The Worst Parenting Advice I’ve Ever Heard

By Guest Blogger Stacy Leighton with Forsyth Family magazine

For parents, raising fine young people is the goal—you could say it is the “destination.” Sometimes we worry, “Are we doing this right?” If we don’t worry every now and then, we’re probably doing it wrong. It is in those moments that you may get some pretty awful advice about children. Steer clear from the following five examples of advice, and you’ll feel better about your parenting!

1. “You should start word recognition as early as possible. Children who read early are more intelligent.”

Many parents believe this, investing countless hours and dollars in expensive software, iPad apps, and tutors. In some cases, children will begin to recognize letters, sounds, and even words, but not their meanings. Reading comprehension will come much later. By listening to you read, children hear the words within the range of linguistic and cultural contexts. This is the foundation for authentic vocabulary learning. When we read with them, children learn problem-solving, reasoning and thinking, all while we nurture their natural curiosity.

2. “Busy is best. The more activities your child is involved in, the better.”

One of my Book Club moms once gave this advice to a new mom. She said “It’s true, my girls both take violin lessons, Karate and foreign language classes and ballet. Sure, they’re pretty busy, but they love it!” Her daughters were 5 and 7 years old. I knew them, and they did NOT love it. And in truth, she didn’t really like it either. She often complained about having to fight with them to go and the endless hours as the “Family Uber.” If you find an activity your child loves, that’s great! Do that, and only that. Too many activities at the same time is stressful for everyone. Studies show that there is no correlation between excessive extra-curricular activities and over-achievement. Indeed, that level of activity has been shown to lead to burnout and apathy. Children need this time for homework, playdates, and quality time with you. That’s a recipe for success.

3. “Everyone knows that boys who are mean to you, like you, and girls who are mean to you are jealous of you.”

Let’s start with, “no one should be mean, to you or anyone.” But if they are, these reasons are probably not the reasons why! And this won’t help. When we tell our daughters that boys who are mean like them, we send a message that it is okay for them to be treated badly. That’s not what we want for them. Most events like these do not happen in a vacuum. Better to find out first what happened in each of these situations. Then we can discuss how they might best handle it.

4. “Children should be able to sit still and listen. If they cannot, they should be tested.”

(This was said about a pre-school child.) For a career educator, this is most disheartening. Most children under the age of 6 (and many adults, too!) can either sit still OR listen, not both. This behavior, albeit distracting, is developmentally appropriate. The best teachers employ creative classroom management strategies to keep all of the children engaged. If a child is particularly overstimulated, I recommend eliminating all possible variables before seeking a diagnosis. Monitor his or her diet (sugar, food additives, etc.), the environment (noise, climate, allergens), and their effect on the child’s behavior before seeking the advice of a medical professional.

5. “A child’s happiness is a direct reflection of their health and well-being. If children aren’t smiling and laughing, something is wrong.”

This is a common misconception. Think about this; are we always smiling when we are happy? A child playing quietly with puzzles may not be smiling, but is content nevertheless. Before rushing to a child psychologist or Toys R Us, sit and do puzzles or read with them. Their contentment could be contagious!

The advice, however well meaning, is actually unnecessary. You know your children best. Pay attention and trust your instincts. Because parenting, like life, really is a journey—so enjoy the ride!


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