Are babies who don’t cry it out smarter, kinder kids?

A new group of studies from Notre Dame have found that children who received more positive touch and affection during infancy turn out to be smarter and kinder than their counterparts who received less.

From Time magazine’s Healthland:

“…Now another group of studies, led by Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez, confirms earlier work suggesting that children who get more positive touch and affection during infancy turn out to be kinder, more intelligent and to care more about others.”

“Narvaez, who will present her findings at a conference in early October, conducted three separate studies. The first compared parenting practices in the U.S. and China. Another followed a large sample of children of teen mothers who were involved in a child abuse–prevention project, and compared outcomes of various types of early parenting practices. The third examined how parents of 3-year-olds behaved toward their children.”

“All three studies suggested the same thing: children who are shown more affection early in life reap big benefits. Researchers found that kids who were held more by their parents, whose cries received quick responses in infancy and who were disciplined without corporal punishment were more empathic — that is, they were better able to understand the minds of others — later in life.”

I am heartened by this news! I am a huge advocate of always responding to a baby’s cry! It makes me nuts when friends would say they let their baby cry or didn’t go and pick up the baby because they didn’t want to spoil him or her! (I have a problem with Time magazine’s use of spoiled in their headline. I don’t think that is spoiling – that’s taking care of your baby!)

He’s a baby. He is telling you he needs something the only way he knows how – by crying! If he stops crying, it’s not that he has learned to put himself to sleep or is comforting himself.  It’s that he’s  learned you’re not coming to help him!

My motherhood guru, Julie Duncan, who is the head of perinatal education at Piedmont Hospital, tells all the mommies she is teaching that you should ALWAYS answer your baby’s cry. You should always pick them up if they are crying. You CANNOT spoil a little baby.

Now as they get older you have to evaluate if you 2-year-old is working you over, but don’t hesitate to pick up you 4-month old!

It only makes sense to me that if you are responding immediately to your baby’s needs. If you are showing them empathy then they in turn will learn that – even at that young age!

What do you think of this study: Does it make sense to you that babies who receive immediate care for the cries and more loving touches and attention are smarter and kinder than their counterparts?

How do you feel about letting babies cry? At what age to you begin to worry about ‘spoiling’ a baby? Do you think they learn to self-soothe when they are young or are they just giving up hope?

31 comments Add your comment

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MaryT

October 11th, 2010
7:49 am

I never let my babies cry it out and I had twins. They are almost 12 now and are very loving kids. I can’t stand to hear a baby cry and the parents do nothing about it. But that’s just me.

hs teacher

October 11th, 2010
7:50 am

I wholeheartedly AGREE! As a young mother I never listened to those people who said, “just let him/her cry,” and made sure my children knew I was there for them and always heard them and always cared about them! Instead of ’spoiled,” I now have caring, compassionate adult children who are raising their children the same way.

Nadia74

October 11th, 2010
8:25 am

Thank you for saying that you cannot spoil a baby. I would like to smack parents who say they “cannot just pick up their baby every time he/she cries.” Why not? Did you not know babies cry?

I always wonder how these same adults who don’t respond to their babies’ cues would react to being ignored by their friends, family, etc. Babies can only communicate by crying. They need something. Yes, sometimes they just need to be held, but it is a need. If you are not willing to hold your baby and respond to their crying, then, maybe you need to not have a baby.

Photius

October 11th, 2010
8:29 am

Do babies who receive immediate care become more intelligent and are kinder? No. Just remember 50% of all psychologists gradute in the bottom half of their class.

Lori

October 11th, 2010
8:32 am

I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that these babies are picked up, but rather that they have more attentive and devoted parents that makes them grow up smarter. I could never let me baby lay there and cry when he was little. Now a 2 year old throwing a fit is a different story, but a little baby who cannot communicate other than crying, why wouldn’t you pick them up and see what’s wrong?? As my son got a little older, we began to explore the “self-soothing” techniques. My son loved the pacifier so I always left a couple in his bed every night, when he’d wake up, sometimes he would cry for a second then roll over and find it and he’d be fine. I also had one of those little baby aquariums that attached to the side of the bed, which he could kick and it would light up and play soothing music. That always made him go back to sleep. If those two things didn’t work within just a few minutes, then it was usually because something else was wrong, then I’d get up and go see him, but not let him scream all night like some people do.

Denise

October 11th, 2010
9:02 am

I don’t know if this is true or not. I am overly sypathetic and empathetic and I was not held for the first 6 weeks of my life according to my mother. I was a preemie (in 1973) and Mama said she was not allowed to touch me until I was out of the incubator (6 weeks old) and that she did not even feel like a mother until a while after that. I wonder if that is why she wasn’t really emotionally available when I was growing up. At any rate, I know I received a lot of love and affection after I got home from the hospital and that I was (AM!!!) “spoiled rotten”. Maybe the first 6 weeks of no affection was over-ridden by all the rest of the love I received since then. BTW, there is no such thing as spoiling a kid in terms of love and affection.

TechMom

October 11th, 2010
9:03 am

The only time I think crying it out for a baby is appropriate is when it’s bed time and there is nothing else wrong. Now I’m not talking about a 2 week old. I’m talking about when you have a 9-month old who has been on a regular schedule and then decides he/she wants to wake up at 3am every night for a week straight. OR if they’re fussy and you can’t figure it out and your patience is up. I remember a couple of occasions when the boy was a baby and suddenly realizing how a parent could succumb to shaking their baby. It’s at that point you have to tell yourself it’s better to walk away and let the child scream their head off while you go stand in the driveway for 10 minutes and collect yourself.

Again though, I don’t think ‘crying it out’ is a parental technique that should be used early or on a regular basis. In cases of sanity though, parents should know it’s ok to walk away for a few minutes and know it’s not going to damage your child for life.

@MaryT – I watched our friends’ 6-month old twins last week. What in the world do you do when they’re both crying??!! It’s really hard to hold two if they’re at the squirmy phase. I’ve watched them several times for our friends since they were born and I have such empathy for parents of multiples now!

BusyMom

October 11th, 2010
9:10 am

@TechMom…you hold both at the same time! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve held both and even fed both babies at the same time. My twins are 2 now and I still pick them both up at the same time sometimes! Multiples are a different story altogether, but you adapt!

Becky

October 11th, 2010
10:08 am

I also don’t agree with lettig the baby cry it out..Guess I have to say that I”m in agreement with Lori’s first couple of lines..

@TechMom..It’s really not that though..I used to take our twins shopping (just me) and I would carry one on each hip, then put them in the basket and away we would go..It’s just something that you learn to adjust to..

Becky

October 11th, 2010
11:35 am

oops.tough…

motherjanegoose

October 11th, 2010
11:55 am

Hi all…I read this earlier and wanted to ponder on it a bit.

I am on the fence with it. When mine were newborns, of course I picked them up when they were fussy. It was the only way for them to communicate. As they get older, I did let them self sooth and used a musical thing in their crib and soft toys to keep them occupied. My son took a pacifier but my daughter did not. I did not run to their crib every time they whimpered.

When our schnauzer was just a puppy….10 weeks old, she used to sit right here and whine for me to pick her up. That got old quickly, as I could not work while holding her. I taught her to sit close to me and not be held all the time. I would talk to her and pet her once in a while. My point is that babies too probably prefer to be held all the time too. Many mommas wore this sling things all day long with their babies sort of tied to them.

Here is where I am confused. I am pretty sure that my own mother did not jump every time we cried. I was thirteen when my youngest sister was born and my mom was quite aloof towards her.
she pawned her off on us. I did a lot for her and thus she has always been close to me. She is a very kind person and really considerate of others.

I see parents who model appropriate behavior all the time and personally think this has a lot more influence on children. I try to be kind to those with whom I work. I have shared kindnesses to neighbors and friends…even strangers who need help at the airport. I held a 2 month old baby at the chiropractor’s office last week and the baby spit up all over my shoulder…no biggy. I see my own children acting kindly and I am hoping it has come from us modeling it to them. My husband spent his weekend helping a neighbor put on siding and then another wonderful friend with his lawnmower. While we have our flaws…we are generally kind and helpful.

Not so sure I am buying into the reasons why the author thinks these children are kinder.
Oh BTW…my husband and I certainly had our share of corporal punishment as children…our parents were quick for a swat and sometimes much more….that was 40 years ago!

FCM

October 11th, 2010
12:47 pm

Tech Mom & MJG seem to have it on target. It truly depends on the age of the “baby” in question.

Children need attention. If they do not get postive, they will accept negative. I hold mine everyday, give them attention, hugs, words.

It goes back to the 5 Love Languages and filling the tank. Physical Touch is one component. I would bet if you look at the families with smart, empathetic children, you would find that the kids Love Tank is full..and heard LOOUDLY in their language.

I have one that hears in Quality Time so I make sure to do something for to spend “Mom Time” (what she calls it) with her daily. The other is touch and words of affirmation. I make sure to hug her and tell her something good about herself daily.

As a parent you should be making sure that child’s tank is full daily.
Love Languages:

Physical Touch
Quality Time
Words Of Affirmation
Acts of Service
Receiving Gifts

BTW, the languages don’t stop at adulthood…you should be speaking your spouses’ language too.

Lady Strange

October 11th, 2010
1:03 pm

When my son was younger I used to get him if he started crying. But when he started sleeping on a schedule I would go longer before I would go get him. Usually 10-15 mins was my max I would let him cry. And then it would depend on the type of cry as well. The I’m scared and need my mommy cry was always answered quickly. Just depends on the situation. Now that he is almost 3, he cries usually when I just put him to bed because he doesn’t want to go to bed. I still answer that I’m scared cry quickly though. He’s just a little boy after all. And he’s a very affectionate kid. I take every opportunity to snuggle with him and let him sit in my lap if he wants. No lack of love in my house if I have any say in it :)

Annie

October 11th, 2010
1:16 pm

As a previous poster said, I think these results are more of a correlation than a causation. In other words, parents who don’t let their babies cry are probably ON THE WHOLE better parents is many other regards – and all of those other factors would contribute to a child becoming an empathic person.

That said, we let my son CIO at bedtime when we were sure nothing else was wrong (controlled crying according to Ferber’s gradual method) at 4 months. Is it ideal? No. Did my sanity, my husband’s sanity and our marriage hang in the balance? Yes.

He is now a happy and playful 12 month old who gets lots of love and attention from a MUCH happier mom and dad.

motherjanegoose

October 11th, 2010
1:44 pm

LOL…when our son was about 5 months old…he was having a VERY fussy day. We were at our wits end trying to calm him down. We passed him back and forth and were both distraught. The doorbell rang…we looked at each other WHO IS THAT?

Our dear neighbor heard all the fuss ( through open windows) and came over to take our son, so we could both CALM DOWN. He was just fine when she took him. We both think he sensed our anxiety and that was compounding the problem. HATS OFF TO OUR NEIGHBOR NELDA WHO SAVED THE DAY!

Sometimes, parents just need to catch their breath too!

I am whatever you say I am

October 11th, 2010
2:19 pm

There is a trick I learned that I hope new parents learn.

When I was transitioning my son to a crib, it was a little hard to get him to go down. My coworker told me to put my shirt (that still smelled like me) in his crib.
I tried that and it worked like a charm. My baby would hold my shirt tight and was able to fall asleep because he still smelled me.

I started putting my son in his crib when I returned back to work-around 3-4 months.
I think it’s easier to put them in their crib (in their own room) at an earlier age versus waiting until they are older to put them in their own room

Becky

October 11th, 2010
3:16 pm

@FCM..Funny that you mention touching..I kept one of my many great nieces this weekend..She is 6 and when I put her to bed, I leaned down to hug her, kiss her and tell her good night..She squirmed away from me..When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that they don’t do night kisses at her house..Broke my heart..I said, well we do it at my house..I believe her though, because I have seen her Daddy, when one of his girls gets hurt and starts to cry, he tells them to suck it up..They aren’t allowed to cry..

JATL

October 11th, 2010
3:32 pm

I wholeheartedly agree that you cannot “spoil” and infant, and I can’t stand to hear people say that! I do think it makes sense that children who are shown lots of affection are kinder and maybe even smarter adults and older kids. I do have to say, I’ve been blessed with two good sleepers, so I’ve never had to seriously consider the “cry it out” approach. The times we’ve gone through phases with both of ours where they would cry when put down for naps or bedtime, I used the approach where I would let them cry for a minute maybe, then go back in, hold for a minute, reassure, make sure nothing was wrong and put them down. The most I’ve had to do this is 3 times. Something about the 3rd time being the charm! I have let them cry as much as 5 minutes before, but that only happened a few times and it was excruciating! I don’t know how people listen to their babies cry for long stretches without going in to them. BUT, I’ve never been so exasperated with a hard-to-sleep kid that I felt like I was going nuts and was willing to try almost anything! I’m not going to be too harsh on people who have used the cry it out method because sleep deprivation and frustration with a baby can make you willing to do just about anything. It is hard to imagine listening to a baby cry for 15-20 or 30 minutes though.

FCM

October 11th, 2010
4:58 pm

@ Becky—depends on how the injury happened….On the soccer field, no blood (includes bruise) no foul…get up and get moving! Roll over a ant hill playing in the grass..you get hugs and kisses. I hear the 2 of them yelling and somebody is crying before I get there…well no hugs for that they should not be fighting (the hitter gets in BIG trouble though). Your sister trips you, you get the hugs. Mine do not seem the worse for wear on any of it.

Breaks my heart on the no kisses rule for your Great-neice. I have a “neice” (really good friend of the family) who gets a hug when I see her, and kiss on the forehead when she spends the night with my girls.

For the record: I didn’t do the 15-30 min cry thing either. Mine never cried that long.

JATL

October 11th, 2010
5:03 pm

@Becky -so sad about your niece! When my oldest (and when my 2 year old is a little older he’ll be told this) starts that whiny-crying for attention because he’s slightly bumped his elbow on a sofa or something, I tell him he needs to suck it up, but if either of mine hurt themselves -and EVERY night, we do goodnight kisses and hugs. I’m fearful for the day they get old enough to say, “Awwww mom -quit it!” I’m an imperfect parent in many ways, but one thing I do feel good about is that I give my boys a lot of affection.

Helen Stevens

October 11th, 2010
5:47 pm

Thank you Theresa. The more who alert families to what the facts are about infant brain development, the more parents can understand that it is TOTALLY unnecessary to do the cry-it-out or modified versions of not responding to your baby. There are ways to respond to a baby that allows the baby the space to self regulate (depending on developmental capacity) and if they can not manage to self calm they will cry, and it is at that point babies learn to trust their care giver and the world around them. The studies have flowed out for years on the impact of unresponsive parenting when it is sleep time for babies. Babies need to be responded to in the early years so they can progressively develop the skill for themselves. Thank you for your voice of reason.
Helen Stevens (author of the Safe Sleep Space book and DVD)

motherjanegoose

October 11th, 2010
5:51 pm

JATL…I still hug and kiss mine. My daughter was with me this weekend and I gave her several hugs and kisses. My son is 6 foot 2 inches and he still puts up with a hug and kiss. I called him at work once and finished up with, “o.k….bye…I love you!” He replied, “I love you too Mom!” Considering he was at work, I thought it was wonderful. It just kind of comes natural here, as we have said it so much.

Mike Bloblo

October 11th, 2010
6:37 pm

“A new group of studies from Notre Dame”

Were priests involved in this study?

Michelle

October 11th, 2010
9:23 pm

Help! I have never believed in letting a baby cry it out – at least not at a young age, but I’m at my wit’s end! My son, Owen, my second child is about to be 6 months old. I have always responded to his cries quickly. At 3 weeks, I began to put him in his bed when he was sleepy to teach him to fall asleep there on his own. It occasionally worked, but usually I would have to pick him up several times, each time with him getting more upset. By 3 months, I had a pretty good routine. I would swaddle him, give him his pacifier, bounce him on the edge of the bed for maybe a minute, and he’d fall asleep. At this point, he was also sleeping 6-8 hours most nights. At 3 1/2 months, overnight, naps became a 20-30 minute screaming fit, in my arms, until he fell asleep. He began to refuse the pacifier and soon began to hate to be swaddled. By 5 months, his naps shortened to 20-45 minutes each and he began to wake about every 2 hours through the night – that’s where we are now. The only ways he can get to sleep are bouncing, stroller, and car. Nursing puts him back to sleep in the middle of the night, but not during the day. I read the book No Cry Sleep Solutions and have been trying methods from there for about 2 weeks. We have established a bedtime routine of bath, book, stroller ride. I have begun to try not nursing him every time he wakes, because I know he’s not hungry – this often works once or twice a night, but sometimes it’s the only thing that will put him to sleep. I took him to the doctor and made sure he didn’t have an ear infection. He also has not been cutting any teeth. I raised his mattress in case of acid reflux. Nothing I’ve done seems to make any difference. He doesn’t smile or laugh as much as he used to and cries more – I really don’t think he’s getting enough sleep. I have read several accounts of people who got their babies to start falling asleep on their own and sleep all night within a matter of days by letting them cry it out. I’m so tempted to try it! Any advice would be appreciated!

deidre_NC

October 11th, 2010
9:55 pm

funny this topic is today- i am reading a book by lisa unger and in one chapter she says….’and i figure if you dot have a half hour to be with your child as she goes to sleep. if you think shes better off crying alone in her bed so you can be sure of whos in charge, then maybe you shouldnt have kids.’ thats pretty much how i feel too. you cant give a kid of any age too much love. what constitutes love just changes some as they grow.

Running mom

October 11th, 2010
10:15 pm

I completely agree! It drives me crazy when people advise me to let my six month old son cry it out. Like many first time moms, I was exhausted and looking for pretty much anything to get my baby to sleep through the night. Crying it out just wasn’t the answer to my son’s needs. I found it made me crazy anxious and irratated, wondering what was wrong. My pediatrician even told me crying it out wasn’t the answer. So, I quickly dropped that and started cuddling and rocking more, singing to him — just being with him if that’s what he wants. No, he’s not sleeping 12 to 14 hours straight at night, but that’s okay. I’ve been totally rewarded by our sweet times together. Him looking up at me when we rock, sometimes he strokes my faces with his little chubby hand and I can’t help but smell his sweet skin and kiss his baby cheeks. I think our society of moms have forgotten that motherhood is about sacrifice. Children aren’t machines to be programmed. Yes, they should have boundaries and schedules, but not at the loss of time spent just being together. It’s not about you anymore and more about the needs of your child. Tune in. You won’t regret that time together. Just remember, sleep loss is the name of the game when they’re little. This too shall pass! …and all too quickly!

[...] (Check back in at 2 p.m. for a second topic. Also make sure you caught yesterday’s discussion about whether letting kids cry it out can mak… [...]

Becky

October 12th, 2010
9:23 am

@FCM & JATL..It deosn’t matter what type of injury, they are all told to suck it up..The oldest one fell off of the car while playing and had a nasty gash on her arm..The minute she cried, he told her that was enough, wiped the blood off, put a bandaid on it and that was it..

As for the no kissing thing, I guess that bothers me, because my Mom didn’t hand out a lot of kisses.. I just that everyone benefits from hugs and kisses..

@Michelle..Could there be something wrong with his formula? I’m not sure what else to ask you, as it sounds like you have covered a lot of “normal” problem things..

@Running Mom..Amen..I remember when the twins Mom told me (when they were smaller) that she was getting enough sleep..Most new Moms never get enough sleep..I know that even when they were sleeping thru the night, I would wake up anyway just to check on them..

Rachael Joachim

October 12th, 2010
1:03 pm

My kids are now 7 and 4, and the whole “Cry it out” phase is now a thing of the past as far as when they were babies and in their cribs. I think as a whole if children are shown empathy and respect, they in turn will do the same for others- no matter what their age. Now, when my children cry, it is usually out of anger, frustration or their temper- and it is up to us to continue to be patient, loving (firm too, to make sure they’re not trying to manipulate the situation) and try and find out what is wrong. Of course, if they got hurt, up into my arms they go, but that’s just me…http://www.paragonfinancial.net/

Darcia

October 15th, 2010
12:42 am

Michelle,
Your baby is crying for what he needs–your touch, your smell, your milk. Humans are the only mammals that separate mothers from their babies. It is very detrimental to growth. All sorts of bad things can happen when a baby is separated and distressed (cortisol in the brain kills neurons; kids developed stressed brains and are more likely to become depressed, and more). Sounds like your baby is showing signs of depression. Breastmilk has all sorts of hormones that the brain needs for brain development so it is good to provide it when a child needs comfort. Your baby’s body signals what it needs and the baby cries from the pain the lack causes. I have seen other infants forced into sleeping alone and going from happy babies to depressed ones. US families are about the only ones in the world that expect children to sleep alone. It actually goes against nature. Here is a website that can give you more research-based information about sleeping practices: http://www.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/
I wish you the best. I’m the one whose research is referred to in the article.