Many new parents are surprised at how much time, attention, and effort raising a child involves. When they discover that their baby is naturally demanding and dependent, they sometimes worry about “giving in” to his needs.
If they pick him up when he cries, offer a bottle or breast on demand, or keep him near throughout the day, will he soon become too dependent? In our society, independence is viewed as a positive trait, and many parents are concerned if their babies seem too attached to people. Yet, when parents fully understand their child’s dependency needs, they can see there’s no need to worry about their baby’s lack of self-sufficiency.
Infants and young children are almost totally dependent on adults; this is a natural and necessary condition of early childhood. It’s normal for your baby to want the constant comfort of being held, fed, changed, loved, and played with, and there’s nothing harmful about giving in these ways to your young child. A child whose needs are met and who has a strong attachment to his parents develops a foundation of trust and security that will allow him to gradually become independent.
Some parents feel that it’s never too soon to start teaching their child to become independent: “He’s going to have to learn sometime that he can’t always have his way.” “He has to find out what life is really like.” And some parents believe that giving in to a child’s needs in infancy will make it that much harder to get him to give up his dependencies later on.
Parents who are uneasy about how dependent their young child is may, in an attempt to foster independence, make conscious decisions not to meet all of his needs. They may hesitate to pick him up when he cries, or hold back on cuddling or frequent nursing. They may feel guilty and full of self-doubt whenever they do give more than they think they should.
However, if your baby learns to trust your care and support, he’ll turn into a toddler who explores his surroundings with confidence. And as he grows, his natural drive for independence will begin to show. A ten-month-old will want to feed himself, a two-year-old will cry out, “I’ll do it myself,” a three-year-old will feel good going off on his tricycle, and a five-year-old will happily spend time with his friends.
Your young child will always have a strong need to be cared for, of course, but as he gets older, he’ll become more and more independent. Although there will be times when your child temporarily becomes more dependent, when he enters preschool, if your family moves, when a sibling is born, if his early dependency needs have been met, he’ll move into the world with a greater sense of trust and confidence.