Evidently, back in the day, it was a thing to tightly swaddle one’s infant and leave them hanging from a nail.
Barbara Harvey, the executive director of Parents, Teachers, and Advocates in Atlanta, Georgia, explains:
“One very old parenting practice which has long gone out of practice is called ‘nailing.’ It used to be that after having their children, moms would tightly swaddle their infants and hang them on a nail while they worked around the house, only taking them down long enough to feed them or change a diaper. Though we now use high chairs, bassinets, and bouncy seats for this purpose, it started with nailing.”
Now, I have to admit, I’m pretty attached to my kid’s bouncer seat. He loves that thing, and when he’s in it, I can get things done, like (finally) doing laundry instead of wearing the cleanest-looking shirt in the dirty clothes pile for the third time in a week.
In solidarity with 18th-century moms who actually had to make a fire, lug water from the well to a giant kettle, and boil clothes to clean them, I’m passing no judgment. I’d probably hang my baby from a nail too if it allowed for a few kid-free hours.
The practice of hanging swaddled babies from nails has fallen out of fashion (fortunately), but it’s just one of many parenting practices that would never fly with today’s millennial parents.
Here are a few more that many of us experienced but find ourselves questioning now:
1. "Children should be seen and not heard."
Dr. Kristen Lee, a behavioral science professor and author, says, “Practices of the past didn’t involve an understanding of healthy child development and protective factors. The mantra of the past was ‘Children should be seen, not heard.’”
Ah, that old chestnut.
Dr. Alisha Griffith tells HealthyWay, “My parents' manner of raising was always children should be seen and not heard ... Growing up where you were not allowed to express yourself in any capacity unless asked was a major traditional and cultural experience.”
Griffith says that the way she was raised had a definite impact on how she thinks about parenting. “Today, I am very receptive to providing a safe space of communication once it's respectful and not done when angry. I think it empowers our children from [a young age to know] that they matter and allows them to express their thoughts [in] a safe zone.”
“As a parent coach I encourage active listening,” says Harvey.
The American Psychological Association has a few tips for effectively communicating with your kids. Most importantly, be available at the times your child is most likely to talk and let them know you’re always ready to listen to what they have to say.
2. "If you don’t behave, you’ll get a spanking."
I have gotten my fair share of spankings, and in most cases, I feel my punishment was fairly earned.
My parents reserved spanking for the worst-of-the-worst punishment. They didn’t enjoy spanking, but had been told (probably by their parents) that it was the best way to punish kids for being really bad.
I don’t harbor any resentment toward my parents for spanking me, but now that I am a mother, I know there is absolutely no way I could spank my kid, and it’s not fair to pin the responsibility of corporal punishment solely on his dad (who is really a bigger softie than I am).
Nathaniel Turner, author of Raising Supaman, says that today, “You don’t have to spank a child to discipline them, but you must be able to correct bad behavior.”
According to family therapist Dr. Gary Brown, “We know from the research that spanking may bring ... long-term emotional damage to children.”
In fact, studies have shown that spanking actually makes bad behavior worse.
“Remember the goal with discipline is purpose. The discipline administered should clearly delineate your intended purpose, otherwise the opportunity for your child to learn and improve will be missed,” Turner says.
He goes on to say, “Parenting is about beginning with the end in mind, and I don’t mean your child’s rear-end. …Whatever you do, however you do it, discipline and raise your child with purpose!”
3. "Go to your room until I tell you to come out!"
When I was a kid, the only punishment that was worse than spanking was being sent to my room.
Because there was nothing to do in there!
Things are a little different today. Sending kids to their room is no longer a punishment; in fact, that may be exactly what a child wants.
“Today, kids can get online in any room of the house,” says Dr. Mike Bishop, founder of Summerland Camps for children struggling with social media, gaming, and technology overuse and addiction.
“A replacement punishment is now withholding electronics. Parents can physically take the child’s electronics, set limitations, or even change the wifi password.”
Bishop has advice for parents trying to discipline their kids in the digital age:
“It’s more important than ever to set limits on your child’s online activities. An iPad should never replace a babysitter or proper face-to-face interactions. When placing limits on your child’s electronics, explain to your child why it is important to not visit certain websites or to discontinue gaming before bedtime for a more restful night’s sleep.”
Try Circle with Disney to help filter content and set limits for your child's screen time.
4. "You’ll sit at the table all night if you don’t clean your plate."
I had a lot of weird eating habits as a kid, which (rightly) frustrated my mother to no end. I spent many nights sitting sullenly at the table, staring down a cold dinner long after the rest of my family had finished.
Back in the day, this was a common scene in American households. Supna Shah, founder of WeGo kids, recalls, “With 16 million hungry kids in America, and 66 million hungry kids worldwide, I know why my parents always made me clean my plate.”
Shah thought she’d do the same when she became a mother to triplets, but that wasn’t the case.
“I found that my children liked to snack during the day, and figuring out exactly how much they would eat at mealtime was a losing battle. Either I didn't give them enough food or they would barely eat. I was frustrated, wasting more food than I wanted, and left wondering if trying to make my kids finish all the food on their plates would leave them overeating as adults.”
With childhood obesity rates continuing to rise, making a child clean their plate when they aren’t hungry—which could potentially result in unhealthy eating habits in adulthood—is definitely a concern.
Shah came up with a better solution.
She ditched her mom's way and tells her kids to "eat when you're hungry and eat only until you're full."
She tells HealthyWay, "Now when parents ask me to help them stop their mealtime struggles, this strategy works every time!"
"Mom, stop hovering!"
During summer vacation every year, my mom would throw my brother and me out of the house after breakfast to play outside until suppertime. We were allowed to come in for lunch, but otherwise we were supposed to entertain ourselves for most of the day.
My current mom friends are always aghast when I tell this story. Their responses?
“I’d never let my kids play outside unsupervised.”
“You mean, she didn’t enroll you in any summer activities?”
“My kids wouldn’t even know what to do with themselves if I did that.”
Despite my friends’ disapproval of such parenting techniques, I think my mom had the right idea. My brother and I developed wild imaginations. We spent hours in our pretend fort, playing games we made up as we went along.
“Years ago, the hyper-parenting wasn’t a thing,” says Lee.
The hyper-parenting Lee refers to is also known as helicopter parenting, a family dynamic in which parents become overly-focused on their kids.
Now I’m not saying today’s parents should tack their baby to the wall, leaving them to hang out (see what I did there?) unsupervised. However, as Lee notes, “The pendulum has swung far, much progress has been made [in parenting], but as is the case with many things, it can go far in another direction and lead to unintended consequences.”
Dr. Jim Seibold, a marriage and family therapist in Arlington, Texas, tells HealthyWay that helicopter parenting "represents good intentions but does not always yield the best results."
“Helicopter parenting is not helpful because those kids are not allowed to learn through experience, develop their own critical thinking, and learn to use failure as a learning opportunity. Those parents try so hard to protect their kids from experiencing failure that they end up hurting the development of resiliency. ...Having a 17- and 14-year-old, we are constantly struggling between identifying appropriate boundaries and allowing important learning opportunities.”
Instead, helicopter parents should try to stop hovering.
Brown recommends these four tips for recovering helicopter parents:
Empower decision-making: I get it. We love our kids so much, it hurts our hearts to see them get a bad grade in school because they are not putting forth the effort we think they should (despite our, ahem, strong suggestions). But if they are old enough to understand the consequences of their actions and are choosing to not do their homework (or rebelling against it for some reason), then you will have to lose that battle. And they will have to get the poor grade and whatever else comes with that.
Teach conflict management skills: A dinner table story about how Roxy called your daughter “mean” in class today might be due to something that originated with your daughter. Instead of assuming Roxy is 100 percent at fault, acknowledge that the name calling could've been a response to your daughter's behavior. Does that make name-calling okay? No, of course not. However, your child understanding that there are two people involved in every human interaction is invaluable. Roxy was wrong for name calling, but your daughter may have erred too. And it’s okay to point that out.
Allow them to engage in activities they like: When kids are pressed into activities they don’t like, they become unhappy, even depressed. …Having the freedom to choose under somewhat controlled circumstances will help them discern what will make them happy later in life.
Build their confidence: Whatever skill your child needs to develop or task they need to accomplish, they need a strong belief that they can do it in order to truly achieve and succeed. Actual accomplishments help build their confidence. The earlier we help empower them, the less anxiety we feel and the more confident they become!
Seibold tells HealthyWay, “The struggle with today's parenting is trying to find a balance between being appropriately protective while still allowing our kids to take chances, experience some failures, and learn from them.”
Perhaps parenting hasn’t changed that much after all.