6 Terrible Things Science Says You Do to Your Kids

In all likelihood, you are probably already a pretty good parent. I'll bet you limit video games, provide healthy meals, get your kids to scheduled doctor's visits, help with homework, and the like.

New science, though, thinks you can do a little better. Do any of the six parenting subjects, below, ring a bell?

1. You Don't Let Your Child Self-Soothe

Have you tried teaching your baby to self-soothe? It occurred to me to research this concept after my friend, a grandmother, related how her daughter has to lie down with her two-year-old to get her to nap, and then again to get her to sleep at night. Among my co-workers, neighbors, and friends are women whose children sleep with them in their bedrooms, on cots, or in their beds. They also sleep with their children in their children's rooms. My neighbor's daughter has a charming room, but she will only sleep on the living room couch. The phrase (and I know this is harsh) "the inmates are running the asylum" comes to mind.

"We, as parents, think our job is to make sure the baby is not crying," says pediatric nurse Jennifer Walker, RN. "That's because we associate crying with the fact that we are doing something wrong and we need to fix it," she says. "Babies are designed to cry. They can be perfectly diapered and fed and still cry like you are pulling an arm off..."

Many parents are vehemently opposed to the practice of self-soothing, calling it a myth, or "harmful." And, you know it's not fun. Even if you know your baby has been fed, burped, changed, and is in comfortable bedding, listening to them cry is extremely upsetting. We used the Dr. Greene method and yes, it was extremely difficult, but it worked.

"The difficulties begin when the child's sleep patterns begin to interfere with the lives of the other members of the family unit. For example: when the mother is ready to return to work and needs to sleep, herself, or when marital tensions arise because of a lack of privacy in the bedroom," says Dennis Rosen, M.D. "At that point, it's absolutely reasonable to reconsider the existing patterns, and to find a different way of doing things that works better for everyone else. And that usually means redefining, and setting limits, which is a normal part of parenting."

2. You Don't Insist on Your Child's Recess

I'm an adult, and I could barely manage to sit through a boring hour-long webinar last week. Fortunately, I could get up and take a walk afterwards. But what if you are a kid who feels fried and fidgety? Who ever thought parents needed to be concerned with their children having recess? Guess what: Recess is disappearing.

Even pediatricians in the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend recess. Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician and professor of human nutrition at the Ohio State University, stated that "Children need to have downtime between complex cognitive challenges." Interestingly, structured time (like a gym period or an organized game) is not a substitute, because it is still considered to be instructional time.

Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents, in the past 30 years. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an hour a day of exercise for children. If your child's school has reduced or eliminated recess, how will that help this issue?

It may be time for you to get involved in a discussion about the benefits of recess at your child's school, and how you, as a parent, can help. And if the school won't change, perhaps you ought to consider supplementing their play time with some daily "at-home" recess.

3. You Aren't Insisting They Do Chores

Your own parents and grandparents probably insisted on chores, and so should you. Psychologist Richard Rende is the author of soon-to-be-published Raising Can-Do Kids. His research indicates that "...various types of housework are correlated with better academic performance and social relationships, increased professional goals, and good mental health in adulthood."

4. You Stopped Reading to Your Kid

Many parents read to their babies, toddlers, and school-age children, and that's great. However, according to educator Jim Trelease, you shouldn't stop reading.

"People often say to me, 'My child is in fourth grade and he already knows how to read, why should I read to him?' And I reply, 'Your child may be reading on a fourth-grade level, but what level is he listening at?'

A child's reading level doesn't catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh-grade books to fifth-grade kids. They'll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading."

5. You Don't Let Them Experience Failure

It's so hard to see your child feeling sad, or disappointed, when things don't go their way. I really think it's just as painful for the parents. My mother used to tell me, "well, life is full of disappointments," and she was right, it is. However, if you don't allow your child to fail, feel sad, and deal with things on his or her own, the child doesn't learn how to build resilience. Being able to roll with the ups and downs of life is a necessary skill, and they can't learn that when "everybody gets a trophy." Sometimes you fail, and you feel bad. What happens next? You lick your wounds, gather strength, pick yourself up, and try again. Kids need to learn that, as painful as it is for the parent.

6. You Don't Let Them Suffer the Consequences for Wrong Actions

Kids are going to make bad choices occasionally. They want to test boundaries, try the "easy way," or prove their independence. When they are caught, though, it isn't up to the parent to "fix" that mistake.

"Parents tend to worry about their child's ability to cope with life's natural 'negative' consequences," writes Mendi Baron, CEO of Evolve Treatment Centers. "In fact, today's parents, in an effort to be helpful and involved, actually impose themselves to minimize natural negative consequences so that their teen can avoid the subsequent discomfort, pain, and shame of his actions."

Readers, do you agree, or disagree, with any of these suggestions?

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Guest's picture

I agree with all your points apart from the self soothing paragraphs. Science has shown that cry-it-out methods do damage the brain. There isn't much point in doing that to a child, in my opinion. Parenting babies is tough, especially in many Western cultures where extended family support is minimal. But tiny babies and toddlers literally NEED their parents and denying them that isn't beneficial. There are ways to make sleep times work for all parties, with some creativity and gentle boundaries. As a child gets older, they need a parent to help them settle for sleep less and less. We don't need to push it on them; it will happen as they mature. No teenager wants to sleep in the same bed (or is it house??!) as their parents. We co-slept with my five year old until she was about 2.5-ish, and then one day she was ready to sleep in a big girl bed and that was that. When my older children have bad dreams, I still let them into our bed for comfort.

In fact, the tone of your paragraph made out that most parents are being "ruled" by their children with regards to sleep. I would argue the point that most parents in America at least practice cry-it-out and put their babies in a separate room from birth. I think that needs to change.

Guest's picture
Marika Michalik

I agree with Sarah. And I didn't know that reading to kids for so long could be usefull! Although, I have to say that even know I would really enjoy my mother reading books to me :)