A brief history of terrible parenting advice

Jan. 26, 2018

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Parenting experts may seem sure about the advice they dole out, but parenting trends have changed a lot over the years.

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Here are just some bits of past parenting advice that probably seem strange, wrong or downright dangerous to today’s parents.

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One 1878 parenting guide suggested washing newborn babies with oil or lard.

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Another 1878 guide suggested parents put babies to sleep with their heads pointing north, because of “great electrical currents ... around the globe.”

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The two primary ingredients of Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, advertised in the 1860s as a teething aide for infants, were actually morphine and alcohol.

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And as Slate reported in 2012, experts of the early 20th century maintained that showing a child too much affection would spoil it.

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Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap ... Shake hands with them in the morning.

— John B. Watson, Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928)

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Mothers harming their children with poison breastmilk was also a major concern, according to Slate.

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William and Lena Sadler wrote in their 1916 advice book that “angry” or worried mothers could give their children colic or “convulsions” via their breast milk.

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The Sadlers also advised that when an infant cries so hard it gets “black in the face,” the best solution was a “sound spanking.”

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One parenting expert of the mid-20th century suggested starting babies on solid foods at two or three days old.

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(The current advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until six months to start solid food, FYI.)

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“Baby cages” that hung out of windows were also briefly big with urban parents, to give children the fresh air doctors of the early 20th century recommended.

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As weird and terrible as parenting advice of the past seems to us now, you can bet that some of today’s trends will seem just as bad to parents in the future.

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