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10 Scary Things That are Actually Safe for Baby


Most of us have one main goal for our kids: to keep them safe from suffering. We don’t want them to endure physical pain—stay away from those knives!—nor do we want them to feel emotional pain. But research has shown that if we protect our kids too much from life’s un-pleasantries, we actually make them less prepared for life's challenges. So mom, let them scrape their knees, be the last one picked for the softball team, or fall off a tree.

Chances are you’ll be doing a better job of protecting them than if you prevented them from having those experiences.

1. Play With Knives

a pocket knife

It’s called “risky play,” and it’s something most of us beg our children not to do. But Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, says she’s seen parents in Sweden and Germany let their kids engage in modes of play that most American parents would be scared of, like playing with sharp tools or climbing on roofs, and they’re all the better for it. Kids improve their judgment and learn important skills, including being able to trust themselves.

2. Climb Big Trees

a girl climbing a tree

Much like playing with knives, climbing big trees can impart confidence and skills to your kiddo. As one study concluded, “risky play” exposes children to experiences they previously feared and teaches them how to cope. The authors add, “We may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.” Increased neuroticism? Us?

3. Put Your Baby Underwater

a baby being put under water in a pool

Hey, your baby swam around in your amniotic fluid for nine months, right? Well, turns out babies have an innate ability to swim. Underwater. You need to study the technique, of course, but if you blow on baby’s face and then submerge her, she’ll know how to hold her breath. Some babies can float and even swim before they can sit up or crawl (check out this video for proof). Submerging your child (the right way!) at an early age could help keep them safe in the water for life.

4. Let the Hunger Pains Rumble

a bowl of noddle soup

Where are the world’s best eaters? Korea, according to Gross-Loh. “Children are taught it is important to wait out their hunger until it is time for the whole family to sit down together and eat,” she writes. Families eat together, and don’t snack between meals. By the time kids sit down to eat with their parents, and eat what their parents are supping on (no chicken fingers and mac and cheese), they’re hungry enough to eat all the spicy, flavorful and complex foods at the table.

5. Eat Peanuts


Food allergies are sharply on the rise in America, but we don’t know why. It could have to do with too many genetically modified foods, or too many anti-bacterial soaps, or it could be that we restrict things like eggs, strawberries, and peanuts from our infants, thereby never giving their bodies a chance to adjust to them. That’s right: one hypothesis is that the best way to prevent peanut allergies is by giving your kids peanuts—the opposite of what many pediatricians recommend. 

There is evidence that in countries like Israel, where infants regularly eat a peanut butter-based snack called Bamba, the number of peanut allergies are miniscule, especially in comparison to countries where babies are kept away from peanuts.

6. Skip School

two boys playing outside

Well, maybe don’t play hooky, but some researchers think our society would fare better if our kids spent less time chained to a desk and more time simply running through fields. Finland, for example, has one of the premier educational systems in the world, but Finns don’t start school until age seven and then much of their school day is spent outdoors.

7. Let Them Stay Sick

a mom wiping her babies nose

Many of us rush for antibiotics when our kids come down with scary symptoms: menacing coughs, rashes, the runny nose that never ends. But the great majority of childhood illnesses are viral, not bacterial, and antibiotics will ultimately be less effective than plain old time.

More importantly, there are health risks associated with overuse of antibiotics. Bacteria might start resisting the drugs, requiring more and stronger versions of them, and those anti-biotics kill both the good and bad bacteria.

8. Get Dirty & Eat Dirty

a boy with mud on his face

Much as we hope they won’t throw food on the floor, get up to their elbows in mud or lick the dog, getting gross—eating floor scraps, running amok in a barn—has very positive effects. Exposure to pets, and especially to farm animals, gets the good bacteria going. Bottom line: don’t fear the dirt.

9. Eat Bacteria

a bowl of yogurt and fruit

The good kind, of course. Particularly, the probiotic called Lactobacillus has been found to combat all kinds of gastrointestinal distress, not to mention colic, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition found in premature babies. The list goes on: ear infections, UTIs, common colds, skin disorders, eczema, acne, high cholesterol, Lyme disease, may all be improved through these friendly bacteria. They’re found in fermented foods like yogurt and in pill or powder form at pharmacies and health food stores.

10. Let the Tears Roll

a baby crying in his mothers arms

Setting aside the question of full-on sleep training—it’s as old and contentious an argument as nature versus nurture—recent research has shown that small amounts of crying are safe for your baby. A study in Pediatrics found that kids who had been sleep-trained with minimal intervention—a version of Ferberizing or moving further and further away from crying kids as they slowly learn to sleep on their own—had no greater emotional or behavioral problems than kids who had been soothed to sleep. In fact, writes Time, “Slightly more children in the control group had emotional or behavioral problems than in the sleep-trained group.”

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