‘Don’t tickle your baby’s feet’

Published: December 8, 2011
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They tell you not to cuddle or even carry your baby because they believe it will spoil him/her.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young woman in possession of a new baby must be in severe, dire need of parenting advice – or so the aunties would have you believe. Parenting is probably the only profession where you can be an expert with the least amount of training. All you need to do is have a baby, or have a sister who has a baby, or have seen a fleeting glimpse of a baby bawling in a park. It seems like the minute you announce you are expecting, a swarm of visitors besiege you with their gems of wisdoms, ranging from useful to ridiculously inane.

I experienced this first hand when I was going to have a baby. The minute I got home from the hospital, a stream of guests at my door offered their nuggets of wisdom, from feeding to bathing to schooling.  Some were useful (turn the vacuum cleaner on – the noise makes them sleep), some were silly (don’t hug your baby, he will get spoiled), and some were just downright inane (never tickle your baby’s feet as it will give him a stutter.)

It went on and on. While at a party, you cannot mention anything your child did, or didn’t do, without facing an onslaught of opinions. “He loves my purse” means “he will swallow your coins”; “He loves tasting my coffee” means “he will never drink milk again” and so on and so forth.

What is baffling, however, is the speaker’s conviction that he or she is dead right, and any argument is useless. Contrast this with the way ideas are propagated in the developed world. For example, when the famous American paediatrician Dr Sears propagated his theory that babies sleep better with their parents, he supported it with months of research, studying babies’ heart beats, brain waves, and breathing patterns when co-sleeping and in their own beds, before coming to any sort of conclusion.

Parenting is a big science, with rows and rows of library shelves filled with books on every aspect of parenting, each theory supported with years of research and experience. But here, we do it because ‘that’s the way it’s done’. So you will be advised to never hold a new-born baby for any length of time because they will be unable to cope any other way – never mind that they have just emerged from a comforting and secure environment for nine months just to be thrust into a cot and left to cry.  You will be taunted if your toddler drops rice while eating, and told that it’s easier to just feed them yourself and save yourself valuable cleaning time. This is despite advice from child psychologists who write that letting your toddler learn to feed himself instills in him or her confidence, independence, and crucial problem-solving skills. You will be derided for trying to be too “gora” (white) if you buy a car seat for your tots.  And when you tell your bored and whiny child to go find himself a toy to play with, your friends will mention that they just sit their toddlers in front of the TV – problem solved. After all, without the TV, how will you show your friends how your two-year-old can dance in sync to the latest Bollywood song?

So here is my list of most annoying advice often received:

You will spoil your baby by cuddling him

Bonding with your baby is essential for his growth and emotional development, especially in those first few months of life. Cuddle and hold your baby as much as you want. Compromise, however, by allowing him some independence as he grows, by letting him explore, or by comforting him by putting a shirt with your scent next to him.

 Do it all for your child so he knows you love him

Kids fall. A lot. They also struggle with their shoes and jackets, and often end up gluing their fingers instead of paper. While it’s important to comfort them and make them feel secure, it’s also important to give them crucial problem solving skills. Ask them how to figure things out. If they can’t find where the puzzle piece goes, show them how to find matching sides; if they can’t understand how a toy works, go through different ways they think it can be done, leaving them to figure it out; if they fall, hug them and help them find a way of being more careful next time, for example putting toys away so they don’t trip. There is a saying – give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. We often end up “spoon-feeding” our kids – quite literally.

There is something wrong with your child if he/she did not craw/talk/master yoga at the same time as mine

All children are different and develop with different speeds in different areas. The important thing is that they are developing and progressing. Milestones of development are not carved in stone, but widely variable, so you will find children with areas of late development, such as walking and talking. Of course, a minority of babies and children do have delays in development that may need specialist help, but trust your doctor with that – not the competitive neighbour who claims her kids read The Express Tribune at two years of age.

There is nothing wrong with putting the kids in front of the TV

The Disney Company recently refunded all its customers who bought its hugely popular Baby Einstein series, as research found that apart from being an electronic babysitter, the DVDs did nothing at all intellectually for babies or children and provided them no developmental benefit. In fact, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under two, stating that research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children. If educational DVDs  proved to be useless, what good are we doing our children by dumping them in front of the TV to watch everything from Tom and Jerry to Bollywood for the sake of us having our daily gossip session over the phone in peace?

Never, ever tell your kids off. You’ll damage their egos

Let them slam doors; let them throw toys around – even in public. Let them smack your head from the back-seat or kick you 50 times during the ride. Telling them off will only hurt their delicate little feelings.

Psychologists group parenting into four styles

1) Authoritarian: expecting your child to obey and conform to every rule without explanation and little or no dialogue

2) Indulgent: where parents give in to their child’s every whim while placing no boundaries on their behaviour

3)  Neglectful: where they care neither one way or the other

4) Authoritative: where parents understand and talk to their children with warmth and love, while teaching them how to control their behaviour.

Authoritative is praised as being balanced and leading to high self-esteem in children. When older, children have a higher self-worth as they feel loved and cared for in a democratic home environment, being listened to, yet placed within boundaries. Meanwhile, children from an indulgent home style conversely feel neglected, as they grow up thinking their parents don’t care enough for them to stop them from doing something potentially dangerous. So when you discipline your kids, remember you are helping them grow into caring, empathetic and thoughtful members of society.

For our generation, we are lucky that we have access to an unlimited amount of knowledge, ideas and research. While respecting the views of our elders, it is important for us to use our education and the wide resources that are available to raise our children in a positive way and to maximise their intelligence, exploration and potential. When we talk about making changes in society, it all starts with good child rearing. So head to the experts, do the best for you and your child, and next time you’re given unsolicited advice, smile and say, “Thanks! I’ll research it!”

Bushra.Anwar

Bushra Anwar

A stay at home mom and freelance journalist who is currently working on her first book about parenting

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.