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Beware the Superbaby Syndrome

Some unscrupulous people try to exploit the natural insecurities and desires of new parents. They’ll promise to turn your child into a prodigy if you’ll just buy their program or products and do exactly what they say.

There are lots of simple, inexpensive ways you can help your baby develop to his fullest potential. Read to him often and from an early age. Play with him. Encourage him to explore. Spend time cuddling.

Don’t feel you have to buy special courses or lots of expensive toys. Instead, think of some toys you can make at home. A set of plastic measuring cups can provide hours of amusement, as can an old aluminum pot plus a wooden spoon to bang on it. A brightly colored square of cloth about two feet on edge will help your child come to understand that something still exists even when it’s hidden. Empty plastic soft drink bottles not only help him with his coordination, but also make delightful noises when he drops them on the floor. Such inexpensive toys are the scientific apparatus of your baby’s laboratory.

You have little need of overpriced and overrated “development aids” that appeal more to your emotions than to your child’s growing mind and body. (There are some programs, however, that focus on teaching parents what’s going on inside their children’s brains during the first crucial years. These are worthwhile, since they give you insights that help make raising your child more fun.)

I’ve often thought that a great (but unethical) way to make a small fortune would be to publish a book of child development charts that were intentionally distorted, so that approximately 85 percent of children were shown to be “above average” or “ahead of schedule” when they learned to sit up, talk walk, pick up a block, etc. Like so many disreputable and worthless programs, it would succeed financially by appealing to parents’ insecurity and vanity.

A child psychologist friend of mine and I once joked that we would write a tongue-in-cheek press release about a new prenatal education system. Our whimsical and totally fraudulent idea involved a high-intensity slide projector that aimed pictures of classical paintings and mathematical formulas onto a pregnant mother’s belly. The slides would all be reversed and inverted, we noted, because they would be seen by the baby who was upside down and on the other side of the “screen.”

It was our way of poking fun at some of the ludicrous claims made by people who take parents’ money under the pretense of turning their babies into geniuses. We were particularly upset by the way some of these programs implied that if they didn’t work, it was because the parents had somehow failed.

The problem with our idea, we soon realized, was that a significant number of people would take it seriously. After all, one entrepreneur was offering escorted group tours of Asia for 2-year-olds and their parents, with the promise that the two weeks of such cross-cultural exposure would help the children in kindergarten and beyond. What nonsense!

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Whenever you see an offer like this, keep in mind that infants are already learning at an incredibly fast rate. We don’t have to encourage them to learn; they’ll even do it in spite of us if they have to. It’s wired into their genes. But infants learn in ways that reflect the stages of development of their brains.

I recall one woman who, under social pressure from her family and neighbors, enrolled her baby in an expensive art class that was, she soon discovered, completely inappropriate to his stage of development. As she put it, “When they took out the crayons, he ate the crayons. When they took out the clay, he ate the clay.”

Advertisements for many of these expensive, inappropriate, and generally worthless programs appeal to our vanity as parents. At best, they do nothing to help our children’s intellects and talents. At worst, they add significantly to the stress children and parents feel, and may actually lead to academic problems later on.

Beware the Superbaby Syndrome

Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D

Dr. Lawrence Kutner is a nationally known clinical psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, where he's co-founder and co-director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media. He's the author of five books, including: Parent & Child: Getting Through to Each Other; Pregnancy and Your Baby's First Year; Toddlers and Preschoolers; Your School-Age Child; and Making Sense of Your Teenager. All articles appearing here originally were published on Used with permission.

APA Reference
Kutner, L. (2018). Beware the Superbaby Syndrome. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.