Parenting, just like clothing, is always changing style. From co-sleeping to breastfeeding, cry it out versus tend and mend, educational toys to educational television, each generation sees its share of parenting myths and trends. Unfortunately, these parenting trends are more often based on social norms rather than hard facts about how children develop or what children need. And while children have to grow up to function well in the society in which they’re being raised, when parents give in too much to parenting fashion and social norms, they may inadvertently stunt their childrens’ development. Here are the biggest myths about parenting:
Parenting Myth 1: Children Should Never See Their Parents Fight
It is damaging for a child to grow up in a house with parents who hate each other or to never feel a sense of peace and security. This, however, is something completely different from seeing parents fight. Children should witness effective conflict management in order to learn how to do it themselves, which means you and your spouse should talk about problems in a calm and respectful way in front of your child. If you’re interested in learning how to do that, read this article. The real problem with fighting in front of children is that many parents don’t know how to argue without being destructive. If you and your spouse can’t fight respectfully, then you shouldn’t do it in front of your child. If, however, the two of you are capable of sitting down and calmly talking through problems, your child will greatly benefit from watching.
Parenting Myth 2: Babies Don’t Understand Anything
Many parents are under the mistaken assumption that, because their babies cannot yet talk, they don’t understand what’s going on around them. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Children lay down most of their neural connections in early life, which means babyhood is prime time to begin teaching your child. Expose your child to music, reading, and lots of talking. While your child won’t imitate what you’ve shown her for awhile, the neurons in her brain will begin to develop stronger connections in the areas to which she has been exposed. As a corollary to this, it’s important to keep in mind that the negative things babies are exposed to may also affect them. Lots of stress, too much television, or family violence can all negatively impact an infant’s development.
Parenting Myth 3: Television and Toys Are Good Learning Tools
There’s been a recent onslaught of “Teach Your Child to Read” videos and toys. But there hasn’t been a rapid upswing in two year olds who can read. Thus the natural conclusion is that these products are little more than gimmicks. The truth is that babies, just like every one else, learn best through social interaction. While it’s certainly possible that your child might learn a few extra colors or numbers from a good television show, your child can learn this information much more quickly and effectively if she’s being taught in her environment. The best way to teach your child skills is to expose her to lots of different things, to read to her, to talk to her, and to foster an active, enriching, and engaging environment. Television limits environmental enrichment, and while toys can be wonderful if used for creative purposes, a child playing by herself with a so-called educational toy is a child who is missing the opportunity for a more engaging and effective learning experience.
Parenting Myth 4: Genes Control Everything
There is a rigorous and active debate within the scientific community about how much genes actually control. Unfortunately, the media has reported that the debate is over and that genes determine everything or mostly everything, when nearly every scientist on the planet would disagree with this. Siblings are as likely to be similar because of a similar environment as they are to be similar because of their genes. Regardless of how much or how little genes control, one thing is certain: our environment matters, and it matters a lot. Children who are read to will grow up to learn to read more quickly; children who are talked to will have a better vocabulary than other children, and children who are encouraged to try sports are more likely to be athletic. Further, environmental factors can cause illnesses and mental health issues. Babies raised in conflict-riddled environments are likely to have lower IQs; babies with anxious parents are more likely to have health problems. What you do with your child matters, and while genes certainly have an impact, genes won’t override an impoverished or stressful environment.
Parenting Myth 5: Some Kids Just Aren’t Good At Certain Things
Children are dynamic little people, and up until about age 7, kids have an amazing amount of neural plasticity, which means they can learn just about anything. After seven, it may take a bit more effort, but there’s nothing your child is incapable of learning without some help and persistence. If your child struggles with something, don’t blame it on your child’s inability to learn that subject. Instead, find a different way to teach it.
Parenting Myth 6: Dads Don’t Matter
We’re more than a hundred years into a feminist movement, so it still comes as a shock to me that most parenting books refer to “mothers”, most commercials target “moms”, and the vast majority of child literature is aimed at mothers, as if they were the only people who ever interacted with children. Dads matter just as much as moms. The only reason children often prefer their mothers to their fathers is because, in a society that preaches gender norms, mothers are more likely to spend time with their children than are fathers. Kids needs dads, though. Both dads and moms need to be mindful of fathers’ profoundly important role. Whether you’re a mother or a father, work on nurturing this very important relationship. The same goes for same sex couples or single parents. In same sex couples, both parents are equally important and should be treated as such. And if you are a single parent, your child’s extended family can provide immense support to your child, so encourage it! The people in your child’s life are of profound importance, and the more loving relationships your child has with close family members, the better off he will be.
Parenting Myth 7: Parents Should Always Be In Control
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of parenting is learning how much independence to give your child and when to give it. But even from a very young age, your child should always have some autonomy. Kids who progressively learn how to make decisions independently are less likely to struggle with the transition to adulthood.
Parenting Myth 8: A Loving Parent Is Enough To Nurture A Child
The importance of loving parents truly cannot be overestimated, but children need more than just parents. In busy, fast-paced modern society, children are often deprived of one of the most important resources children all over the world have traditionally gotten: a community. Children need to interact with both peers and other adults in order to learn social skills, pick up on valuable lessons other people can teach them, and to learn to be part of a community. Work hard to provide your child with opportunities to make friends and develop close relationships with people outside of your home. The reward will be a much expanded social circle for your child and the opportunity to learn much more from other people than your child ever could have otherwise learned. Parents can’t do it all and shouldn’t feel obligated to.
The Cultural Nature of Human Development- Barbara Rogoff
Child Psychology, 5th Edition- Robin Harwood, Scott Miller, and Ross Vasta