Though I no longer have a job title that matches the majors on my degree, I will always be incredibly glad I studied child development and social psychology. I use that knowledge daily as a writer, an advocate, and especially as a mom. That knowledge helped me filter out dangerous, unsolicited advice people often give to new moms — like how I should ignore some of my then-infant son’s cries so that he'd learn that he couldn't “manipulate” me — among other things. Thankfully, I already knew all the positive things you teach your baby when you proactively respond to their cries, and knew that I should feel confident in trusting my instincts (the same instincts that were telling me to take his cries seriously).
Of all the weird things people say about babies, the claim that answering their cries teaches them to be “manipulative” might be the weirdest. Manipulation (at least, in the commonly used, negative sense) requires a level of social and cognitive sophistication an infant just plain doesn't have. Plus, their needs are so simple that they'd have no motivation to manipulate anyone around them even if they were capable of such a thing (unless they weren’t being taken care of). Indeed, one of the best ways to ensure that a person does become manipulative is to ignore their needs — needs for belonging, for love, or for food, water, or shelter — thereby teaching them that they can't rely on straightforward, honest communication to get their needs met. Wanting to raise kids who aren't manipulative is perhaps one of the best reasons to proactively respond to a baby’s cries, and to do our best to ensure all of their other caregivers do the same.
One of the simplest yet wisest things I ever learned about babies came from my sister, who casually noted that fussing and crying “is just language” while describing how she stayed calm when caring for my fussy baby nephew. Crying can be really upsetting to us as adults, but infant crying is supposed to upset us so that we handle (and eventually, learn to anticipate) whatever need the baby has. If we weren't upset by crying, or if babies never cried, we wouldn't necessarily learn to do all the moment-to-moment things babies need to stay safe, full, dry, comfortable, and loved. If we stopped doing all that, they'd die. Fortunately, we can learn to predict a lot of what they'll need before they get worked up into a really bad state. When we proactively respond to their needs and their cries, they learn a lot, too, including: