[This post is part of my Noteworthy Early Childhood Development (ECD) Resources series, which rounds up and highlights key resources on particular topics.]
I am often asked by parents of young children for clarification on some of the recommendations made by ‘experts’ on various aspects of parenting infants and toddlers, especially around sleep. As a new parent myself, I can relate to the confusion, anxiety, and often, self-doubt, in making decisions around the care of your child. As a researcher, however, I am stunned at how many over-simplified recommendations are given to parents as ‘expert advice’ – and how little of that is grounded in child development research. For example, many well-meaning advisors will tell you that a newborn baby needs about 16 hours of sleep. Turns out that there is no research that actually tells us the optimal amount of sleep for a baby. There are only descriptive studies that tell us that newborn babies in a particular part of the Western world sleep anywhere from 9 to 19 hours, averaging out to 14-16 hours. For some reason, the parenting literature moves very swiftly from ‘descriptive’ to ‘prescriptive’ – from describing trends in the Western world to prescribing the ‘average’ as the best for all children.
As I’ve been wading through the internet, as a new parent and as a critical researcher, I wanted to share with you a couple of websites I have found that have research-based articles on range of parenting topics. Many of the articles interweave the research evidence with the writers’ perspectives – which I personally appreciate, but you should be aware of the blurred lines between research and perspective. You’ll notice that most of the articles I link up to below argue for what might be called ‘gentle’, ‘attachment’, or ‘evolutionary’ parenting. This is something I believe in, based on my own reading of the literature, and also based on my awareness of parenting in many cultures around the world – including cultures where responsive interactions and physically and emotionally enmeshed parent-baby relationships are considered normal, and notions of babies sleeping alone in separate rooms and ‘crying it out’ are foreign.
Here are three websites that I have found to have helpful, generally research-backed, parenting articles. Note that I am not necessarily endorsing all of the assertions made by these writers, and leave it to you, as the reader, to judge for yourself.
Moral Landscapes: Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, writes this column for Psychology Today. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, from psychological, anthropological, and philosophical perspectives. She also often describes and responds to new research findings and current events. Some of her articles that I have found insightful include:
- Normal, human infant sleep (mini-series): Part 1
- 6 hidden myths behind baby sleep training advocacy
- Infant couch potatoes
- It’s Breastfeeding Week: Why should you care?
Evolutionary Parenting: Tracey Cassels, Ph.D. Candidate in Developmental Psychology at the University of British Columbia, is the founder and primary writer of this website. She writes articles and opinion pieces on a variety of parenting topics, generally taking an explicit evolutionary perspective. Some of her articles that I have found interesting include:
- Normal parenting behaviours and why they won’t hurt your child
- Taking the newborn out of newborn toys
- It’s not “Just feed your baby”: Why breastfeeding discourse matters
- Parenting, work, and the spoiled baby
Parenting Science: Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist and science writer, writes articles on a range of parenting topics, drawing on research from anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience. It was in one of her articles that I learned how little research there is behind current baby sleep recommendations. Other articles that I have found useful include:
There are many other resources available to inform parenting approach and decisions. I recommend the following guidelines when evaluating the quality of any particular resource:
- Who or what is behind the website? Is it a corporation that might have a vested interest in selling you something? Be cautious for bias. Look for websites of universities and academics, independent researchers, or other institutions or people that are trustworthy.
- Who is writing the articles? Is it someone who is simply sharing their personal opinion? (Which may not necessarily be a bad thing – but be aware of people’s personal perspectives.) Is it someone who is doing or referencing valid research, and is respected by their peers in the research community?
- What is written in the articles? Are the assertions backed up by research with full reference information? Is the research current or outdated? Is the research published in respected journals? Also, if you are able to read the original research paper, evaluate whether you feel the article writer draws appropriate conclusions from the research findings.
Please share thoughts, ideas, and additional resources in the comments section or via email! Thanks.
For more resources, check out other Noteworthy Early Childhood Development Resources editions.