Why babies don’t “behave”

by Miriam Katz on November 6, 2012

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Have you ever had someone comment to you how “well-behaved” your baby is? If not, don’t worry, just read on.

This compliment reflects a pervasive Western misconception about how babies function. Have you ever met an under-one-year-old who understood what society expected of him and adjusted his behavior to accomodate those expectations? I haven’t.

I was among the lucky parents who was approached by strangers who commented on my baby’s “good behavior” (as opposed to those parents who received seething glares from fellow diners at a restaurant – although, believe me, we got those, too). But I deflected every compliment with a comment on my baby’s state of mind, like, “her tummy’s full and she’s satisfied” or “she’s well-rested.”

Every parent who’s been there knows that it’s impossible to control your baby’s behavior. The best effort we can make to ensure that our baby reflects the contentment and joy we associate with “good” behavior is to anticipate and meet his needs, as well as we can.

My baby was “well-behaved” because her needs were met. She had trouble sleeping alone, so I cuddled her to sleep. She often wanted to nurse, and I met her requests as quickly as possible. She preferred being held to sitting in a carseat, so we carried her in arms or in an ergo most of her first year and well into her second.

Was my baby responsible for regulating her internal state to please strangers in restaurants and supermarkets? No. Her parents were. And believe me, we weren’t thinking about those strangers when we were doing it.

We didn’t do a perfect job, if such a thing exists, but we did the best we could. And she let us know instantly how well we were doing. And so, I guess, did all those strangers.

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Miriam Katz (18 Posts)

A Boston-based WAHM who sees parenting as the most challenging career path she's ever chosen. In her spare time, Miriam is co-author of The Other Baby Book and works as a career and life coach to GenX women and moms.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Daria November 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm

So e things just smack me in the face and make me wonder why I didn’t realize them before! This (babies don’t behave) is going to join ‘he’s not doing it TO YOU’ as my mantras when the going gets a little difficult.

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Kim McCabe November 7, 2012 at 3:00 am

Long before I ever heard of Attachment Parenting I read Desmond Morris’s book ‘Babywatching’ and it showed me, just as your article does, how babies ‘just are’. Even children don’t ‘behave’, they’re problem solving: http://ritesforgirls.com/bad-behaviour-is-solving-a-problem/

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Jane November 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Great advice! I would like to add proper discipline. As parents, it is important to make sure that our baby is aware of what we don’t want them to do (at least for the small things like shouting), but we should also make sure to tell them or make them realize that in a nice way.

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Miriam Katz November 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Jane, I agree that it’s helpful to communicate our expectations to our babies. It’s important to realize, though, that they are just babies and they have a huge learning curve so just because we told them we’d like quiet doesn’t mean they’re capable of delivering on our request. I also try to stay away from the word discipline, which at least in my mind implies punishment for “bad” behavior, and instead focus on educating children with compassion, patience and love.

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Fin Williams November 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Hi Miriam,

I think you are absolutely right. It’s so hard not to feel under pressure when you are out or with others and your baby starts crying. Particularly when others give you unhelpful looks or advice. Just remember you are the one who knows your baby’s communications better than anyone. Take a deep breath and ask yourself “what is s/he trying to tell me?”
there is no such thing as a badly behaved baby, just one who is trying to tell you something

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