Everyone has something to say about the right way to parent. Some of the solicited and unsolicited parenting advice from your parents or even grandparents are totally different from what’s advised now by experts. “Won’t the baby get cold?” means well when your folks find your baby in the crib covered with only but a wearable blanket.
But you know you’re also trying to keep your little one’s crib free of potential suffocation hazards such as pillows, bumpers, and blankets. After all, those are the current infant safety guidelines from the experts, right?
To a great extent, expert advice and rules influence the choices we make when raising our kids. Over the years, these same rules change, evolve, or even make a return as experts learn more and revise recommendations. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Plutarch (AD 110)
The Greek historian and essayist wrote about the importance of education, insisting that anyone charged with raising children should have impeccable manners and be free from scandal.
Both he and Plato believed that the stories read to children should also be carefully selected, “lest haply their minds be filled at the outset with foolishness and corruption.”
But the ancient Greeks were also physically close to their children: Plutarch wrote about the pleasure he derived from playing with and cuddling his daughter, Timoxena, although sadly, she died at the age of two.
2. John Locke (1693)
In Some Thoughts Concerning Education, British philosopher John Locke suggested that children be exposed to harsh physical conditions when young—wearing thin shoes that let in water, for instance—as this would strengthen their constitutions in later life.
He also proposed treating children as reasoning beings from a young age and creating a habit of rational thinking, rather than simply issuing lists of things they shouldn’t do. He argued that discipline should be founded on esteem and disgrace rather than on rewards and punishments.
3. George Henry Napheys (1878)
British physician Dr. George H Napheys wrote in his book The Physical Life of Woman that the first seven years of life should be one grand holiday for all sports and amusements that will bring into play the muscles, and divert the mind at the same time.
Besides games and sports, other suitable pursuits for young children included visiting workshops and factories where familiar objects were made and cultivating a sense of the beauty in nature and art. Formal schooling shouldn’t start until children were at least seven.
Napheys believed that discipline was important, arguing that there is no surer way of making a child miserable than by accustoming it to obtain all it wishes and encountering no will but its own. But he also said children shouldn’t be harassed by “needless restrictions or excessive management.”
Other advice included ensuring that children’s heads always point north during sleep to align their nervous systems with the Earth’s electrical currents.
4. John B Watson (1928)
By the 1920s, parents were looking to the new science of psychology for advice about how to raise their children. In his book Psychological Care of Infant and Child, Watson warned against showering infants with excessive love and affection. This would condition them to expect the same degree of attention throughout their lives.
Neither should they be allowed to get too close to any one person—including their mother—as this might interfere with their future ability to form stable marital relationships. Instead, he wrote, children should follow rigid schedules and be encouraged to become independent from an early age.
5. Benjamin Spock (1946)
Challenging the prevailing wisdom that children should be kept at arm’s length, Spock encouraged parents to shower their offspring with love and affection and tell each child they’re special, loved, and unique.
He said parents should feed children when they seemed hungry and discipline with words, not physical punishment. His mantra “Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do” was embraced by parents, and his book Baby and Child Care remains one of the bestselling books of all time.
He didn’t get everything right, though. Early editions of his book told mothers to put babies to sleep on their stomachs; later research revealed this is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome.
6. William Sears (1992)
Attachment parenting is a phrase coined by the American pediatrician William Sears to describe his parenting philosophy. This is based on the idea that the emotional bond a child forms with his caregivers has lifelong consequences for his mental health and ability to form relationships with others.
In The Baby Book, Sears outlined the seven baby Bs of attachment parenting:
- Bonding in the first few hours after birth
- Babywearing (in a sling or other carrier)
- Bedding close to baby
- Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry
- Beware of baby trainers with rigid scheduling and advice about crying it out
- Balance, or not neglecting your own needs
7. Gina Ford (1999)
The New Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford, a former maternity nurse, saw a return towards rigid scheduling for infants. Ford advocates leaving babies to cry for specified periods, saying this teaches them to self-soothe and fall asleep by themselves.
The nuggets of advice all these books offer may be totally out of date, but that’s exactly why we recommend reading them yourself. It’s interesting to know just how far we’ve come and why the parenting rules made sense then.
The fundamentals may be the same, but parenting then vs. now is a different ball game. This is a testament that parenting advice moves with time, so you shouldn’t get worked up about any controversial take you encounter.
Experts will continue to update and dole out parenting recommendations. Consider the source and make wise decisions about following that advice, but do the best that you can to raise your kids in a safe, loving, and accommodating environment.