Children who are spoilt

Do you ever worry that you're spoiling your baby by running to him each time he cries? Or that by smothering him in kisses and cuddles 24/7, you're being an overindulgent mum?

Well, the good news is that it's actually impossible to spoil your baby during his first year.

'Spoiling implies that, unless you take a firm hold of your baby's behaviour from the start, he'll grow up to be selfish and dema

Do you ever worry that you're spoiling your baby by running to him each time he cries? Or that by smothering him in kisses and cuddles 24/7, you're being an overindulgent mum?

Well, the good news is that it's actually impossible to spoil your baby during his first year.

'Spoiling implies that, unless you take a firm hold of your baby's behaviour from the start, he'll grow up to be selfish and demanding,' says child psychologist Dr Pat Spungin. 'But under 12 months there's no wilfulness in your baby, and you really can't spoil him.'

Once your baby passes his first birthday, he'll start to see himself as a little individual with a will of his own. This is when 'besotted mummy' needs to become 'firm-but-fair mummy' if you want to avoid spoilt and demanding behaviour later on. 'Once your child is over 12 months he'll have an increasing sense of self-assertion,' says Dr Spungin.

'This is the age where not giving in and being consistent are important.' So how do you know whether you're just loving your baby to bits or turning him into a little monster? Here's how to tread that tricky line between love and spoiling during your baby's early years.

From 0-6 months

Relax! At this age your baby doesn't even know that he's a separate person from you, let alone that he can manipulate you or get into a power struggle with you. You can respond to his every whimper and indulge him with kisses, cuddles and love without any fear of spoiling him.

Crying
'My mum said I was creating a rod for my own back by picking Eve up when she cried, especially if I'd just put her down for a nap,' says Maxine Farley, 27, from Runaway Bay, Queensland, mum to Eve, 10 months. 'She seemed to think that, by giving in to Eve, I would turn her into a more demanding baby.'

In fact, when your baby cries he's not trying to control your behaviour or wear you down. He simply feels that something is not right and crying is the only way he can tell you. Responding to him each time he cries, whether it's for a feed, a cuddle or a nappy change, helps him to feel secure and settled. Leaving him to cry will only make him more fretful and clingy, or what some people would call 'spoilt'.

Feeding on demand
Not so long ago mums were encouraged to feed their babies according to a strict four-hourly timetable. Nowadays experts generally agree that it's best to let your baby set the pace to begin with. This doesn't mean you are spoiling your baby or 'storing up trouble for later on'. It simply means that you are responding sensitively to his needs.

Kisses, cuddles and carrying
New mums sometimes feel they shouldn't hold or carry their baby too much in case it gets to the point where he refuses to be put down. In fact, research shows that physical contact like carrying, cuddling and massage, far from spoiling your baby, actually makes them feel more secure and settled. That means he'll be more willing to be left to his own devices and amuse himself as he grows older, not less.

6-12 months

Between six months and a year, your baby still needs all the love and kisses you can muster, but he also has to start fitting in with family life. Introducing a few routines and boundaries now will help to prevent difficult behaviour later on.

Clinginess
At around nine months you may find your baby becomes more clingy and demanding than usual. This is because he's realised that you're a separate person to him and he's frightened that, each time you go away, you might not come back.

The best way to handle this difficult stage is to offer him plenty of hugs, attention and reassurance. Stay with him when you can, hold him if he's distressed and try not to leave him for long periods with other people to '˜get him used to it'.

Allowing for the fact that he's a bit clingy at the moment won't turn him into a spoilt Mummy's boy. In fact, according to Dr Spungin, it'll do just the opposite: 'There's evidence that babies with parents who are warm, bonded and physical at this stage are more secure later on,' she says.

Routine
If you haven't done so already, it's a good idea to start building a good, consistent routine for your baby. The secret is to gradually nudge your baby towards regular times for feeds, naps, play and bedtime. He may grizzle if you leave him an extra half hour before a feed or when you put him in his cot at 7pm each night, but in the long term a good routine will help him to feel more confident and secure. It also gently introduces him to the idea that, actually, it's Mummy who calls the shots round here!

12 months+

Once your child passes his first birthday and starts to develop a will of his own, it's perfectly possible to 'spoil' him, especially if you give in to him when he throws a tantrum or behaves badly.

Tantrums
'The one time Jake is guaranteed to have a tantrum is when it's time to leave the playground and go home,' says Claire Palmer, 33, from Gosford, NSW, mum to Jake, 15 months. 'Quite often I'll give in and let him have one more go on the slide. But then he'll have another tantrum when I try to leave again!'

Claire's learning one of the golden rules of parenting: never give in to tantrums or your child will quickly learn that that's how to get what he wants.

UK child psychologist Dr Patricia Spungin says, 'If your child learns that he can get things by creating a scene, you will make things difficult for both you and him when he's older.'

If he's having a tantrum, don't shout back or argue with him. Make sure he's safe and can't hurt himself by holding him firmly if necessary and then try to ignore his kicking and screaming. Don't give in, and in time, your little one will learn that tanties don't achieve anything and start to communicate more reasonably.

Helping your child
When you're leading a busy life, it's easy to fall into the trap of doing everything for your toddler, from helping him eat to putting his shoes on to tidying up after him. If this carries on for too long, you'll end up with a child who expects you to wait on him hand and foot when he's older. Most toddlers love being given the opportunity to do things for themselves and, if you invest a bit of time in showing him how, it will save you work in the long run.

Presents
Constantly showering your child with presents and treats won't spoil him exactly, but it could teach him not to value things. After all, if he already has hundreds of toys, why should he get excited about one more? One thing that definitely will spoil your child, though, is giving him a present or treat to stop him behaving badly. Dr Spungin says, 'Bribes just reinforce the behaviour you are trying to avoid,' warns. 'If your child gets what he wants once, he'll just make even more of a fuss next time.'

The trouble with Nana

What is it with grandparents? One minute they're telling you off for spoiling your baby by picking him up when he cries, and the next they're shovelling Freddo Frogs into him just before lunch. Family counsellor Christine Northam shares her tips for keeping the family peace:

  • Take your courage in your hands and set a few ground rules for grandparents from the start it'll save conflict later on.
  • Decide your priorities: you may decide you don't mind your child having a small gift each time he goes round to Gran and Grandad's house, but sweets between meals are definitely out.
  • Explain that you understand where they are coming from, but times have changed and things are done differently now.
  • Be prepared to be flexible a little bit of give and take will help to avoid arguments.