Second step to being more scientific in your parenting: Let go of your emotions

In this series, I will be reviewing the basic concepts in thinking that will help you become more scientific or evidence based in their parenting. 
Many people think that being an evidence based parent means being pro-vaccine or following accepted wisdom (which may not even be scientific) about parenting decisions. I disagree, I believe that being an evidence based parent refers to applying a scientific method of thinking to your parenting decisions, that includes looking at the evidence on parenting objectively. 
This does not mean you always have to do what the science says, but accepting what the science says and considering it alongside your own personal beliefs and circumstances is essential to being an evidence-based parent.

We like to pretend that we are rational people but often people will reject a scientific finding without looking at it closely because the science is too emotionally painful for them to look at or consider. This gut rejection of a finding comes from two major emotions, fear and guilt.
Fear is what stops you considering that their may be benefits to something that you consider risky because you do not want to permit it. Guilt, on the other hand, causes you to reject a finding on negative outcomes of something that you've either done in the past or are continuing to do. They are strong powerful emotions and they deserve to be heard and listened too. They do not however deserve to overrule the science and here's why.
Your strong emotions are causing you to misunderstand what the study is basically trying to stay. You see this is in the outraged comments under an article about a study finding where people will accuse the researchers of calling them bad parents. That is absolutely not what the researchers are trying to tell you. They were not in your house when you made certain decisions nor do they live in your house now. They do not know what the absolutely best decision to make about your children is. What are they are trying to do is to provide you with additional information about the risks or benefits of a certain action so that you can make a more informed decision.
Lets use sleep training as an example. There has been a lot of studies recently showing increased cortisol levels in babies left to cry it out, since raised cortisol in babies has also been linked to problems in brain development, researchers have suggested that cry it out methods may cause problems with brain development. Many many people responded to this information with outrage and rejected the information. Some people criticised the research in spite of clearly not having read the study. Other people were outraged by the fact that the study was even done, some even going so far as to consider it part of an 'attachment parenting agenda'. Most people however responded defensively and emotionally saying that the researchers were calling them bad parents who had caused their children to be brain-damaged.  All of these responses miss the point, which is that this research was done to help parents make a better decision in helping their babies sleep. For a long time the only information available was what method was most likely to succeed in making your baby sleep through the night and which method was quickest. This finding adds in the additional information that one method (that is highly successful and quite quick) may be more harmful to your baby, allowing parents to make a more informed decision. Their individual decision may vary, maybe they decide to delay sleep training for a little while, maybe they decide to use an alternate method or maybe they decide that the risk is worthwhile. The point is not their end decision but that their decision was informed by all the research to date.
When you reject a research study based entirely on your emotions you are preventing this informed decision from happening for yourself. If you share this rejection with either your friends or online, you are causing other people to be prevented from this informed decision making. You are also contributing to an anti-science atmosphere where emotion rules and an individual's personal opinion is considered more important than well done scientific research.

What you can do about this
Start by acknowledging your emotions. Think about what you are scared of as a parent and how that affects your decision making. Think about what parenting decisions you made that didn't sit right with you or what outcomes in your children you feel guilty about. Recognising these things that you feel uncomfortable with will help you recognise when a study is going to trigger these feelings.
Recognise when a study is triggering these emotions in you. You may feel guilty or angry or scared straight out when you see it. You may just want to reject it entirely based on the headline. Don't.
Read the study and let it sit with you. You don't have to act on it but just look at it, think about it and let it be in your head for a while. By letting it in to your head the hope is that eventually you can use it to help you make a more informed decision. Even if that never happens, at least you have not allowed your emotions to hurt other people.


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