There is a perception out there that babies will “manipulate” their parents. A baby’s cries can manipulate you into picking them up when you hadn’t intended to, but that does not make the baby manipulative.
When a new baby cries, it is because they have a need they want met, it is a simple as that. There is no thought behind it, it’s an instinctual action for them. Over time, your baby becomes aware of this form of communication and knows that crying will get their needs met. At this point, a baby that is hungry, cold, or even board will cry with anticipation that you will respond. Some parents perceive this as manipulation, but the truth is far from it.
A 6 month old has no words to tell you how they are feeling and don’t even necessarily understand what they are feeling. They cannot tell you they are wet, or gassy, or lonely. They have a limited number of ways to communicate with you and crying is their strongest tool.
We are programmed to respond to our baby’s needs, and crying causes an immediate emotional and physical reaction in a mother. Women actually experience biological changes when they hear their baby cry and our natural instinct is to pick them up. Over time, women who allow their babies to cry can desensitize themselves and override their natural instincts. When this happens and baby is repeatedly shown their cries will not be answered, they lose trust that their caregiver will meet their needs and learn that their communications are in affective.
When a baby cries because they have learned they will be picked up, they are not manipulating you any more then they are when they wiggle with excitement and smile when they see you, they are communicating. The strong emotional need to comfort your child is a natural reaction and you are not being manipulating, you are reacting with your instincts. By responding to those cries, you are reinforcing their attempts of communication and trust they have in you to care for them.
Another thing to remember, is the desire to be held close, to feel comforted by the one they love and trust is as much a need as needing a diaper change or to be fed. Many people are told that if their baby has been fed and doesn’t “need” anything, then that child is just trying to manipulate you into getting what they want. That is a sad, old fashioned, over simplification of the complexity of another human being. Just like us, babies can feel sad, lonely, board, frightened, etc. Even if their physical needs have all be met, a 8 month old baby may just need you or a change of environment, even when they are “fine”.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that you are spoiling your baby, being manipulated, or letting your baby rule your life, ask them how they would feel if they were scared and left alone while their loved one sat outside the door because they were “fine” and aren’t going to be manipulated into letting them out. Tell them with confidence that you are not being manipulated, but are in fact teaching your child that not only are their communications understood, but that their emotional needs are as important to you as their physical ones. And most importantly, know that your baby needs and loves you and that you are doing the right thing for both of you.
Parenting Redefined - Letters from Baby: Please don't let me cry
Woman Uncensored - Just let her cry
Dr. Sears - 7 Things Parents Should Know About Baby's Cries
Dr. Sears - Science Says: Excessive Crying Could Be Harmful to Babies
Dr. Ben Kim - Cry It Out: The Potential Dangers of Leaving Your Baby to Cry
The Natural Child Project - The Con of Controlled Crying
Dr. Stephen Juan - 'Crying it out' may damage baby's brain
PhD in Parenting - Cry it out (CIO): 10 reasons why it is not for us
Peaceful Parenting - Should Baby Soothe Himself to Sleep?