Books about Children and Parenting
Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn,
T. Berry Brazelton and Stanley I. Greenspan. Perseus Publishing 2000.
this book Dr. Brazelton, America's premier pediatrician, has teamed up
with the renowned child psychiatrist, Dr. Stanley Greenspan, to delineate
the basic needs of children. They
find this to be necessary since they find little in the way of basic
research on so essential a topic. They
hope that once there are agreed- upon irreducible needs, then there will
be less debate about what children need and more action towards meeting
those needs for all children. The authors argue
that children’s needs are often unmet even in the wealthiest of
and Greenspan begin by defining seven irreducible needs and then devote a
chapter to each. They take
the unusual step of splitting each chapter into three parts: the first
part presents an essay on the subject, the second presents a dialog
between the two physicians as they present their own perspectives and
experiences regarding the subject, and the third presents a summation of
irreducible need they place before all others is "The Need for
Ongoing Nurturing Relationships."
They assert that human beings are emotional beings, especially when
young. Therefore, it is the
emotions through which human infants "learn" higher reasoning
and problem solving.
Relationships enable a child to learn to think.
In his interactions, the child goes from desiring Mom and grabbing
her to saying, "Mom" and looking lovingly. He goes from
"acting out" or behaving his desires or wishes to picturing them
in his mind and labeling them with a word.
This transformation heralds the beginning of using symbols for
is one of many exchanges in which the two authors agree on the importance
of ongoing relationships and emotional interplay:
think even intentionality begins back in the womb. Neonates are
intentional. Years ago we
observed the four stages of reciprocity in the first four months.
The first stage is when the mother teaches the baby to be calm and
achieve balance within, in order to pay attention to outside signals. Then
she teaches the baby to prolong her attention and to wait for signals from
a parent. The next is trading smiles and vocalizations and then the
beginnings of reciprocity. These are matching the baby's smiles and
vocalizations in timing, rhythm, and quality. The baby feels responded to
and matched. The fourth is when the baby moves into what Margaret Mahler
[a pediatrician and psychiatrist who wrote The Psychological Birth of
the Human Infant (1975)] called "hatching," turning away
from the mother and controlling the situation herself. This gives her the
feeling she is in control‑-a sense of self‑esteem. Within
that, I think you're seeing the first stages of cognitive awareness. Also,
by the time the baby knows the mother's and father's smells, voices, and
faces, by six weeks, you should be able to tell by any part of the body
and the heart rate whether the baby is interacting with the mother or the
father. She knows what to expect from each familiar parent, and she knows
it's different. Now isn't that based on an expectancy, an awareness that
is both cognitive and emotional at the same time? To try to tear them
apart as early as that is impossible, At six to eight weeks, this
awareness of differences in each important interactor is the first
reliable sign of cognitive development.
think we can say something even stronger: Emotion is not just part of
cognition; it precedes it as far as we can see. Early on, the baby has
much more control over his emotional system. According to all current
cognitive theories, the baby has to use his motor system to some degree to
explore the world. But the child's emotional system probably matures much
earlier, and the baby can do many more complicated things with emotions.
In a smile, there is a motor component, to be sure, but it's the emotion
driving the smile (the facial muscles). The ability to manipulate the
world, using your gross motor movements as opposed to your facial motor
movements, comes a little later. Even a baby with low muscle tone can show
affect with a twinkle in the eyes or maybe in the movement of his tongue.
We have to tune in to that. Emotions, motor ability, and cognitive ability
are, of course, part of one big whole. But instead of the traditional way
of looking at the development of intelligence through manipulating and
exploring the world, we can say that the child first uses the expression
of emotion as a probe to understand the world. It's through his first
affective interchanges that his sense of causality is established.
Both authors are deeply concerned about the increased use of
"institutional love" (for both the young and the old).
"Institutional love" does not have the meaning or depth of that
provided by parents. In day
care, as it currently stands,
the staff changes frequently and, therefore, does not provide
"ongoing" relationships. An
impoverished emotional life affects not just the baby’s life as a child
but the future development of its abilities as a social being and as an
intellectual one. Even a
child's moral development grows out of its emotional well being. "Not
only thinking grows but so does a moral sense of right and wrong. The
ability to understand another person's feelings and to care about how he
or she feels can arise only from the experience of nurturing
author’s recommendations at the end of the chapter focus, even on an
hourly basis, on continuous interaction with others.
One recommendations states:
No more than one-third of the infants' toddlers' and
preschoolers' time should be spent in fully independent activities.
The time that is spent in independent activities should be spent
for 10 or 15 minutes here and there rather than in a longer period of
In Chapter Two, "The Need for Physical Protection,
Safety, and Regulation, the authors find that the United States falls far
short. They maintain that a
"chaotic" environment ill suits the child. Also, the overuse of
TV and the high levels of toxins in our water and air threaten children.
They note that, according to a Kaiser foundation study, American
children spend over 5 hours a day in front of a TV or computer screen and
that, on the average, human breast milk in the United States contains
dioxin (Agent Orange) at a level three times higher than that set as the
allowable limit in cow's milk in several European countries. They also
discuss high levels of child abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, and tobacco
Chapter Three, "Experiences Tailored to Individual
Differences," decries standardized testing and education.
Children are individuals and should be treated and educated as
such. "The current vogue for back to basics and extended school days
is unfortunately moving education away from the recognition of individual
differences and toward a one‑size‑fits‑all approach.
Simply doing more of what has not been working will not prove helpful, nor
can you teach a child simply by testing him." Testing and failing,
they feel, are counterproductive. The
authors promote a system of "mastery" wherein testing merely
points out the ways children need to improve before they are given the
individualized help needed to try again to master a subject. There is no
failing. The authors
encourage parents to integrate their interactions with the child so as to
meet the child's individual way of relating to the world, to match their
child's strengths and weaknesses with quiet guidance and modeling – at
the same time that they understand the difficulties of their advice.
The fourth chapter, "Developmentally Appropriate
Experiences," argues that adults should provide the child with an
emotional and intellectual environment that is appropriate to where the
child is in his or her progression to adulthood.
Children 1-3 years of age should see no more than 1/2 hour of TV a
day, and for older children, time spent on homework should not interfere
with the child's other needs (including family time). The authors
recommend limits on the amount of homework children at different stages
should undertake, like 1.5 hours per day for children in the 3rd and 4th
"The Need for Limit Setting, Structure, and
Expectations," chapter five, discourages physical punishment and
encourages modeling. "Physical discipline, such as hitting or
spanking a child is no longer an acceptable alternative to discipline.
Discipline means teaching, not punishment."
By demonstrating patience and concern, parents teach empathy. The
authors are aware that working parents have a tough time with limits after
being away all day. Several
times in the book Dr. Brazelton recommends that working parents establish
a daily routine of spending time with their children as soon as they get
home, "I feel strongly about recommending to working parents that
they set up a homecoming ritual in which everybody gets close all over
again. Then they are ready to
play a disciplinary role. But not until then."
The authors also feel that by developing and growing up in an
environment of expectations, expectations of them and by them, children
grow to understand how to live with others gracefully.
lot of people think that when you respect individual differences and work
at the developmental levels of children, you are catering so much to them
that you spoil them. But actually, respect for developmental levels is a
very important part of limit setting. Levels of development and
differences must be taken into consideration. When families brainstorm
together on what the consequences are going to be for not doing what you
are supposed to do, then everyone becomes a participant in setting down
the rules. An atmosphere where there are expectations, structure, and
limits appropriate to a child's age and level is necessary for the basic
security we've talked about earlier.
say discipline is the second most important thing you can give a child.
Love comes first, but very close on its heels comes discipline.
"Stable Communities and Cultural Continuity," the
sixth chapter, calls for parents to take a larger part in school and
community governance. Parents, teachers and other must work together and
are really talking here about a basic need of parents as well as children.
Just as we were talking earlier about mothers needing to be mothered,
parents need to be embraced within layers of community. Instead, we often
have child care or social service that weakens the parent‑child
attachment. I see it as a kind of gatekeeping.
everybody who cares about a small child is in competition for that child,
and so they will unconsciously try to keep other people out of the
relationship. They will blame the other person when something goes wrong
with the child. This pertains not just to parents and child care people,
but also to custody, all kinds of issues.
The author’s final chapter, “Protecting the Future,”
ends with the chapter's general message that in an increasingly
interdependent world, we can no longer focus just on our children or on
American children; all children must be considered. "Throughout the
world future generations of children and families will be much more
interrelated. In order to protect the future for one child, we must
protect it for all."