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MI Infant Mental Health Expert: Babies Can’t be Spoiled

April 10, 2008

Detroit, MI - Babies can't be spoiled. That's the first piece of advice from a Detroit mental health expert who specializes in infants. She's sharing tips as part of Michigan's "Month of the Young Child."

As Licensed Master Social Worker Julie Ribaudo explains, research shows that early experiences "wire" the human brain, and babies learn how to trust and be calm based on the responses of their caregivers. She says infants carry those lessons in social and emotional development with them for many years.

"Children who learn to feel calm and safe and secure, in that first year, are the children who are the most ready to learn."

In challenging situations, it's normal to occasionally want to give up rather than teaching calmness, Ribaudo says, especially with a fussy or colicky baby. But keep in mind that such behavior typically only lasts a couple of months, and studies show that colicky babies don't carry any lingering issues from that phase into childhood.

As children get a little older, Ribaudo adds, teaching them to be calm means setting aside "calm time" every day, even in the busiest family schedule, to do something like read a book together. She says she can tell which children have been nurtured in that way, by the time they get to school.

"By the time they're in kindergarten, if they get stressed out about something, they know how to calm themselves down. If they need help with something, they know how to ask for help."

Ribaudo encourages teachers to help children who need extra guidance in social and emotional development, by creating a "safe space" in the classroom, such as a small tent, where children who are feeling upset or overwhelmed can go to be alone.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MI