In case middle class mothers didn't have enough insecurity about the quality of their parenting, a childcare expert has warned this week that the propensity to dedicate our energy, time and money giving them stimulation in the form of classes and activities could be counter-productive to their development.
The Daily Telegraph reported that childcare expert, Sylvie Hétu believes the modern phenomenon of toting infants around baby classes could actually be counterproductive to their development, interfering with the close human bonds and calm that babies need for healthy development. She said normal household sounds and singing lullabies were more important for establishing those bonds. Her assertions appear in a new book, Too Much, Too Soon?.
I don't buy it.
Most child development experts say that early stimulation of an infant's brain is very important in brain and emotional development. Baby singing, signing, and swimming all contribute to that development, and I haven't seen any proof otherwise.
For one thing, the author has clearly not spent hundreds of gruelling hours participating in infant music classes and obstacle courses, all of which tangibly produce a cheerful and happy infant. More to the point, almost every minute of those classes promotes bonding, from human touch, to sound, cuddling and dedicated attention which Hétu rightly asserts babies need.
Meanwhile, she suggests that household sounds, and simply singing lullabies to the baby, are more important for bonding and more healthy for a baby's development than those potentially pernicious classes. But how is the human bond developed with a baby when you plop her down on the floor to entertain herself while you frantically load the dishwasher and Hoover. It's not physically possible to be bonding with a baby while trying to peel carrots in between desperate cries for attention.
The idea of calmly singing lullabies to a baby is a great one. But in context of the fast-paced demands of a woman's lifestyle, the suggestion of drifting melodious afternoons is simply comical. Frankly, it wasn't even something that the last two generations of mothers were living up to.
It's true that over-stimulation can be a problem for babies. But over-stimulation for an infant is usually triggered when the child is not being given proper naps or a regular schedule. And most of the research shows that screen-based entertainment isn't appropriate either, which let's face it, is prominent part of modern 'household sounds'.
There is a wider valid point about the problems with over-scheduling children (as opposed to infants, which was the focus of Hétu's thoughts). Many middle class children are overscheduled and the research shows that it can be counterproductive. For example, when kids are constantly shuttled around to activities, there is little time to relax, play, and develop their imaginations.
We do live in a high-tech, fast-paced society where success is a function of scheduling. Then again, parents would do right to fiercely protect regular slots of 'free time' to enable children to enjoy childhood, not just perform and progress according to objective standards of adult excellence.
Research about effective parenting can be incredibly valuable in checking childcare trends that might not be beneficial for a children's well-being, and can be an asset to educating parents. In this case, though, I can't agree with this childcare expert whose thoughts seem to lack hard evidence, and whose suggestions are unrealistic according to the demands of life in the 21st century.
Regardless, we have more to worry about regarding modern childcare than offering babies too many social opportunities with Mummy.