Attention, Parents: These “Bad” Childhood Habits Are Actually Healthy
You don't need a parenting expert or pediatrician to tell you that being a parent is an exhausting, incredibly stressful endeavor–but having one assuage some of your commonplace concerns sure can't hurt. With that in mind we turned to some of the country's leading child development experts to get the lowdown on "bad" childhood habits that are actually healthy.
Sucking a pacifier
“Many parents are worried about giving their baby a pacifier because it’s a habit that’s hard to break later in life, can cause problems with the child’s teeth, and breastfeeding advocates worry that pacifiers can cause nipple confusion that may negatively impact breastfeeding,” says Robin Jacobson, pediatrician in New York City. While there is some validity to those concerns, the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that the childhood habit of sucking a pacifier can help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Harvey Karp, MD, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, adds that sucking pacifiers also help kids deal with anxiety and that sucking their thumb is what usually causes those aforementioned terrible changes in teeth/palate. “Fortunately even when pacifiers are used for years, they usually cause few long-term problems.” Babies are fascinating creatures. Find out the most bizarre things we know about newborns.
Not washing hands
Kids will touch anything and everything. Many parents believe that it’s bad for their children to get germs in their mouths and thus are always washing/sanitizing their hands. “Over cleaning your hands decreases normal bacteria that lives on your skin that helps to prevent serious infections,” says Dr. Jacobson. “New moms often sterilize bottles, nipples, and pacifiers which again prevent the baby from being exposed to germs that are helpful in jump starting the babies’ immune system. Bottles should always be cleaned but not necessarily sterilized after each use.”
Playing video games
Video games is one of those childhood habits that has a bad reputation mainly because parents worry that they will cause Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or problems with their child’s eyesight. But they’re not all bad! Dr. Jacobson points out that video games can improve hand-eye coordination. That said, he cautions parents to be careful to make sure the video games are age-appropriate and that they’re not being played for too many hours of the day.
Sure, sharing means caring, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the answer. “Some toys are yours,” says Pedram Shojai, author of The Urban Monk and host of The Urban Monk podcast. “It’s good to feel safe in knowing your possessions belong to you. You don’t have to share but can do so if you choose. This helps establish boundaries and build true kindness.” Of course if your child refuses to share anything, that’s a sign he might be a bully.
Flipping it over to the parent side, one thing you should do is share food with your kids. “A little germ swap keeps us healthy and having a varied diet helps them from being sensitive, picky eaters in the future,” explains Shojai. It’s important to expose children to a wide variety of healthy foods from an early age. Find out even more solutions for getting picky eaters to eat.
There will be plenty of time to fight about appropriate clothing choices in the future! Let kids be kids and develop their own style and identity. “Kids want to express themselves and find their place in the world. Their attire can be their canvas for this,” says Shojai. As long as they’re fully clothed and wearing something that’s weather- and location-appropriate, move on from this childhood habit. Here are more ways to put an end to all those dressing battles.
Parents always want to rescue their children (ask anyone who has tried to sleep train…), but it’s OK to sometimes let them work things out on their own when their fighting with their playmates or struggling to stack Legos. “They will find their natural place in the tribe and test their strength and boundaries naturally; when we dote and micromanage, all the drama starts,” says Shojai. Speaking of, you seriously need to stop giving your kids these compliments.
Playing with dogs
“Many new parents worry about exposing their infants to pets, but new studies have suggested that early exposure to pets before a child immune system has fully developed might decrease the chance of pet allergies later in life,” says Dr. Jacobson. Dogs may even reduce a child’s risk of obesity later in life.
Blowing bubbles with a straw
According to Dr. Jacobson these can actually build up kids’ mouth muscles, which will improve speech and decrease drooling! Although you may want to use a reusable one (BPA-free, of course) as plastic straws are bad for the earth.
Parents worry about their child being very bossy and how this will this effect their chance of making and keeping friends. You shouldn’t. According to Dr. Jacobson, kids who are bossy know how to exert themselves in certain situations and will probably become our future leaders. So consider this a “bad” childhood habit you can feel good about!
Biting and hitting
Biting and hitting in young children can be a huge and very common problem. “In many cases, it’s just the young child’s way of trying to communicate,” says Dr. Jacobson. Parents should not let their young child get away with these habits, but instead of yelling, try to determine what the child is trying to communicate. “Some parents try to teach their child sign language as another way to communicate, which decreases the child’s need to use negative behaviors to get their parents attention.”
Running around barefoot
“This builds postural muscles, foot arch strength, and connects us with the earth,” says Shojai. “It’s the critical foundation we need for good orthopedics and healthy skin bacteria.” Caveat: Dirt is OK, asphalt is not. “Go barefoot in nature not parking lots with oil slicks!”
Toting stuffed animals everywhere
“Dragging around that stuffed animal may seem like a childhood habit that promotes excessive dependence, but it’s actually a first relationship of love and security,” explains Dr. Karp. “Just make sure you have two, in case one gets lost, and rotate them so that they both have the same feel and smell. Otherwise, they may seem the same to you, but your child may recoil in horror if you try to replace the well-worn bunny with an ‘identical’ new one!” Dr. Karp goes on to explain that these are called “transitional objects” because they’re a first relationship bridging from the family to the outside world. “So even if your child seems overly dependent, it’s a good habit that builds experience in really caring for a ‘first friend.'”