Are these parenting habits really so bad?

See how these common behaviors can impact your child's health.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

When it comes to figuring out the best parenting tactics, you can read any of the zillions of books out there, but a lot of it still comes down to trial and error and gut instincts. And no matter what you decide, sometimes you’ll get it right, and sometimes you won’t. We’re not here to judge (you’re already doing the hardest job in the world!), but we can offer a few expert insights on which of these 18 parenting habits really are bad—and which are probably okay.

--By Sally Wadyka for MSN Healthy Living

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Not so bad: Buying non-organic food

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) weighed in on this issue. Its statement laid out some possible benefits—including fewer pesticides in organic produce and lower risk of exposure to drug-resistant bacteria from organic meat and dairy.

But ultimately, the organization says the most important thing is to feed your children a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, consider the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen.” It lists the produce with the most pesticide residue—and thus the ones most worth getting organic whenever possible.

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Bad: Not being strict about bedtime

“Kids need not only a consistent bedtime, but also a consistent bedtime routine,” says Jeffrey Fendrick, MD, a pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Of course, what that looks like will be very different for toddlers than for teens, but both will benefit from some stability. At any age, encourage a period of winding down prior to bed—for little kids that could be a bath and a story, while for older ones, it means turning off the stimulating TV shows or video games.

“So many kids aren’t getting enough sleep, which leads to trouble at school,” says Fendrick. Setting the limits that help them establish good sleep habits now will set them up for success.

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Not so bad: Sending kids to school "a little bit" sick

According to most pediatricians, the standard rule is don’t send your kids to school if they’ve had a fever of 101 or above in the past 24 hours. But what else requires keeping them away from class?

“You want to be cautious, but not neurotic,” advises Fendrick. Every little cough or sniffle is not reason enough to stay home, he says. “You might get dirty looks from other parents, but some kids cough or have a runny nose for most of the winter, and it’s just not practical to keep them home for the duration.”

Of course, you do want to make sure your child learns the importance of covering his mouth when he coughs or sneezes, and washes his hands frequently (including every time he blows his nose). Other illness, like stomach flu, will probably require staying home until the vomiting or diarrhea cease. And in the case of pink eye, don’t send kids out of the house until they’ve been on antibiotic eye drops for at least 24 hours, says Fendrick.

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Not so bad: Employing the digital nanny

There are times when nearly every parent resorts to the screen (whether it’s TV, smartphone, computer or tablet) to soothe, placate and entertain a whiny child. But as long as you don’t park your kid there for hours on end, it’s not so bad. The AAP discourages parents from allowing any screen time at all for children under 2 (in favor of more interactive play). But for older children, they are OK with no more than one to two hours a day of screen time—as long as the content is non-violent and educational in nature.

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Bad: Skipping vaccinations

Some parents have very strong feelings about not vaccinating, spreading out the shots or waiting until kids are slightly older to get them. But the consensus in the medical community is that following the standard guidelines (set out by the CDC and the AAP) protects kids from some very serious illnesses—and is not associated with autism.

“The danger of waiting or spacing out the vaccines is that there’s that much more time before your kids are fully protected,” says Fendrick. “During that time they could get something serious, even life-threatening, which is totally preventable.”

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Not so bad: Letting kids snack between meals

Most kids need a snack or two to get them through to the next meal. But with obesity rates on the rise, even among toddlers, you need to be careful what you give your kids to snack on, and when they eat it. Think low-calorie, low-fat and in small portions. Instead of letting your teen sit down with a whole bag of potato chips, serve out a portion of healthier baked chips in a bowl. Remember that younger kids have tiny tummies—a snack less than an hour before a meal may mean they don’t eat the meal.

“And snacks don’t always have to be ‘snack foods,’” encourages Fendrick. “Don’t be'

afraid to offer a fruit or vegetable and say, ‘This is today’s snack, take it or leave it.’”

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Not so bad: Texting instead of calling

When it comes to communicating with your teen and tween children, texting is often the weapon of choice. It’s what they do, which means it’s also what they’re most likely to respond to. And while texting is certainly no replacement for face-to-face connection, it is a great way to stay in touch with kids throughout the day, and an easy way for them to keep you up to date on their whereabouts (without their friends even knowing they’re checking in with mom!).

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Not so bad: Skipping the nightly bath

A bath can be a relaxing part of the bedtime routine for your baby or young child. But if you don’t it do every night, that’s OK. In fact, for newborns, it’s actually better.

“Infants have very sensitive skin, so you don’t want to immerse them in the tub more than three times a week,” says Carole Arsenault, RN, founder of Boston Baby Nurse and author of The Baby Nurse Bible. Toddlers and older children with dry, sensitive skin will also do better with a less-than-nightly routine, especially during the winter months. For no-bath days, just make sure that there’s still frequent hand washing, and be sure to keep the diaper area clean.

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Bad: Letting baby sleep in bed with you

Proponents of attachment parenting advocate for the family bed—in which everyone sleeps together. But there are some concerns when it comes to having a child—especially an infant—in bed with you.

“The mattress may be too soft, blankets could end up covering the baby or a parent could roll over and injure the infant,” warns Arsenault. If you want your baby as close as possible, she recommends using a co-sleeper that attaches to your bed, but allows baby to have his own, safe, space.

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