Historical Changes in Scientific Advice to Parents Concerning Child-training*



The infant is endowed with intense, concentrated, and dangerous impulses

The baby is harmless; impulses are diffuse, moderate.

The infant's self-stimulatory behaviors must be not be permitted. These impulses "easily grow beyond control." "Children are sometimes wrecked for life."

Self-stimulation is a small, unimportant aspect of the infant's exploratory activities.

To prevent the infant from thumb-sucking, "the sleeve may be pinned or sewn down over the fingers of the offending hand for several days and nights."

The infant is mainly interested in exploring the world. Everything amuses him, nothing is excessively exciting.

The infants arms and legs should be restrained, tied to the corners of the bed and/or pinned down to prevent self-stimulation (especially at night).

"See that he has a toy to play with and he will not need to use his body as a plaything."

A clear-cut distinction is made between the infant's "needs" and "wants."

The infant's needs and wants are equated.

The baby's (physical) needs must be identified and met; meeting the baby's "wants" will lead to serious problems.

What the baby wants for pleasure (attention, play) is as legitimate as his physical needs.

Crying is a bad habit. "when the baby cries simply because he has learned...that this brings him what he wants, it is one of the worst habits he can learn."

"A baby sometimes cries because he needs a little more attention...just as he sometimes needs a little extra food and water."

Overfeeding is a constant danger.

The infant's appetite regulates food intake adequately.

Impulses are dangerous; therefore, playing with the baby is dangerous.

Play is harmless and necessary for the baby's developing motor skills.

The good and the pleasant are opposed.

The good and the pleasant are intertwined. Play and singing should be part of the routine of everyday life.

Parenting is a duty, a moral obligation which requires complete dedication.

Parenting is supposed to be fun. "Babies - and usually their mothers - enjoy breast feeding." "Nursing brings "joys and happiness." At bath time, the baby "delights" his parents.

The mother must deny her own impulses as severely as she denies those of her child.

Having fun as a parent is not only permissible, but required. It is a moral imperative.

*Based on an analysis of the Infant Care bulletin of the United States Children's Bureau.

Adapted from Martha Wolfenstein (1955,1956)

Fun morality: An analysis of recent American child-training literature.

In, M. Mead & M. Wolfenstein (eds.), Childhood in Contemporary Cultures,

Chicago: University of Chicago.