Some quick searches online bring up surveys that say this is a surprisingly common practice. In one survey, 20% of respondents said they had given their children Benadryl before a long car trip or a plane ride. 12% said they gave their kids a regular nightly dose to put them to sleep and have a quiet night! Because this survey was an online poll, some medical experts think the numbers are likely much higher.
Clearly, this is not the ideal use of the medication and I think it could be argued that it falls pretty short as an appropriate parenting strategy.
But many of us use other methods to sedate our kids. Almost daily, I see children under two being pushed in strollers and grocery carts while they stare at a video on their parent’s phone (see this article on the effect of screens on children). I see the same thing in restaurants—parents chatting while their child is transfixed to a device propped up against a catsup bottle, completely unaware of their surroundings and missing out on the opportunity to develop social skills through interaction with their parents.
Like the inappropriate use of Benadryl, screens get our kids out of our hair so that we can catch our breath. Parenting is incredibly rewarding and comes with some of the most profound emotions and insights a person can experience.
It is also fundamentally and absolutely exhausting. In my adult life, I have prepared for seven black belt tests. None of them compared to the chronic fatigue that comes with being a parent.
So how do I resist drugging my daughter so that I can have a quiet evening? Honestly, that option is not really a temptation for my wife or me. But we do feel the pull of other shortcuts.
Recently she discovered recorded stories. When I was her age, I had recordings of books and stories on 33 ½ and 45 records. Now there are cd’s and Spotify. We had an old phone that we loaded with mp3’s of audiobooks and music she likes, and gave her volume-limited headphones.
She really loves being able to sit there and listen to her “stories,” and we love the quiet that allows us to get work done, read or even just stare blankly at the wall and dumbly try to recover from a day of parenting.
But when she listens to her hand-me-down phone, she stops playing. She stops playing with her toys and playing make-believe. She stops using her body to run around, climb or ride.
Clearly, it is fine for her to listen to age-appropriate stories and music on her own. But there is a threshold where the benefits to her (and us) are offset by the neglect of her body and brain.
There is no guidebook to give us an empirical measurement of how much is okay and how much is harmful. And this is part of what is exhausting about parenting. There is so much good information available about general concepts of parenting. Yet we still have to make up most of it as we go, flying along the path of parenthood by the seat of our pants.
In this case, we are watching our daughter and her response to using her mp3 player. If she starts to become resistant towards doing other activities, or we see a decline in her creativity and curiosity, we will reevaluate her more sedentary (sedative?) activities. If she stays in equilibrium, we will consider giving her longer and/or more frequent sessions with her headphones.
But we will also keep an eye on ourselves. If we begin to become dependent on her headphone time, then we might begin making decisions on her behalf that are not in her best interest. This can lead to poor judgment in our parenting choices.
In this way, Julie and I are actively working towards being more skillful as parents. This is an important concept: parenting is a skill that is learned and can be improved (click here to read an article on parenting as a skill).
All of us parents need breaks from parenting. We are no good to our kids when we are exhausted and frustrated. But we need to approach those breaks selectively. How do we get the most effective recovery and self-nourishment without denying or harming our child in the process?
A final thought on all of this. In these articles, a central theme is that parenting is a skill. The harder you work on this skill on the front end, the more skillfully you will be able to approach your child. The more skillfully you approach your child, the less energy you will need to apply towards parenting and you and your child will both be happier and healthier as a result.
I heard a quote on entrepreneurship many years ago that really resonated with me and impacted how I approach everything, including parenting. To paraphrase, the quote was: If you want something bad enough, figure out how much it costs and start paying for it!
In the context of entrepreneurship, it was a warning against shortcuts. If you are willing to do the work to be successful, figure out what you have to do and just do it.
We want to be effective as parents and want our children to grow into happy, healthy adults. The harder we work right off the bat to learn the skills of parenting, the better we will be at meeting these goals.
And we probably won’t need to give our kids Benadryl to keep them quiet!