Raise your hand if you’ve ever done the following: Strapped your baby into a stroller instead of an infant carrier? Let your child cry for a few minutes before responding? Fed your baby a bottle of formula instead of breast milk? Now—raise your hand if you’re already feeling guilty.
If you’re versed in the “attachment parenting” philosophy promoted by pediatricians like Dr. William Sears, then the research conclusions recently presented by Darcia Narvaez, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, will sound familiar. According to Narvaez, modern-day parenting “norms” like using infant formula, putting babies to bed in their own rooms, or sleep training are doing kids harm by stunting their emotional, moral and neurological development.
“Breast-feeding infants, responding to crying, almost constant touch and having multiple adult caregivers have been shown to positively impact the developing brain, which not only shapes personality, but also helps physical health and moral development,” says Narvaez, who is working on a book on the subject. “We looked at the effects of these and other ancestral parenting practices on 3-year-olds and found that every single one had an effect on empathy, conscience, intelligence and self-regulation.”
So now, the real questions: How much do you need to pay attention to this research? And how badly have you already screwed up your kid? (Because, let’s face it, most of us—even those who want to breast-feed exclusively, wear our kids in slings or respond to every middle-of-the-night cry—aren’t able to adhere to these philosophies 100 percent of the time.) We asked other experts in child development to weigh in, and, luckily, the answer seems to be: Somewhat, and probably not much (if at all).