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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Over the past century, I've noticed that the age at which a person stops being considered a baby has grown younger and younger. A century ago, people were considered babies until around the age of 7. Then, around 50 years ago, the age dropped to three or four. During the '80's, it dropped again to around age 2. And now, it's dropped even further to about age 1. I've even heard people say babyhood ended around 6-months.

So, then I started wondering, why all this pressure to grow kids up? Why is 'baby' used as a derogatory term? I'm not talking about a child being insulted because I referred to him as a baby - but the actual parents becoming uptight and clearly upset because I referred to their 2 y/o as a baby. I often hear parents telling their children, "Don't be a baby. Big boys don't cry." Why is being a baby about the most insulting thing you could say to a child? I realised that to parents, being a baby is often considered a negative thing. They want their children to hurry along as fast as possible, because they feel that if their children are doing things ahead of the curve, they will be more successful later in life. You hear it all the time. "My child was walking/eating solids/weaned/potty trained/reading/talking early." But is early always a good thing? Einstein was a late bloomer. So were many other greats. Is rushing your child through an important stage in life going to make him better equipped to handle future stages? If you rush through 1st grade, will you be better at 2nd grade? Or will you be falling behind because you weren't allowed to take the time you needed in 1st grade?

I've also noticed a sexist thread along with the babyhood conundrum. People refer to girls as babies far longer than they do boys. A 5 y/o girl(or even a grown woman) is often referred to as, 'baby girl', but a newborn boy is referred to as, 'little man'. Baby girl clothing styles look like actual baby clothes, while baby boy clothes look like miniature versions of men's clothes. Baby boys are urged to grow up faster than baby girls, and I've found people are more insulted if their boys are referred to as babies than if their girls are. I also hear people insulting their boys with the word 'baby' ("Don't be a baby. You're a big boy.") far more often than with girls.

Personally, I feel that babyhood stretches over the first 7 years of life. First, you have infancy (birth-11 months), then toddlerhood (1-3 years), and then young childhood (4-6 years) which is a bridge between babyhood and childhood. I find that it takes, on average, seven years for a child to grow from fully dependent to fully independent. One doesn't simply jump from being a baby to being a child - it's a gradual climb from one to the other. Yes, children after age 7 still require guidance, discipline, mentoring, security - in short, all the things a good parent provides - but they no longer need help to survive. They can dress themselves, brush their own teeth, comb their own hair, wash themselves, prepare a basic snack (sometimes, even a meal), do basic chores (sweeping, taking out the trash) on their own, walk a mile without assistance (stroller or being carried), and navigate their way around their own neighbourhood.

In contrast, children under 7 (even in the 4-6 range) still have many behaviours that go with babyhood. I live in a large city where people walk long distances, so most children are in strollers until age 5-7. The worldwide weaning average is age 4 (I weaned at age 5, my brother at age 8)). Even if a child weans earlier, s/he may still have a strong suck need, and use a pacifier, thumb, or bottle until age 2-7 (I see many children who look about 4-5 with a binky firmly in their mouths). Babies tend to have a very strong touch need as well, and a desire to be held/cuddled frequently until age 4-8; touch needs sometimes also tie in with a desire to sleep close to their parents until age 2-9 (my 7 y/o still prefers to co-sleep). And while babies on average say their first word around age 1, their speech is often not coherent to those who don't spend a lot of time with them until age 4.

I've also observed that once a person is no longer deemed a baby (somewhere around age 1-3 these days), it's no longer socially acceptable for them to do 'baby' things - such as nursing, co-sleeping, being held, wearing diapers, crying (I'm not talking weeping, but the sort of crying that arrises for no apparent reason - often because they have a hunger, sleep, or touch need), napping, riding in the stroller, having a short attention span, requiring frequent movement (i.e. can't sit still for long periods), and lacking social decorum (sharing, using polite language, introducing oneself, joyfully greeting others, covering their mouth when they cough/sneeze); even though most children still need to do all of these things until age 5-8.

Age 7 was also viewed in the past as the age of reason. In England, when King Henry VIII started the first public schools, parents wondered at which age they should start sending their child to school. In response to that question, parents were told to give their child a simple test: offer him an apple and a coin, and see which one he chooses. The child who chose the coin (of far greater value than the apple) was deemed ready for school, as he had the capability to reason the value of each object. If you offered a 4 y/o the choice of either her favourite sweet or a $5 bill, which do you think she'd choose?

I suppose my point in all of this is, babyhood is just a stage like any other - no greater or lesser than adulthood, old age, adolescence, or childhood. . It's a stage where very small, helpless people are gradually learning to take care of themselves and be independent. Therefore, I don't see why it should be insulting to call someone a baby if they clearly look like one and present characteristics of a baby. Just like it isn't insulting to refer to a fully grown man or woman as an adult. Just because they're a baby, doesn't mean they're not a person. A person is any human of any age, who deserves respect, kindness, and compassion.

I've been met with some negativity over my views on this topic, and I'm aware that they are somewhat against the grain of society. However, I thought I'd reach out to this community to discuss this on a broader level, as I've had a very positive experience with everyone here, and I'd love to hear other people's points of view. Would you be insulted if someone referred to your 1-6 y/o as a baby, and why? When did you stop seeing your own children as babies, and what made the switch in your mind? Do you think society views babyhood as a bad thing, and would you be open to changing that mindset by using the term 'baby' as a positive word only? I would love to hear what you think.
 

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I honestly don't know where you're coming from with half of this. Sure, I have heard people say, "Don't be such a baby," to children as young as 2, and I think it's an unnecessarily negative and unhelpful approach, but in most cases the specific behavior they are seeking (put the yogurt into your mouth with your spoon, not into your hair with your hands; walk across the room if that's where you want to go, instead of flopping bonelessly around my feet wailing for me to carry you) is developmentally appropriate to the child's actual age. I often hear people, especially mothers, refer affectionately to "my babies" meaning all their children, even if they're adults. Referring to the youngest child in a family as "the baby" instead of by name takes 1-3 years to wear off gradually.

A century ago, people were considered babies until around the age of 7. Then, around 50 years ago, the age dropped to three or four.
Why do you think this?

In 1915, my grandfather was 5. His mother taught in a one-room school, where he not only attended school all day but was responsible for getting the heating stove started every morning. I doubt she was thinking of him as a baby.

My parents and their siblings were young children in the 1940s-50s. They all were fully toilet-trained by the time they turned 2 and playing outside for hours without adult supervision by 3 or 4, and these were norms in their neighborhoods (in two different parts of the U.S.)--but you're saying children even older than 3 or 4 were "babies" before 1965?

You hear it all the time. "My child was walking/eating solids/weaned/potty trained/reading/talking early." But is early always a good thing?
No, it's not always--but the belief that it means the child is "advanced" is nothing new and in fact is less in fashion than it used to be. The parenting books on my parents' shelf, published between about 1960 and 1975, encourage starting solids and potty training far earlier than current books advise.

School districts have adjusted minimum enrollment ages and eliminated grade-skipping, while many parents have chosen to have their children start school late thinking this will give them an advantage; I don't have numbers handy, but I've read that the age of the average American first-grader is something like 6 months older now than in the 1960s. (However, first grade is more academic now than it was...for a couple of generations...but a century ago, children just beginning school were expected to jump right into a curriculum far more challenging than the current standard.)

Baby girl clothing styles look like actual baby clothes, while baby boy clothes look like miniature versions of men's clothes.
It's not that simple. Plenty of baby girl clothes look like miniature versions of teenaged girls' clothes. My daughter is wearing 18mo and 2T clothing, and it's hard to find shorts that are long enough to cover her diaper--most of them are cut for what would be a "sexy" fit if worn by a woman-shaped person of that size. Although I see "little man" clothes in stores, it doesn't look like it's any harder to find pajama-like pastel clothes "for boys" (blue, with dinosaurs and trains...) than it was when my son was born.

Yes, children after age 7 still require guidance, discipline, mentoring, security - in short, all the things a good parent provides - but they no longer need help to survive. They can dress themselves, brush their own teeth, comb their own hair, wash themselves, prepare a basic snack (sometimes, even a meal), do basic chores (sweeping, taking out the trash) on their own, walk a mile without assistance (stroller or being carried), and navigate their way around their own neighbourhood.
I got to know a lot of families as a Girl Scout leader to girls 5-11 years old in 2003-2009. Yes, they were somewhat self-sufficient, but for the second half of your list there was WIDE variation in what the parents expected or even allowed. Many of the girls had little to no experience preparing food or doing chores--in some cases because their families did not do these things (convenience foods; cleaning people who come in while the family is at work/school); in other cases because the parents felt too harried doing these things with the kids, so one parent would be with the kids while the other was cooking, or chores were done after kids were in bed; in other cases because the parents thought, "Kids shouldn't have to work!" or, "She could get hurt using a knife or the stove." Some of the girls had hardly ever walked a mile because their families drove everywhere. Many of them, even at 10 or 11 years old, had absolutely no sense of navigation as they had NEVER been allowed to go anywhere alone. All this represents MORE extended "babying" of children than when I was that age in the 1980s.

I live in a large city where people walk long distances, so most children are in strollers until age 5-7.
I live in a medium-sized city with many walkable neighborhoods and outdoor gatherings. It is rare to see a child as old as 5 in a stroller unless he/she is disabled. Most kids are walking on their own feet by 2-4 years old. IMO, that's appropriate and builds good fitness habits.

Even if a child weans earlier, s/he may still have a strong suck need, and use a pacifier, thumb, or bottle until age 2-7 (I see many children who look about 4-5 with a binky firmly in their mouths).
I don't...but I'm confused about what you're arguing here: You see children 4-5 years old using pacifiers, and that means they're not being allowed to be babies? You think there is less of this than there used to be?

I've also observed that once a person is no longer deemed a baby (somewhere around age 1-3 these days), it's no longer socially acceptable for them to do 'baby' things
Seems to me that most of the people who oppose breastfeeding, holding/hugging/cuddling, and especially co-sleeping are opposed to them from birth. I do hear, "When they're old enough to ask for it, it's time to wean," or, "Still nursing? But she's past a year old!" sometimes.

But diapers? Most parents I know assume that kids will be using diapers when they turn 2 and quite likely when they turn 3. The expected age of toilet training has gotten later and later since the introduction of disposable diapers.

As for attention span and behavior, I think typical parents these days expect less of their children (not just under 7, but at any age) than when I was a child, which was far less than 100 years ago. I'm always hearing that a child of whatever age "can't" do things that my children could do when significantly younger than that; of course, it's important to be flexible about individuals' capabilities (my son could use a sharp knife safely when he was 3; I'm far less coordinated and couldn't do that until I was 6) but the belief that NO child that age CAN do it is stifling, I think.

Would you be insulted if someone referred to your 1-6 y/o as a baby, and why? When did you stop seeing your own children as babies, and what made the switch in your mind?
Under 3 years old, I would not be insulted unless the tone or expression seemed derogatory. At 3+ years old, I'd mainly be surprised and puzzled, unless the context was one of unusual nurturing--for instance, I'm telling a friend about my child's illness, and she says, "Awww, take good care of that baby!"

My daughter is 14 months old, and I'm beginning to think of her as a "toddler", but I don't yet feel that "baby" is an inappropriate word, and I often still use it myself. She has just started saying the word "baby" and is applying it to her peers as well as younger babies--last week, she and another kid about the same age spent an entire ride on the city bus hollering, "Hi, baby!" and waving at each other. :)

My son gradually changed from a "baby" to a "kid" by the time he was turning 3, I think: weaned, toilet trained, speaking in full sentences, climbing up on chairs to get stuff for himself.

When he was about 18 months old (and tall for his age), we were at a playground, and a boy the same height ran up to him and said, "Wanna play pirates?" My son responded with some happy babble like, "Gubbly gubbly." The other boy gasped, "Hey! You're a--a tall baby!" I thought it was funny how he quickly recognized that this was not a compatible playmate after all (he's a "baby"=doesn't speak fluently; probably not up to the level of imaginative play desired) and recognized the reason for his misjudgment (size). My son likes this story. He doesn't think it was insulting to be seen as a baby--after all, he WAS a baby at least compared to that kid (who must have been 3, even 4) so it was nothing personal.

Do you think society views babyhood as a bad thing, and would you be open to changing that mindset by using the term 'baby' as a positive word only?
I think people often get excited about all the new things a child can do or will soon do, and this can come across as rushing them out of babyhood--but at the same time, many of the same people treasure babyhood, fuss over babies, relish every moment. I don't see an overall negative attitude.
 

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I dont care what other people think.
They may have expressed opinions that my babies were out of diapers too early (they were EC'd), or they they breastfed too long (all child/baby led weaned), that they were in the family bed too long ( we still all co sleep, but older boys 7 and 9 can go to their own room if they want), they dont go to school early enough (other 2 and 3 year olds all seem to be in full time preschool, and all i want for my 3 yo is 1-2 days), that my 9yo was too young to walk to birthday parties on his own, that he should already be doing sleepaway camp...

My babies are my babies. I still refer to my 3yo as 'baby' every so often, but more and more rarely. She is the one who decides. Sometimes she says "Mommy, i'm a baby", then later she will say "Im a girl now!!!' , and zoom off on her scooter way too fast.

I agree there is pressure to make kids grow up faster, but you decide ultimately by following their cues...people will always have different opinions about different things to do with children and feel entitled to express them. I've learned to ignore them unless I specifically solicit them.

I agree that organized schooling is way too early....i dont think 4 year olds should be in full time school. That is definitely for the convenience of the workforce.

ps. as for only using the term 'baby' in a positive light. Agreed. I would never say something like "Dont be a baby..." Thats a matter of validating a child's emotions expression rather than shaming or repressing it.... cant think of other negative ways 'baby' would be used....
 

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I understand your concerns! I just think there is a societal pressure for everything to start earlier as all parents want the best for their kids and are trying to get a competitive advantage. I haven't necessarily thought about the term baby as ever being negative! Thanks for sharing your viewpoint :)
 
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