discernment.

Babies, like all human beings, do not cry for exercise. They cry because they are tired or upset for some reason. It is very hard on the body to cry for extended periods of time (try crying at the top of your lungs for 5 or 10 minutes!) The baby does not know why it is upset. When one's first baby is born, those who have never cared for a baby before will not be able to tell what is wrong with the baby either. Is he hungry, is he tired, is he scared, is he lonely, is he wet, does he have a tummy ache, earache, toothache, colic?

The parents who choose to respond to their baby's crying and to investigate WHY the baby is crying will find that they soon gain much understanding about what is wrong with their baby. In fact, I found that within a month, with my first son, and within a week or two, with my other children, I was able to tell by the way they cried whether they were tired, hungry, scared or in some pain.

It is very important for you as a parent to begin to understand you child's first ``language." In almost all situations you can fairly quickly rectify the problem that is causing your baby to cry. For example, once a single friend, who was helping me, put my second son into a infant seat that hangs on the edge of a table. My son immediately started to wail. ``Oh, he is so strongwilled!" my friend said. But I could tell he was in some kind of pain by the sound of his cry. On checking, his little finger was being pinched under the arm of the seat. Another friend, who had been advised to ignore her child's crying as an attempt to control her, disregarded her baby's crying when she first put her in a car seat. Later she discovered a second-degree burn on her baby's leg where the metal part of the seat's belt had touched her leg.

When babies cry, it is not for fun or exercise, it is because they are upset for some reason. Sometimes the reason is obvious. Sometimes it is less clear: is he suddenly scared by hearing a loud sound you hardly noticed? Is the bright sun hurting her eyes? Is his diaper pinching his skin Has she been in the same position so long that her leg is falling asleep or she is bored? Take a few minutes to check them, talk to them, reassure them or move them to a place where they can see you better (better yet, sling your baby on your back or chest so she can learn a whole lot from watching all you do.) Treat them with kindness and consideration as you will want them to treat you when you are old and feeble, unable to change your own position or perhaps even explain what is bothering you.

What are you teaching the small baby by responding to its cries? You are teaching the child that when it is upset and cries, some one will come and help. The baby will have complete faith in you, the kind of faith we should have in God... that He is always there, and will always respond to our cries. When Jesus taught his disciples about prayer using a parable he concluded ``yet because of his friend 's persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. [Keep on asking and it will be given to you, [keep on seeking and you will find... for everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds... Which one of you fathers, if your son asks you for a fish will give him a snake?... " (Luke 11 :9-13) We see Jesus teaching his disciples to be persistent in asking and seeking, expecting a response.

Babies who are responded to learn that there is someone out there who hears them and responds to their cries and seeks to comfort them. Babies who are not responded to learn that sometimes no one is there, and no one comes, and no one comforts them. Which child has been taught the truth?

To expect a baby to learn anything more complicated or analytical than that their cries result in a response is unrealistic. They do not have the knowledge nor time-awareness to attribute a reason to why a parent would come sometimes and at other times not come. Parents that choose not to respond to the baby sometimes allow the baby to repeatedly experience long periods of fear and confusion. The baby is NOT trying to manipulate the parent since he has no idea that the parent can even hear him.

Recently I attended a meeting at a home where, for the first two and a half hours their baby cried in the other room before falling asleep. From the baby's perspective, it makes no difference what the parents are doing in the other room, they could be drunk, stoned, out or watching a video on ``Biblical Parenting," the emotional result in the baby's life is the same.

Objection: But aren't you spoiling the baby and reinforcing bad behavior?

The principles of behavior modification (developed by B F Skinner, an atheist who did not believe humans even had a spirit), state that you can eliminate undesirable behavior by responding in negative ways (electric shocks, no food rewards, etc.) These studies were done on animals and subsequently applied to humans, especially children. Behavior modification is highly manipulative and does not work so well on adults who can quickly figure out what is going on and usually rebel against manipulation (For example, do you secretly ``reward" your husband every time he comes home on time or ignore him when he is late? If you do, you are more likely to make him mad than to control his behavior.)

Behaviorists believe that behavior results from stimulus... a behavior that is rewarded will be ``learned", by which they mean it will be repeated simply because it was rewarded. A behavior that is not rewarded will be eliminated in favor of ``rewarded behavior." [Note: this is a direct outgrowth of the evolutionary theory that animals developed wings, lungs or whatever as a response to changes in their environment.] According to their theory, therefore, the baby that cries has learned to do so because his crying is rewarded with a response. Therefore, a crying child should be ignored (they theorized), so he will ``learn" to cry less, and a happy child should be given lots of attention thereby ``reinforcing" this ``good" behavior and thereby ``teaching" him to be (at least to act) contented. They do not deal with what the baby may be thinking, feeling, or really learning as a result of the process... they ignore the non-existent (from their perspective) heart and mind of the child and focus solely on obtaining the desired behavior. They emphasize impersonal acts, to the complete exclusion of personal relationships.

There are many problems In applying behavior modification theory to a baby crying: 1) Babies have not learned to cry, they cry naturally as a result of any pain, fear, etc.;2) Because babies are not animals, and do have emotions and intelligence, merely changing their outward behavior does not indication that they have ``learned" (emotionally and intellectually) what you are hoping they are learning; 3) Even by behavior modification theory, in order to extinguish a certain behavior one must consistently respond negatively to that behavior. It is impossible to consistently respond negatively to the crying of an infant since most of the time, when your baby is crying, he is crying for a reason which will require a response regardless of your parenting philosophy. In any case, regardless of the reason for the baby's crying, ignoring the crying will not solve the problem, and will often make the problem worse. If they are crying because they are afraid, their fear will only be increased; if they are crying because they are frustrated and angry, they will be provoked to greater anger [clearly contrary to scripture which exhorts parents not to provoke their children to anger]. If you respond most of the time and only ignore the baby when YOU think there is nothing wrong, the baby will be left confused and insecure. The baby has no way of knowing that you aren't responding this time because he woke up at the wrong time, or because you just changed and fed him and there isn't (theoretically) anything more he needs. Even rats can be driven crazy or into a state of glassy-eyed resignation by inconsistent stimulus in response to behaviors.

Objection #2: Won't this teach your baby to get everything he wants by whining and crying?

Studies have shown that it is a myth that parental over responsiveness can reinforce crying and produce so-called ``trained crying." ``According to social-learning theory, the baby who receives prompt attention may well cry more frequently in the future, since he has been rewarded by attention on the earlier occasions of crying The most comprehensive study of these questions... has been made by Ainsworth and Bell. They discovered that babies whose crying was ignored early on tended to cry more frequently and persistently later in the first year and that after six months, this persistent crying discouraged the mothers from responding... The mothers who responded quickly to their babies had children who were more likely to be advanced in 'communication skills' [such as] a range of facial expressions." (Distress and Comfort, page 58).

And again, in a very thorough study done by Taubman in 1984, it was clearly demonstrated that responsiveness cuts down on crying instead of increasing it. Taubman studied 30 colicky babies and 30 non-colicky babies, dividing each into two groups, making a total of four groups. The parents of the first group from each set of babies were given the following instructions: ``When infant crying continues for no apparent reason put the baby in the crib and let him cry for 30 minutes, if it is still crying then check and try to comfort him for two minutes and return him to the crib. Repeat procedure until the child sleeps or 3 hours pass, after 3 hours the baby should be fed. " The second group from each set of babies were told ``never let your baby cry, attempt to discover why the baby is crying[five suggestions including bored or wants to be held, don't worry about over feeding or 'spoiling' the baby." After the treatment, the babies that were not responded to showed no decrease in their average hours of crying per day. The babies that were responded to cried on the average 70% less each day . . . in the colicky group, the daily average crying decreased from 2.6 hours to 0.8 hours! (The Fussy Baby, p.93)

I certainly found this to be true in my own experience with my four children. As soon as they were able to raise their fist or turn their head, they learned that they could ``point" to what they wanted and I would either get it for them, or say ``no" and put it out of their sight. Just because you are responding does not mean you are being controlled by, or have to give in to, the child's desires. A child that is happy and secure and can communicate will not feel like crying most of the time.

A baby that has learned to communicate in other ways will not need to cry except when really in pain. This transition is important... parents who ignore their baby's crying not only miss the development of the more subtle pre-talking communication, they also can become dangerously immune to the screams of real need. A close friend of mine had the experience of being a woman's home when her 2 1/2 year old child began to fuss and cry... not wanting to deal with it then the mother put her in another room and closed the door. The child's crying began to subside a little and then grew increasingly persistent until the screaming was unbearable. The mother ignored this ``temper tantrum." Finally going in to spank the rebellious child, she found that her daughter had found a box of matches and lit her dress on fire by mistake. Sustaining burns over 80of her body, the little girl died in the hospital.

Only once as an adult have I been m a situation where I was trapped, unable to free myself, and my screams for help were not heard for over 30 minutes. Even though I knew I was not in imminent danger and someone would eventually show up (something babies do not have the capacity to figure out), my sense of vulnerability, fear and irrational feelings of abandonment are clear in my mind to this day. Babies have feelings just like adults, the feelings become even more irrational, and much of what they learn in the first year is recorded in feeling reactions.

Objection #3: Even if he doesn't cry for everything, if you are so responsive, won't your baby become an uncontrollable toddler, always expecting what he wants immediately?

When your baby gets older, he will be able to understand much more and you will be able to institute limits that will not affect his security or faith in your responsiveness. For example, long before he can talk, a baby can understand simple spoken commands. One of the first phrases my son learned to understand (along with ``don't touch") was ``lie down." When I would put him in bed for a nap at 18 months of age, he would try to get up, and I would say ``lie down" and put him back down again. After a few days, and many examples (this is not strong will, this is learning), he would drop back on his tummy when I said ``lie down." Now for him the game was over, and he had to learn to obey. As I was now quite sure that he understood what I wanted him to do, if he would refuse to lie down when I told him to, I would give him a little smack on the back of the legs. His crib was by our bed, and I would lie down and take a nap at the same time (partially because I needed it and partially because the modeling made it easier for him to understand that I wanted him to lie down and go to sleep.)

By the time our second son was born, our oldest son, now 20 months, knew that he had to lie down and at least try to sleep, when I put him in bed. Now I would nurse my newborn to sleep while telling a simple story to my oldest son, who would lie quietly in bed and listen until we all fell asleep together. Sometimes, if I did not want to get up after they were both asleep, I would nap between them on the bed. My older son would lie quietly or softly mumble baby-talk if he woke up before the rest of us.

It would have been so much easier for me to just have put him in bed, shut the door and let him cry it out until he learned that I wasn't coming back.... BUT he wouldn't have learned the same thing. By going the ``harder" route, I had taught him that 1) my words mean something, 2) he has to obey my words, and 3) I am still there but he can not always get what he wants. If I had merely left him to cry, he would have learned: 1) I put him in bed then disappear, 2) no one can hear him cry, or no one cares, when he is in bed. His life would have been fertile ground for feelings of fear, abandonment, or glassy-eyed hopelessness.

Babies that are left in bed to cry often develop signs of stress (such as rocking or banging themselves in the crib, daytime thumb sucking, hair twirling or pulling, etc.), or signs of transferred dependency (obsessive attachment to objects, toys, or blankets to the extent that they would rather part with their parent than the object, and become panicky or unable to sleep without it). A child that has given up hope in someone ever coming is not the same as a child that has been trained to obey, although on the surface they may seem very similar.

Again, the foundation of godly parenting must always be godliness as established by God's word and Biblical values. We cannot expect to violate God's character and be a godly parent. Responding to those who ask is basic to God's character, as is comforting those who are in distress. II Corinthians 1: 3-5 says ``Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in ALL our troubles so that we can comfort those in ANY trouble, with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."