1920?s childhood “ SERIOUSLY?

I was recently spending an afternoon reading parenting books at Barnes & Noble. Our daughter is 15 months old, and we are starting to get into “testing” territory – and my husband and I wanted a plan.

(Photographer: unknown Date: ca. 1920’s Archives: I.W.K. Children’s Hospital / Grace Maternity Hospital library)

I read books on several different parenting philosophies – attachment parenting, natural parenting, even some Dr. James Dobson. And I came across a parenting philosophy from the 1920’s – it was all the rage at the time, and parents everywhere bought the book by the millions. It was a “philosophy” by J.B. Watson. He was a prominent behaviorist of the time, and his book advised parents to not be affectionate. In fact the book is quoted as saying:

Never hug or kiss them. Never let them sit on your lap.If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinary good job of a difficult task…

Remember when you are tempted to pet your child that mother love is a dangerous instrument ” an instrument which may inflict a never-healing wound, a wound which will make infancy unhappy, adolescence a nightmare, an instrument which may wreck your adult son or daughter’s vocational future and their chances for marital happiness.” (1928)


My heart just aches for the generations of children who were raised by well meaning parents that followed this advice! It was nearly two decades before people began to challenge this “parenting guru” and his philosophies. In fact Mr. Watson himself eventually said he didn’t have enough information to have spoken on the subject of parenting. But that admission couldn’t have helped the little ones who lived through the “no affection” parenting craze of the 1920’s!

Reading about Mr. Watson’s “theory” reminded me of something. Parenting theories come and go. And sometimes the “trendy” parenting craze isn’t going to fit with your particular family – and maybe that’s a good thing! At the end of the day it’s great for me to read books on the research, or newest parenting findings – but their take on things doesn’t have to be mine. My husband and I have to feel comfortable with how we raise our daughter – and we have to follow our hearts to do that. Not follow a particular manual. We will love our daughter, and try our best to do what’s in her best interest. Sometimes despite our best efforts, we will fail. But we would most assuredly fail if we handed her care over to a pamphlet, or a book. Even a book on on the best sellers list.

The best parenting philosophy I know is just to love a baby with your whole heart. And that I can do.

Thanks J.B. Watson. Thanks for the wake up call.


  1. Wow! I can’t believe people felt this way about children. That was a great post.

  2. I cant believe that either! It makes you take a good hard look at your grandparents to see if they are dealing with any repercussions!

  3. Wow. Now I understand my husband’s grandfather and my MIL. If that’s even possible.

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