17 Parenting Myths People Have Believed for Decades
Don't fall face first into these traps.
Anyone raising kids will tell you that parenting is no easy feat. However, it’s not just tantrums, calculus homework, and getting this year’s must-have toy in time for the holidays that moms and dads are up against. Countless caregivers find themselves battling a rising tide of misinformation, from how often to snuggle their babies to how their own marriage might affect their kids down the line.
With the help of pediatricians, psychiatrists, and other experts, we’ve broken down some of the most pervasive parenting myths. So read on if you need help making the hardest job in the world just a little bit easier.
Your child is better able to learn things before they’re five.
Little kids are capable of learning and retaining a wealth of information—typically even more so than their adult counterparts. That said, if your kid hasn’t learned a second language or mastered Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto Number 2 by their fourth birthday, that doesn’t mean they never will, as some claim.
“If you have natural talent, you don’t need to start before age 5 or before age 3 or anything like that,” says Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. She recommends that parents “don’t go overboard” when it comes to pressuring their child to master specific skills by a certain age. “Hearing [a language] early makes it easier to learn, but that’s not the only way to learn them,” Posner adds.
Holding your baby too much spoils them.
Worried that all that time spent holding and snuggling with your adorable newborn is going to make them a difficult—or downright spoiled—child? Don’t be, says Posner. “This definitely doesn’t happen in the beginning. When they’re newborns, there’s no such thing as being snuggled too much. They need that snuggle time—they’ve just spent nine months being cozily held in utero.”
Every bad behavior requires strong consequences.
Even the easiest kids are prone to misbehaving from time to time. That said, the idea that you need to dole out punishments or rescind privileges every time your kid does something you don’t like—or risk that behavior becoming permanent—is misguided, at best.
“That’s a complete myth,” says Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. “If there are ground rules that have not been pre-established between the parent and the child … they’re not really misbehaving. You can’t hold a child to a standard that hasn’t been established," Mendez notes. "There’s no learning there, it’s just about having some kind of control or authority.”
Instead, Mendez suggests talking to your child about why they behaved a certain way, what they’re feeling, and giving them gentle guidance about the reasons a particular behavior isn’t a good choice.
Easy babies turn into difficult children.
Countless people will tell you—with great gusto, no less—that your smiley, happy baby who slept through the night at six weeks is destined to become a terror as they get older. But “that’s not true at all,” says Posner. “Some kids just have really easy personalities, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be harder older on. There are plenty that are super easy at the beginning and stay super easy.”
Babies only cry because they’re tired, hungry, sick, or injured.
While it’s nice to believe that there’s a magical checklist of things that could be making your baby cry, that’s rarely the case. “Babies will cry randomly over a lot of different things and a lot of the time, you can’t find out why they’re crying," Posner says. "Sometimes they just cry for no reason that you can really explain.”
If you love your kids, parenting is easy.
Loving your kids may be easy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean parenting them will be. “Parenting is not a naturally easy thing to do,” says Mendez. “You can love your kids, but every child is different, and the challenge of parenting is learning how to work with and relate to each individual child—and that is a task. It doesn’t have to be unpleasant, but it is a task.”
Your instincts are always reliable when it comes to your children.
You may know your child better than the doctor they see once a year does, but that doesn’t mean your instincts are always accurate regarding their care—especially when it comes to medical issues. “Sometimes a kid just has a cold and parents insist they have an infection because they know their child," Posner says. "I understand that a parent does know their kid better than a provider, but a medical provider will know better when there’s something truly wrong.”
Being too loving toward your children will make them codependent.
Plenty of people say being too kind, gentle, or affectionate with your kids will only cause problems in the long run—but experts insist otherwise.
“You can’t be too loving to a child in my opinion,” says Mendez. “They need nurturing, they need guidance, they need support, they need a parent who can read their child so they can learn problem solving skills and emotional regulation. A good attachment and bond is essential to positive parenting and to a child’s social and emotional development.”
Giving a baby solids earlier will make them sleep better.
According to countless well-meaning individuals, if you want to get your baby to finally relent and go to sleep, all it takes is the introduction of some solids. But in reality, giving your kids solids too early may actually backfire. “That’s definitely an old wives’ tale. Babies sometimes aren’t ready for [food] and get gassier and have a lot of pain,” says Posner. “Parents will feed them solids and then they’re up all night because their babies are screaming in agony.”
Kids should always be rewarded for good behavior.
Rewarding your kid for everything they do right, according to Mendez, “does not allow a child to internalize the value of what they’re working towards… It ends up curtailing the child’s capacity to take information, process that information, and do something with it from an internal values system.”
Sleep training will come naturally when your child is ready for it.
If you’re waiting for your child to give you cues that they’re ready to be sleep-trained, you’re likely in store for more than your fair share of sleepless nights. “Later on, it’s really tough to sleep train certain kids. If you sleep train a bit earlier, like before they’re able to pull to stand, they’re pretty easy to sleep train. It’s mostly about how willing a parent is to let them cry,” says Posner.
So, when will you have the most success when it comes to sleep-training? “The six-to-seven-month mark is great,” says Posner. “I can’t say 100 percent, but the majority of kids you can sleep train at that point.”
Your kids’ fears are just a stage they’re going through.
“Kids’ fears can be very real and when ignored or dismissed or not responded to, they only grow and escalate,” says Mendez. “We can have reassuring, supportive parents that still have an anxious child, and that fear is very real to that child. Sometimes it might be a phase, but let’s work through that, not dismiss it. That’s dismissive of their emotion and their experience.”
Disagreeing in front of your kids is always traumatizing.
If you’re worried that you scarred your child for life by having a disagreement in front of them, you can breathe easy. While any type of yelling, violence, or name-calling can be traumatic to children, having respectful discussions in front of them may actually be a good thing. When kids are exposed to calm disagreements, “that can be very healthy,” says Mendez. “It can teach the child problem-solving, respect for other perspectives, and it can teach the child to negotiate… They learn that you can disagree and still love each other.”
Breastfed babies are smarter than formula-fed ones.
If you’re breastfeeding in the hopes that you’ll make your kid a genius, don’t hold your breath. Posner says the research that once pointed to breastfed babies having higher IQs later in life than their formula-fed counterparts was flawed. At the end of the day, she explains, keeping your baby from going hungry is more important than what’s in that bottle.
“The most important thing is having a fed baby—their IQ can definitely decrease if you’re trying to breastfeed and the kid is starving,” says Posner. “If you can breastfeed, that’s awesome! But formula-fed babies do really well, too.”
Spanking teaches kids discipline.
Spare the rod, spoil the child? Not according to the experts—and, in fact, spanking can have dire consequences. “There have been some decent studies that show that spanking teaches kids to be more violent and teaches kids to hit more,” says Posner. “Man, is it hard sometimes, but those studies really have reinforced that spanking just teaches more violence for kids.” In fact, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, there is a significant link between receiving spankings in childhood and becoming a perpetrator of domestic violence later in life.
Children of divorced parents always end up having relationship issues.
If your relationship is on its last legs, you don’t have to try to stick it out for the sake of your kids—many children of divorce turn out just fine. “Children who go through divorces where the parents can talk, collaborate, and parent together—those children are going to have a better likelihood of having healthy relationships,” says Mendez. That said, “It requires a lot of effort on the parents’ part to make a divorce a problem-solving situation in which everyone can be civil.”
Your kids’ needs always have to come first.
You certainly need to balance your priorities when it comes to parenting and maintaining your relationship—and that doesn’t mean your kids should always come first. “If your marriage is going to be on the back burner while you’re parenting, it’s not going to last,” says Mendez. “That’s really important for a child to see: that they’re loved, they’re respected, they’re nurtured, but their parents have that same nurturing for their relationship with each other…We need to show that the emotional nurturance goes to everyone in the family.” And for more ways to make your parenting experience more enjoyable, check out these 23 Brilliant Ways to Be a Happier Parent.
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