Parents are always being told to worry. This creates a baseline of constant concern and stress that underlies all aspects of parental life. Will the kid get abducted if they they step outside alone? Will they starve to death if they aren’t offered chicken dinos nightly? Will they become drooling, brain-dead zombies if they spend any amount of time looking at an iPad?
While stoking needless worries is a demonstrably successful strategy for selling parenting books (and causing ulcers), it is super counterproductive for the wellbeing of families. The fact is that there are important things parents should be worrying about, namely providing shelter, nourishment and love. A great deal of everything else isn’t worth a parent’s time. And that’s not just speculation. There is plenty of research debunking some outstanding parental worries. Here are the top things science says parents can jettison from their list of concerns.
There is no end of stories suggesting that screen time isn’t good for a kid. Some of these stories are even based on some pretty good scientific studies. But there is a problem with those studies in that it is extremely difficult to draw causation between screens and behaviors. Also, to date, there are no longitudinal studies that look at the outcomes of children who are denied screentime versus those that are.
As one child development researcher told Fatherly, “There is not enough empirical evidence to have strong feelings at the moment.” Which means parents can save strong feelings for things that matter, like sexist onesies.
When and how a child develops a new physical or cognitive ability, like rolling over or babbling, is far less important than they they develop those abilities at all. Every kid will develop at a different pace and acquire abilities in their own personal order. Yes, there are enough children who develop similarly to be able to build a broad outline of what child development typically looks like, but the chances they will fit with any particular child are slim. That makes the developmental timelines laid out in most parenting books best developing parental anxiety.
There is one specific milestone that is particularly worrisome for parents: crawling. The popular wisdom is that kids need to learn to crawl before they can walk. But that’s simply not true. Many kids will prefer to scoot, crab walk, roll or drag themselves to things of interest without ever getting their four limbs under their body. That’s totally fine. Some kids will be slow to do any of these things because they have a cautious temperament that keeps them from striking out from their parents to explore. That’s totally fine too. As long as they eventually pull themselves up and start cruising, they’re doing just fine.
Some of the most anxiety-ridden parts of a parent’s day are those hours around the kitchen, dining room or (quite frankly) coffee table trying to get kids to eat. While it’s true that nutrition is important, particularly in the earliest months of an infant’s life, babies are pretty dang cool with trying new stuff when they can finally start eating solids. But eventuall, babies turn into toddlers who are far less cool.
Happily, nearly every pediatric dietician will say that a parent’s biggest concern is that they prepare and present a healthy, well-balanced meal to their kid. What their kid does with it from there, is up to the kid. That’s because a kid needs to be exposed to a food up to 20 times before making a final decision on preference. Also, the stress of negotiation, bargaining, cajoling or threatening can actually create deeper aversions to new foods. Finally, some of the biggest benefits from dinner come from simply sitting down as a family. So the less stressful and more joyful dinner time is, the better.
Parents put a lot of energy into making kids share. But for toddlers and preschoolers it’s an entirely unnatural activity. Sharing requires a solid theory of mind—the ability to understand that others have thoughts and needs separate from the child’s. It also requires an understanding that what’s being shared will be given back. Toddler and preschooler brains literally can’t comprehend those intricacies.
So instead of forcing kids to share, experts suggest child-directed turn taking. Parents can either foster the exchange by talking about what the participants are feeling, or simply let struggles over stuff take their course. But the flip side is helping a kid work on patience too.
Forcing a kid to say hello can actually cause sensitive kids to become even more introverted. There is nothing in the rule books that state an adult needs to be greeted by a child, but that doesn’t diminish the pressure. So instead of forcing a child to say hello, parents can prepare them as best as possible for what to expect as well as prepping the adults for the kids reaction. It’s not about giving up on encouragement. It’s just about not being forceful or accusatory when a hello doesn’t happen. Preparation and comfort are key.
Touching Their Genitals
Any father who has dipped his hand below his waistband while watching a ballgame knows that there is comfort in getting a hand on the crotch. It’s no different for a child. That’s because it feels good to touch one’s genitalia. Yes, even for little kids.
But shaming a kid for getting their hands on their junk is not the way to go. That way lies body shame and esteem issues. It might even put them in danger if their shame is deep enough to not disclose improper touching from other people. The better way to go is to either ignore the behavior. Give them something else with which to occupy their hands or direct them to a place where they can have privacy.