Monday, July 9, 2012

My New Parenting Guru

I have been worrying a lot about discipline (I wrote about it here and here). On the one hand, I don't want to crush R's spirit or somehow warp her personality (as eloquently described by Alfie Kohn in Unconditional Parenting, which is a really interesting book).

On the other hand, I really don't want her to be spoiled (especially after our recent visit to the US). Spoiled children are a horror to their parents, other people (including other children, who not surprisingly don't like them) and even themselves (they mostly seem very unhappy). And because all my parenting decisions are ultimately about me, I don't want to have a spoiled child because that makes my life harder.

So what to do? I don't believe in spanking (really a topic deserving its own post), and R is too small to successfully use timeouts (unless I want to stand over her the whole time, which pretty much defeats the whole purpose). I am not sure if timeouts are generally a good idea anyway. So far I have still just been telling her no, and if that doesn't work, then I either remove the object involved or R gets removed (or physically prevented from completing her mission). I don't even yell at her. But I have been very worried that this isn't enough, and that I am slowly inculcating a small monster.

Luckily I stumbled across my new favorite parenting guru at a used bookstore. I bought Burton White's Raising a Happy, Unspoiled Child rather randomly, but loved it at once. White is a researcher in child development, who has observed thousands of children over decades of various longitudinal studies. This means that unlike virtually every other author of parenting books, he isn't just basing his recommendations on the few children he's known personally. He is also a good enough scientist not to make recommendations on topics for which he has insufficient information, which I really appreciate.

Main points made:
--The first three years (and in particular, the first two) are of crucial importance in creating a permanent social style for the rest of childhood (and perhaps longer).
--If parented correctly during early childhood, by age 3 children will be delightful and happy almost all of the time. In most cases, this will actually be true by age 22-24 months (White states that the 'terrible twos' are completely preventable).
--Temperament does not affect this outcome: it is due to parenting.
--Good parenting is basically teaching your child that he/she is important, but no more important than anyone else.

The book provides detailed descriptions of exactly what 'spoiling' is, and how parents (unwittingly) do it, and gives techniques to avoid it (including punishments). I started using his techniques, and they are surprisingly easy and effective. R has fought diaper changing constantly for months, making it pretty much an awful experience (bad because it has to be repeated numerous times daily). I started taking his advice on this subject, and even in the few days since, I have seen a huge improvement in her behavior. Suddenly it's no longer an ordeal. She's also largely stopped screaming in the stroller. Since according to White, the most crucial (and most difficult) period in parenting is 14-22 months, I am really happy I found this book.

I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a pleasant (and thus easier-to-parent) child.

EDIT: I should have noted more explicitly that the book is only for ages 0-3 (if you have an older child, it will just make you feel depressed as according to the author the damage will have been done already). Also, it's only for "average" children (those with middle class, relatively educated and functional parents, and without any special needs). 


  1. Awesome. Going to order it now!

  2. I'll have to read it! I was meaning to review a discipline book on my blog- The love and logic book, but the one for the "Early years". I mostly thought it was a very good concept- a little hard to try out right now with only one-way communication, but I think it will be great when she's 2-3 years old.

    1. I hope you do review it! I am always looking for new parenting books to read (I've read a LOT of them).

  3. Thanks so much for recommending this. I've been reading your blog for a while and my daughter is a few months younger. She's also been fighting diaper changes. I will definitely check this out!

  4. I think this is about to become my first parenting book purchase.