What do you think of pampering a child

Long-running pampering

The toughest nut

The topic of pampering is definitely the hardest nut to crack among the "educational topics". Parents have long accepted that children can get clean at their own pace, they have accepted that babies can decide for themselves when to breastfeed, and they no longer see anger attacks as a moral meltdown. But basically, very little has changed when it comes to “pampering”. Many parents still think pretty much the same as their great-grandparents during the imperial era: Just don't always “give in” immediately. Just don't give too much closeness. Counter hold.

Developmental psychologists have now tried to overcome the parents' “fear of being spoiled” about children's needs. You have come up with a nice list of children's needs - by fulfilling them, children could not be pampered. However, the message did not really get through to many parents - maybe because the list is really long and you can see needs one way or another.

A look at human history ...

So I want to try it here from the perspective of human evolution. For more than 99% of human history, closeness to familiar adults and their immediate affection for young children has been the ticket to survival. That small children were carried a lot, that they were breastfed frequently, as required and for a long time, that they slept with their mother at night - all of this was part of the normal life program under typical living conditions. Quite simply: Proximity meant protection - and children couldn't get enough of that at a time when hyenas were still sneaking around camp and there were no triple-glazed windows and central heating!

From an evolutionary point of view, the fact that children would be pampered by allowing them to be close is as plausible as cuckoo poo in a cuckoo clock. Or, to put it less profanely: Our children come from a world in which it would have been DANGEROUS to answer one of the questions asked at the beginning with something other than a clear no. They come from a world in which they HAD to demand closeness - and still become independent in the process.

Really? Can we be sure that the babies of the past, used to being close, have become independent? Certainly. The world of our ancestors was not covered with plush. After the nursing period, the children had to prove themselves in the group of the other children of the tribe - mom was now fully occupied with a newcomer. The leash was now very long and the child, who had been cared for for a long time in the vicinity, was heavily dependent on its own strength and possibilities ... (more on the subject of independence from the point of view of evolution at: http://www.kinder-verhaben.de/downloads.html )

In any case, a look into the past suggests one thing: We cannot banish the pampering specter by withdrawing or withholding our children from being close. We cannot defuse the pampering problem by keeping them “at a distance”. We can't solve the problem by nodding our head violently at the questions up there.

But how then?

Well finally. Because this question leads us away from our own fears. It leads us to our children and their wonderful, colorful development.
Because children, and even babies, not only have a "closeness program" that constantly drives them to the mother's breast or pegs her to some lap - they also have an "exploration program", often referred to by psychologists as the "instinct for self-efficacy" . This program is, so to speak, the “counterbalance” to the sewing industry - it drives small children from within to be “effective” themselves, to explore, to understand the world and to intervene in it. If children are allowed to live out this instinct, they experience themselves as their own "moving" person - not just as an appendage to their parents, but as their own person. This is the first step towards independence. Children need limits, it is always said - that may be, and real life is not stingy with obstacles and limits. But children also need the opposite of boundaries: they need space to develop, space to explore - and parents who do not withhold them out of fear, worry or despondency.

The second step to independence comes a little later and leads the child to his or her actual purpose - namely into the group of children. From an evolutionary point of view, the children's group was, so to speak, the natural refuge after the little ones were weaned from their breasts and “catapulted” out of their mother's lap. (Incidentally, catapulting hits the very abrupt transition very well, because the next baby that was born there was, like all Stone Age babies, a 24-hour baby ...)

Child needs in balance

This closes the circle. From an evolutionary point of view, children got a lot of closeness - more than we often want or can give them today. But they ALSO got the opportunity to find themselves - and there too: A LOT of it! - especially the, yes, "closeness" to other children who throw their own head, their own ideas, goals and demands into the ring. A child had to find their way around, there they developed their social skills and the ability to get along with others and to cooperate. THERE, it got to know the "limits" - limits as they are written in the lives of others, not just any pedagogical guide. Then it became independent.

And that would also bring me to the definition of “pampering”, as I see it: “spoiled” children lack independence and competence in dealing with themselves, with other children and adults. They just couldn't practice all of this - they lack the EXPERIENCE how to get along with others! And because they were unable to develop their social self, they remain pinned to their previous self, their infant self. So you cannot cope with your emotions yourself, but have to let your mum or dad continue to manage your mental household completely. No wonder that they are also often dissatisfied in the children's group, where other children have long since been able to “get involved”.

How do I know that children basically don't WANT to be spoiled at all? That you WANT to become independent? Because otherwise we wouldn't all be here today. If the children had failed because of the “pampering” problem in the evolutionary past, then they would have flown out of the curve of life somewhere. They would not have become our ancestors. And I wouldn't be sitting here trying to pamper you ...

Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook

The author

Dr. med. Herbert Renz-Polster, born in 1960, is a pediatrician and scientist at the Mannheim Institute for Public Health at Heidelberg University.

This article is a summary of considerations from the book “Understanding Children. Born to be wild: how evolution shapes our children ”(Kösel Verlag, 2009). In 18 chapters, it deals with child development from the perspective of evolutionary behavioral research.
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Created on October 27th, 2011, last changed on October 27th, 2011