Early Childhood Development: Why It’s Really Important To Spoil Your Baby

I went to a boring conference, not so very long ago. The speaker, it progressively became clear, seemed like he was under the influence of something. A conference organizer was heard to say that they had to hire a driver, that Mr. Speaker seemed confused, didn’t know where he was, and seemed to ramble. There was a uncoordinated feeling of aggression, though he was simultaneously quiet, even passive-aggressive – if that was a look. He made a few completely unscientific claims which caused me to mutter an expletive loud enough to be heard two or three rows away. I am way too ADHD for most conferences in general, but this one was particularly memorable. Don’t get me started on the sad fact that most professional speakers in the mental health field simply don’t have the speaking chops to warrant being paid to do this professionally. We have settled for people who write books, or have gone to a special course, or who happen to be the flavour of the month at your local health authority. Most speakers kind of suck. Like I said, don’t get me started.

While it may be true that this speaker was altered in some way, that really wouldn’t surprise or even dismay me anymore. Drugs are almost legal and scores of very smart people become addicted to prescription medications or smoke weed more than they know that they should. The list of professionals who have been walked off the property is probably longer than most people would imagine. But alas, this still isn’t our story.

This speaker, inebriated or no, reminded me that when it comes to early childhood development it is the very first part of the story, from a few months before that child is born until 3 or even 4 or 5, that is the most important. Humans do an incredible amount of growing, especially in the brain, during this initial few years of life. They are defined, in a very literal sense, by the experiences and impressions that imprint them in these first few tender months and years.

Now listen to this part. This part is important.

Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that affection is one of the most important things you can give any child in the first three or four years of their life. We throw around words like “attachment theory” because the first people that love a baby will, in a very real sense, imprint a bazillion things through expressions of  love and cuddling and affection and attention. The people that tell you not to spoil your baby are flat-out wrong. Spending time touching that kid, reading them books, giving them hugs, and playing hide-and-go-seek will do more for a young human than any diet or program or trendy stupid crap young parents will believe if they are granola enough. Study after study points out that if a child has at least one adult who will completely love them and help them feel safe than that kid is going to have a much better chance at a complete and happy life. Loving your nieces and nephews and grandkids and those 8 or 10 kids of my friends that I love like an uncle is an incredibly important thing, and the more time you spend with those young ones, especially in those first three or four years, the more they soak in that safety and unconditional love.

That crap sticks.

This is why my kids are so intoxicated with their young children. I must admit to some guilt as well. We are evolutionarily compelled to become fixated on our babies and take way too many pictures, and send me videos every damn day of you life. Sorry, I was projecting. We love our children because that kind of stuff is primal and no one really cares about those pictures of your kid in a raincoat anymore. Family is family; everyone else’s kids are cute for only 5 pictures, 6 tops. Early Childhood Development practitioners would tell you that it is critical that you spend significant time rolling around on the carpet and dancing to those stupid children’s songs sung by neutered hipsters. Watch Baby Jake videos. Embrace the Disney.

Please, spoil your kids and your relative’s kids and be that amazing person in the life of someone you know. Invite your nieces or grandkids or friends kids over for a sleepover and use flashlights. Make tents and do hand-spiders and kiss them over and over and chew on their toes. Read about Attachment Theory.

And don’t forget, some day that beauty is going to be a teenager and tell you off, and you’re going to remember how nice it felt when they were two.

4 thoughts on “Early Childhood Development: Why It’s Really Important To Spoil Your Baby

  1. Developmental psychology is such a complex an interesting field. Mental health expertise doesn’t exist without personal experience; I agree with your assessment of pseudoscientist speakers without an ounce of any actual empathy or compassion, both of which are so important in developing a truly constructive knowledge of mental illness.

  2. When I learned about Attachment Theory as a ‘mature’ Psych student, I wasn’t exactly surprised by it , more just validated that years of insightful thought about the nature of my childhood was actually true. It took me a long time to realize that the love my siblings and myself were clearly so desperately starved for had very negatively affected the way I continued to relate to the people around me, particularly those close to me. It had taken me many years of healing my inner demons through intense counselling to realize that the past should be the past, but it’s often the present and the future if I continued to hold on to the once useful, but now negative thoughts and behaviours that I was using to manage my life with others.
    No one is perfect, and my parents were far from that mark, but they were good people. They just couldn’t show their kids the love they needed when they needed it. The result was various kinds of wounded children trying to fill the emotional holes left using by all the negative coping skills they were taught. Sound familiar? As you say to me often enough, Scott, ‘How’s that workin’ for ya’? I don’t need to answer that question, but I also know that many of my friends grew up in the same cohort, but turned out so much healthier and happier (didn’t I wish), so I realized that many parents got it right, or close enough, even in times where kids were treated more strictly than they are today. Love is obviously a universal common denominator, and the more it gets spread around between parents and their children, the dog and the hamster, the more the world will genuinely be composed of happier and emotionally healthier human beings. And considering the times we’re in, we could certainly use more of that these days

    1. Such an important point, Candace. We do the best we can with the people we love and the light we have at the moment. The longer I do this the more it is apparent that there are a multitude of factors in any life and we are bound to screw it up somewhere down the line. I’m a firm believer, as you are as well, that knowing this stuff helps us in so many ways to become better people, better families, lovers and friends. Spending years feeling bad because you didn’t give your kid a perfect upbringing isn’t helpful beyond the lessons we can learn for the next time.
      Great comments.

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