10 childhood myths

There are misconceptions and myths galore that parents carry in their minds

Child playing with a toyAs a paediatrician, I am inundated with a barrage of questions related to various aspects of childcare. What is not amusing is the amount of misconceptions and myths that parents carry in their heads.

One would expect science to rule in our technological age. But, no! Even with easy access to newspapers/magazines, the web and books carrying scientific information, our level of awareness – in many instances – remains low.

This prompts me to list 10 – though there are many – of the most common misconceptions I encounter in my medical practice, and dispel them.

  1. Excessive crying causes fever

    It’s common for a child to feel miserable at the onset of fever; it starts to cry. It may take 3-4 hours for fever to be measured with a thermometer. During this time, what parents see is their child cries continuously. Since this spell of crying is followed by fever, they wrongly attribute the reason for fever to crying.

    The danger of this assumption is that they try and see to it that the child does not cry. They often pamper their kid with anything and everything it asks for – this eventually makes the child a brat.

  2. Teething causes diarrhoea

    Although diarrhoea during teething has been recognised in textbooks as an entity, it is incorrect to blame each and every episode of loose motion from birth to 10 years of age on teething. When a child is anywhere between 6-12 months, there is a “mouthing” tendency on the part of the child, which serves to carry disease-producing germs into the stomach and intestines of the child, leading to loose stools. As teething also starts around this time, diarrhoea is seen as cause and effect. Parents often ignore episodes of diarrhoea, and blame it on teething. They also think that no treatment is needed, so many kids arrive at the clinic/hospital with severe dehydration.

  3. Instilling oil into the ears/nose/eyes is good

    The practice of instilling oil is not without danger. It serves no purpose. Oil in the nose leads to nose block and if it reaches further into the air passages, it can lead to severe cough and congestion. It is wrongly believed that oil is cooling, and putting it in the ears, or eyes, makes these organs function well, much like instilling lubricating oil in the engine of an automobile.

  4. Food/milk causes phlegm

    Phlegm [mucous] is caused by the irritation of the air passages by germs/pollutants/smoke/foreign bodies etc., Food and milk have never been scientifically linked to mucous production, except in allergic individuals. Imagine: the list of items purported to cause mucous include curd, orange, banana, rice and, believe it or not – water!

    The peril is that parents often restrict these healthy foods for children, making them nutrition-deficient.

  5. Brandy is good for your kid

    It never surprises me to hear from parents that they “give” their child a small dose of brandy and that it is good for the child. Alcohol in any form is dangerous; it is also addictive. Alcohol overdose can some-times lead to fatalities. If your child is restless and cries for long spells, your physician can prescribe a sedative.

  6. Early weaning

    Many parents tend to add supplementary foods to their child’s milk diet as early as 2-3 months. It has been unequivocally documented that early weaning does a lot of harm, not only to the child’s digestion, but also to his or her immune system, resulting in allergies in later life. Please do not start any supplementary foods, except milk, before the child is at least four months old.

  7. Eating sweets and worms

    Worms are caused by poor hygiene. What’s more, the eggs of the worms gain entry into the child, either through the mouth, or skin. Eating sweets can definitely cause dental caries, but not worms. Many parents agonise over the fact that their children eat a lot of sweet things, and repeatedly keep giving them medicines for worms. This is not a healthy practice.

  8. Injections better than oral medicines

    Although injections act faster as a result of getting the medication directly absorbed in the blood stream, oral medicines are equally effective in most cases. Injections also carry the risk of transmission of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and AIDS, and should be avoided, whenever possible, unless disposable syringes and needles are used. Also, if the child is allergic to a given medicine that is being injected, the reaction can be instantaneous and often fatal, whereas the same medicine ingested [orally] causes fewer side-effects.

  9. Antibiotics are not good

    Antibiotics do have side-effects. Whenever there is a bacterial infection, and unless they are used, infection can only worsen. Most of the commonly encountered viral infections subside without antibiotics. In day-to-day practice, since it is not always possible to differentiate between a viral and bacterial infection without laboratory tests, physicians sometimes tend to over-prescribe antibiotics. There is, of course, no easy solution to this dilemma. However, avoiding or refusing to take antibiotics in the presence of a bacterial infection can be dangerous.

  10. Tonics for weight gain and height

    Tonics commonly contain B complex vitamins, iron, or calcium. They do prevent deficiency. All the same, a child’s height and weight depend on factors such as genetic make-up, food habits, exercise etc., not “miracle” pills. This is not all. Certain appetite stimulants, which are commonly prescribed, can also be risky for the child.

Sugar and Hyperactivity

It would be great if this were true! You could treat hyperactivity with special sugar-reduced diets, not medication. Medical research is inclined to refute the theory. Studies have found no apparent difference in behaviour between children eating sugar, and those that don’t. There is also no difference between the effect of sugar on attention-deficit hyperactive disorder [ADHD] and non-ADHD children with regard to behaviour.

P V Vaidyanathan
Dr P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.


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