Why babies don’t “behave”

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.


Miriam is a work from home mama who literally can’t stop kissing Dalia, her delicious 2 year old. Miriam’s other loves are her husband Misha, and escaping the Boston winters with friends and family in Israel. She loves reading parenting books, lunchtime yoga classes, crafting and helping others find their purpose through life coaching.

2 thoughts on “Why babies don’t “behave”

  1. Actually, we’ve always gotten comments on how well behaved our daughter is. I think its just her temperament. When she’s been on her worst behavior, people have commented how well behaved she is. I’m not saying I’m a terrible parent. I just know from experience with other babies throughout my life, she is unusually easy-going.

    Children’s reactions are not a grading scale parents should judge themselves by. Like it or not, while they feel hungry, wet and upset, they often do not know what they need and as they start figuring it out, they don’t know the difference between wanting something and needing something. Limits are important as they grow older. I’d rather allow my daughter to cry in her carseat while we’re driving than to take her out and let her roam free while I’m driving. The same is true for other behaviors.

    It’s vitally important to adjust your parenting to their age and temperment. There is not a one size fits all answer to parenting children. Not only do they come in all shapes and sizes, but your child is constantly developing and changing.

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