Speaking of parenting advice…

black and white photo from 1960s of siblings
Me and my big brother in the 1960s.

I ran across a fascinating article today filled with more than 20 parenting tips from the 19th century. I’m researching what daily life was like for women in the late 1800s and early 1900s for my great-grandmother Nellie’s cookbook project and I ran across 24 Puzzling Parenting Tips From the 1800s by Ellen Gutoskey on Mental Floss.

From lancing gums to hanging babies in cages out the window, there were many bizarre parenting tips. Their idea of what was safe wouldn’t fly today. Many of their kitchen cures included alcohol and opium laced concoctions to soothe stomachaches and crankiness. Also, the article references many parenting books, so they were a thing back then as they are now.

Here’s an excerpt:

A lot has changed between the 19th century and today, but one thing that hasn’t is the plethora of available parenting advice—though the following tips would likely make today’s parents scratch their chins. From giving a single slice of bread as a snack to lancing gums, here are a few puzzling parenting tips from the 1800s, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

1. Put babies in cages hanging outside of windows to get them fresh air. In his 1894 book The Care and Feeding of Children, Dr. Luther Emmett Holt introduced the concept of “airing,” or exposing infants to cold temperatures in order to improve their immune systems and overall health. Though Holt didn’t necessarily tell people to attach cages to their windows, products like the Boggins’ Window Crib soon cropped up for city-dwellers who were short on yard space (although it should be noted that a 1916 ad for the Window-Crib appealed to city-folk and country-dwellers alike, even claiming that the grandchild of President Woodrow Wilson was a happy window baby). The cages were especially popular in smoggy London, and they didn’t fall out of fashion until well into the 20th century.

2. Instill obedience by never giving kids what they want.

Many parenting books from the 1800s held that obedience was the first and most important quality to instill in young children. People thought it was the best way to ensure that kids didn’t grow up to be greedy, capricious, or self-absorbed adults

To teach obedience, Cassell’s Household Guide from 1869 outright forbade parents from giving children—babies included—what they wanted. Ever. According to the guide, “It is commonly believed that no harm can come of letting a child have its own way, so long as it is a mere babe. But this is a serious delusion.”

What if your 2-year-old pleads for a few measly grapes between breakfast and lunch, you ask? According to Cassell and company, the answer is a resounding “Absolutely not!” Giving snacks to a hungry child still counts as giving in, and it encourages them to expect food at “unsuitable times.”

To the authors’ credit, they do say that “No harsh words, no impatient gestures, need be added to enforce the rule,” but it’s still probably a stricter snack time policy than most parents would enforce today.

A lot has changed since the late 1800s and early 1900s. When I young in the 60s and 70s, it was acceptable to spank children. Teachers had paddles hung up threateningly above their desks. I remember the great show one teacher would have of paddling a rowdy boy in front of the entire class. Can you imagine that happening today?

Our eating has changed, too. My mom, who was a home-ec major mind you, believed that canned foods like Chef Boyardee or fruits and vegetables were just as healthy as fresh foods. She said they tested the vitamin levels and there was no difference.

We rode our bikes without helmets, rode buses on our own throughout downtown Seattle, and walked to school alone beginning in kindergarten. Yes, the world has changed.

Parents didn’t believe in praising children when I was a kid. That would lead to big heads.

BW photo of toddlers in the 1960s

What parenting practices do you remember from your childhood that are now out-dated?

3 thoughts on “Speaking of parenting advice…

  1. Omg I can’t get past the cage thing!! My mother told me she used to rub olive oil on my scalp. My pediatrician said that absolutely no way should you rub oil you would cook with on a baby

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