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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

New Book Looks At Parenting From A Child's Perspective

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Recently, my husband bought tickets to a Monster Jam truck race for himself and our two boys. All of them love cars, trucks, Nascar - anything to do with racing. When the big day arrived, off they went. I expected them to be gone for hours, so I was surprised when they came back much earlier than planned. My husband explained that our 4-year-old was super excited about the show until it actually began, at which point he completely freaked out. He tried calming our son down, but to no avail. Frustrated, my husband steered a disappointed 10-year-old and a much-relieved 4-year-old out of the arena, and sped home. After shelling out big bucks for the show - of which he only saw 5 minutes - my husband was understandably upset. None of us could understand our son's behavior.

It took us a little while, but we finally reached an "Aha" moment: our son started panicking when he realized that a monster truck would be rolling over a school bus. His 4-year-old mind seemed to equate that bus with the one that takes him to school, the one captained by a kindly driver and filled with his little friends. No wonder he freaked out at the idea of it being crushed! The experience still frustrates my husband, but at least it taught us to look at things from his perspective. In future, we'll be more sensitive to his tender feelings and buy one less ticket to Monster Jam.

Lightbulb moments like these are what nurse Dyan Eybergen is talking about in her new book Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child's Perspective. She insists that the more we listen to and try to understand our children, the more efficiently we will be able to parent them. She advocates thinking like the child (school bus crushed by monster truck = nightmare, not entertainment) in order to gain understanding and empathy. She also thinks it's vital to note the differences in our kids' personalities and tailor our parenting techniques to suit the child. I think parents naturally do this, but probably not as much as they should.

In the book, Eybergen discusses several childhood milestones and how "Child Perspective Parenting" can make these transitions easier for both parents and children. She discusses techniques for dealing with potty training, finicky eaters, bedtime, and more. All of her ideas reflect her belief in showing respect for the child's emotions and empowering children to think and act independently. While I disagree with a couple of Eybergen's approaches, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of putting ourselves in our childrens' shoes to help us remember the fears and anxiety so common in childhood.

I had to laugh at Eybergen's views on potty training. She insists that children should be taught only when they are developmentally ready (I agree with her there), and that they should not be rewarded or bribed into using the toilet. She believes, "The only reward a child should expect for having learned to use the potty is an intrinsic satisfaction in achieving a developmental milestone" (22). I can't help but snicker when I picture a mother telling her kid, "I know Tommy gets M&M's when he goes potty, but you're getting something better: 'an intrinsic satisfaction in achieving a developmental milestone.'" Yeah - good luck with that. I agree with Eybergen in principle, but practically speaking, it would never work. The other thing that rubbed me the wrong way was this: Eybergen says children should be answered honestly when they ask questions about sex, should be taught to label their body parts correctly, and that little boys (she's talking 3 years old here) should be "told that it was okay for him to touch his own penis - after all, it belonged to him -- but that there was a time and a place for that ... [they] learned that it was acceptable for them to explore their own bodies in private" (73-74). Okay, I'm on board with the first two, but the last - WHAT?? Parents are supposed to tell 3-year-olds that it's okay to touch themselves so they an learn that "their bodies were special and did wonderful things in response to loving touch" (73)? Are you kidding me?

Besides the above issues, I found most of Out of the Mouth of Babes informative, if obvious. The best part of the book, by far, is the chapter on self-esteem. Using the anocronym SELF, she encourages parents to arm their kids with Support, Empowerment, Love and Faith. I wholeheartedly agree with this advice. So, all in all, I think the book carries a valuable message, but it's nothing really new or special. The writing itself is average, the content a bit generic, and overall, I can't find a reason to give it more than a C.

Grade: C

(This review is part of a blog tour hosted by Mother Talk. For more info, click here.)

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