Crying as a Baby May Lead to Lifetime of Behavioral Problems

Filed under: Babies, In The News, Behavior

crying babies

Parents should help babies learn to soothe themselves. Credit: Getty Images

Singing "hush little baby, don't you cry" isn't just a sweet way to soothe a cranky newborn. It's a skill you better get down pat, or you may be in for a lifetime of behavioral woes.

New findings suggest that while crying and waking in the middle of the night may be a normal part of a newborn's life, regular wailing episodes that last beyond the first year could signal chronic depression, anxiety and other conduct disorders by the time they're ready for kindergarten, Time magazine reports.

Researchers in England looked at nearly two dozen studies on what developmental experts call regulatory problems, including sleeping, continuous crying and difficulty feeding, reporting their findings in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. They found that infants who consistently cry and wake up past the third month are nearly twice as likely to develop problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior or conduct disorders by the time they begin school.

What happens, the experts report, is that the babies never develop the ability to calm themselves down or act appropriately in different social situations, according to Time.

"We found a particularly strong relationship between regulatory problems in infancy and conduct disorders or ADHD, which are problems of under-control, in which children can't regulate their attention, or fly off the handle and can't control their behavior," Dieter Wolke, one of the study co-authors and a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Warwick in England tells Time.

It's not exactly certain what the link is to crying jags and a lifetime of fussy behavior, but there are several possible reasons, Wolke tells Time. What might happen, the experts tell the magazine, is that the babies never develop the ability to calm themselves down or act appropriately in different social situations.

Wolke tells Time the data doesn't support an obvious link between extended crying jags and picky eating during infancy and later behavioral problems, but there are several possibilities. One may be that crying and waking up at night are simply the first signs of behavioral problems involving a lack of self-control.

In addition, Wolke tells Time, some infants may be genetically susceptible to problems regulating their behavior; specifically, scientists have recently identified a version of a gene involved in dopamine function, which governs mood and emotions as well as motor function, that may make some infants more vulnerable to behavioral problems.

The findings suggest that parents should do what they can to help their babies learn to sooth themselves. Parents should learn to establish schedules and not run to pick up babies every time they cry, Wolke tells Time.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.