Thursday, August 9, 2012

The New First Three Years of Life, Burton White

I read Burton White's other book, and loved it so much I immediately wanted to read this one (which he actually wrote first). I was so anxious to read it I ordered it both from the library and online. The library won (shipping to Singapore is pretty slow), but that's OK, since I really like the book. (I try not to buy too many books, because it's just more clutter, but if I want to reread it numerous times I will make an exception.)

The New First Three Years of Life is the better of the two, as it's much more comprehensive and thorough. It contains a huge amount of useful information, including:
--the course of normal child development (what you can expect your child to do at each stage). He talks about physical milestones of course, but more important are the social, intellectual and emotional milestones (about which there is a huge amount of ignorance/misinformation).
--how to create a stimulating environment (meaning, maximizing intellectual development) at every stage. I was worrying a LOT about this, so to have reliable information based on actual research/observation is awesome.
--what toys to buy (and not buy). I have wasted a lot of money, that's for sure! (For instance, most children dislike 'busy boxes', pull toys, and beads on wires. I thought R just didn't like toys much: the truth is I was buying the wrong ones. I've bought a few new ones, and she actually plays with them. Imagine!)
--ways to 'foster competence' (help your child with their current developmental tasks). Example: how to give  your child practice in being a leader; in using resources effectively; and in good language development. Maybe I'm kind of clueless, but I really didn't know how to do these things, at least in a deliberate way. It was a revelation to me that just saying certain things (by pointing out small details in a picture, for instance), I could increase R's overall competence.
--and advice on pretty much every parenting subject, including sleep (he is in favor of sleep training), spacing of children (he is strongly against closely spaced children), TV watching (a good idea, in moderation and with carefully selected content), disciplinary techniques (he is not in favor of spanking, but provides some alternatives: which so far have worked wonderfully well for me), and so on.

I love this book. Love is actually not a strong enough word, because after reading I felt that every parent of small children needed to read it. My previous ignorance about normal child development is startling (considering I am well-educated, well-read and relatively sophisticated). I was very frequently either underestimating R's abilities (and thus expecting too little from her) or overrating them (and getting frustrated with her, for things that in fact could not be helped).

Since I stay at home with R and participate in a lot of social activities, I've had the chance to see many mothers in action. I knew some of them were not doing a very good job, but couldn't articulate exactly what was wrong or how they ought to change things. Reading this book (and the other one) has explained it all. Now I can really see the connections in children's behaviors and their parent's actions. I feel like the man in Plato's story of the cave to be honest.

More importantly, it has really changed the way I do things. Unwittingly, I was engaging in all sorts of bad parenting techniques. Examples: trying to provide R with amusement/distractions in diaper changing (instead of treating it like the non-negotiable with certain mores that it is); thinking it was healthy for R to be bored; assuming R needed lots of social interaction with other similar-aged children; being too indulgent of bad behavior (he says that parents should ask themselves, "Would I let her do this at age 8?" If the answer is no, then you must stop it.)

I've started the process of fixing some of these (which is a surprisingly difficult task), and while R is still not an angel baby (apparently even if I do the best job ever she will be unpleasant until age 2 at a minimum), it has made a big difference. For instance, diapering is now a smooth, easy process (it used to be like trying to diaper a live octopus); R generally heeds my authority, and when she doesn't her defiance is considerably less; and she's started telling herself "No, no" when tempted to do something forbidden. She's smarter/more observant than I thought she was!

1 comment:

  1. I love that you post these reviews for parenting books--I'm not ready to start reading yet, but I know where to go once we're on our way there!