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Debunking Old Wives' Tales: 4 Myths About Toddlers

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Debunking Old Wives' Tales: 4 Myths About Toddlers

Jan 29, 2024

Many parents have heard traditional beliefs or old wives' tales surrounding raising children, but are any of them true? Will wearing shoes accelerate a toddler's ability to walk? Does teething make your child sick? Pediatrician Cindy Gellner, MD, talks about the veracity of these toddler tales, providing clarity on what holds true, and what remains a myth in the realm of child development.

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    How many times have you been told, "Don't do that or your baby will have some horrible problem"? As a pediatrician, whenever a conversation starts with, "My grandmother told me," we know there's a good chance that an old wives' tale is the next part of the sentence. Yes, sometimes, we cringe or giggle or roll our eyes. That's because old wives' tales are just that: old. Old knowledge. It's oral tradition dating way back before Dr. Google. But with all our medical knowledge now, why do some people still cling to these stories? Some probably have survived through the ages because they offer comforting advice about the experiences we all share, have little control over, and usually worry about—especially when it comes to kids.

    Fact: Wearing Shoes Do Not Help Babies Walk Sooner

    The first old wives' tale: wearing shoes will help a baby to walk sooner. Wrong. The opposite is true in this case. Keeping the baby barefoot can actually help to strengthen the foot muscles and help your child learn to walk earlier.

    For those learning how to be mobile, I like the soft-soled shoes that are kind of like moccasins. They're functional yet fashionable. For those crazy and fast toddlers who are walking and running, they need comfortable shoes that fit well. They shouldn't be too rigid. Don't go out and buy expensive designer shoes either. Your little one will outgrow those in weeks. Shoes should conform to the shape of the child's feet, but still provide a little extra room for growth.

    Fact: Walkers Do Not Help Babies Walk Sooner

    "A walker will help the baby learn to walk sooner." Again, not true. Those babies who are plopped down in a walker actually learn to sit, crawl, and walk later than kids who have to learn these skills on their own if they want to get around.

    More importantly, baby walkers are dangerous. Nearly 14,000 injuries are treated in emergency rooms every year as a result of walkers and 34 children have died since 1973 because of baby walkers. I have seen kids who were in walkers who got too close to the stairs and down will go baby, walker and all. It's usually not a good outcome. The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommended a ban on mobile infant walkers in the United States. I tell parents if they want something like this for their baby to keep them entertained and contained, use an ExerSaucer.

    Fact: Thumb Sucking After Age 5 Can Cause Buck Teeth

    "Thumb sucking causes buck teeth." True and false. Thumb sucking often begins before birth and generally continues until age five. If your child stops before the age of four, their teeth should be okay. If they continue after age five, when the gum, jaws, and permanent teeth begin their most significant growth, that's when kids get buck teeth. Usually, elementary school peer pressure helps stop this habit.

    Fact: Teething Does Not Cause Lower Resistance to Infections

    Finally, the one I hear most of all is, "Teething causes a fever, runny nose, and diarrhea." Big false. Teething does not cause any of those. It doesn't cause a fever, sleep problems, diarrhea, diaper rash, or lowered resistance to any infection. It probably doesn't cause that much crying either. If your baby develops a fever while teething, the fever is caused by something else. Most likely a virus, as babies who are teething are building up their immune systems and catching any cold that comes their way.

    So next time someone tries to offer you some "helpful advice" about your baby, if it seems odd, ask your pediatrician.


    updated: January 29, 2024
    originally published: May 30, 2016