Nearly three million American children are being raised by their grandparents.
This staggering statistic led researchers at Cohen Children's Medical Center, New York, to explore what impact outdated parenting practices could potentially have on children.
Aside from grandparents who are primary caregivers, many provide regular childcare, visit frequently, and provide parenting advice for many children.
What developmental paediatrician Dr. Andrew Adesman found when he surveyed over 600 grandparents, was many still thought certain things were safe, despite us now knowing they’re potentially dangerous.
For example, 44% of the grandparents surveyed believed “ice baths are a good way to bring down a very high fever.” This advice is no longer recommended, as ice baths can cause hypothermia.
Is Parenting Advice From Grandparents Dangerous?
Grandparents can have an extremely important role in the lives of their grandchildren, especially those acting as a primary caregiver.
Because they’ve successfully raised children, we know many have some excellent parenting advice and support to offer.
However, areas of medicine, safety, education and so on are constantly evolving. With an emphasis on science, statistics and overall evidenced based practices, it can be vital to be informed of the changes in some parenting advice.
In the ten years between having my oldest and youngest children, I have seen a lot of changes in infant safety recommendations, nutritional recommendations, and more. When my oldest was an infant, we were told to use crib bumpers and sleep positioners. With my youngest, we now know these items pose a serious safety risk.
This was in just one decade. If I didn’t have children in more recent years, and I didn’t work in parent education, it’s very likely I wouldn’t have heard about the new safe sleep recommendations.
And while we used positioners with my oldest and he’s fine, I now know it’s an unnecessary risk and one we shouldn’t take with our younger children.
Has Parenting Really Changed So Much In One Or Two Generations?
There have been big changes to feeding, safety and sleep recommendations in just the past 10 years. When we think of grandparents who haven't had a baby/young child in their home for 15-40 years, it’s easy to realise how easily they could miss new parenting guidelines.
For example, it was once common to put cereal in infant bottles, sometimes as early as just a couple weeks. We now know that putting cereal in a bottle poses a choking risk, and it goes against new guidelines to have only breast milk or formula for around the first 6 months of life.
Other big changes include:
- To reduce SIDS, sleep safety guidelines are to always put a baby on their back to sleep, no positioners, bumpers, loose blankets, etc. Adesman’s survey found 1 in 4 grandparents were unaware of the current guidelines to place babies to sleep on their backs.
- In the United States, car seat recommendations have changed dramatically. For many of us, once we were no longer infants, we weren’t in car seats or boosters. Seat belts were even considered optional in some families. Today, it’s not only recommended to keep infants rear facing for 2 years, it’s the law in many states.
- While many discipline topics, sleep training and other things may seem to be opinion and personal in nature, we do have more evidenced based information available to make parenting decisions. For example, babies were encouraged to learn to self-soothe, but we now know babies don't need to be left to cry in order to eventually sleep independently.
- Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are no longer considered safe for infants and young children due to risks of adverse effects. Honey is also a common home remedy, but isn’t advised for children under the age of one year.
- Adesman’s survey also found that 68% of surveyed grandparents were unaware that a wound heals better when covered. (In the interest of transparency, I wasn’t aware of this either! There’s always information caregivers need to learn).
Is It Dangereous To Have Grandparents As Primary Caregivers Or Babysitters?
What should you do if your well-meaning parents give you advice about your children? What if they ask to babysit?
It’s not inherently dangerous for a grandparent to provide primary or occasional care to grandchildren. Dr. Adesman’s research isn’t out to discourage parents from allowing grandparents to care for their grandchildren.
The information from his survey simply demonstrates that caregivers should be learning up to date parenting information for the safety of the children in their care. This goes for parents, babysitters and anyone who is likely to have the care of a baby or small child.
As a paediatrician, he hopes this information will demonstrate to his colleagues the importance of educating grandparents who bring children in for care. It’s easy to assume a grandparent won’t need any education at appointments because they’re well experienced. He wants to dispel this myth to ensure they’re receiving adequate recommendations and support.
It’s also important to know your parents may have up to date or timeless parenting advice. This information isn’t meant to deter you from ever accepting wanted advice. It’s simply a reminder that those who are caring for children need to be made aware of current safety recommendations. As a parent, you can also weigh the information with up to date sources and decide whether or not to follow advice given to you by others.