Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Read: 17 March, 2018

I enjoyed this quite a bit more than We Should All Be Feminists. Perhaps because the context is more personal, so it justifies the more personal tone. As with We Should All Be Feminists, this isn’t about building a case or proving a point or trying together statistics to form a broader picture. But unlike We Should All Be Feminists, this book is explicitly preaching to the choir.

That was the problem with the other book – its function would be to convince readers to care. But without a well-crafted argument, without proof that there is a problem in the first place, it falls short. Here, however, Adichie is addressing herself to a friend who has just had a baby and who wants to know how to apply her already-existing feminism to her parenting. She’s already on board with the ideals, but she wants practical advice (and, perhaps, a little cheerleading).

The advice itself is more of the high concept variety. This isn’t, after all, a parenting book with sample scripts. But it serves well as a reminder of all the sneaky little cultural baggage that we bring into our parenting without even realising it.

Teach Your Child To Read In Just Ten Minutes A Day by Sidney Ledson

Read: 25 March, 2014

There are two separate aspects of this book to review: The first is the writing, and the second is the method.

The writing is terrible. It reads like the fevered rant of some self-publishing conspiracy theorist. The book – particularly the argument-setting Part I – is riddled with phonetic spelling errors, like the word “Instutute” on page 15. These don’t exactly inspire confidence in the method.

There was no real acknowledgement of childhood development, no mention of the physical developments of the brain that might be necessary to process the relationship between symbol and symbolised, and no mention of the research that suggests that pushing skills (like reading) before a child is developmentally ready can backfire. There’s also no mention of the difference between ability to read and comprehension, so that Ledson gives no evidence that he’s teaching anything other than a parlour trick. Even if the author disagrees with these points, since such research have direct implications for his thesis, they should have been acknowledged.

Further, Ledson clearly has an axe to grind against the public school system. Throughout the book, his method is compared to the failings of public schools, including the rather incredible assertion that dyslexia is a made-up disease. None of this was necessary to his thesis, nor to the discussion of his method. I found it distracting and, frankly, rather aggravating.

Whenever research is used to support a point, it goes uncited. References are far too vague for me to be able to figure out what studies he’s talking about. For example, he says: “According to a highly-respected researcher in early-childhood studies…” (p.24). When that is the only identifying information given, how can I possibly take his point seriously?

Finally, I want to whine about the incredible promises. Throughout the book, Ledson promises that every single child can read with his method (often using the word “guarantee”). He even, at several points, strongly suggests that children taught with his method will develop a genius-level IQ as a result. Over and over again, the idea that precocious readers might have started with certain physiological advantages is dismissed out of hand.

For all these reasons, I was pre-disposed not to take the method very seriously. Yet for all its claims, the method really isn’t so different from what I already do with my preschooler – except perhaps being a little more methodical (not relying on incidental word sightings, and focusing on one letter at a time).

So the method seems to at least have some surface validity, and I’m willing to give it a try. I’ll update with our progress, if any.

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Owning two of an object can predict school success. Can you guess what it is?

Of course, simply owning these objects won’t change anything, but it does indicate a pattern of behaviour in the family, and that’s what predicts children’s success in school.

Can you guess what the object is?

It’s bookcases.

On a materials level it makes no sense, that a series of particle-board slats named Billy would, just by their very existence in the living room, mean a child living in the same structure would do better in school than kids whose families lacked that product. But parents buy bookshelves for a reason, of course, and when they own two bookshelves or more it indicates that they like to buy books and presumably read them, and as it turns out, folks who like to read are more predisposed to see to it that their children do well in school.

All too often, I’ve known parents who buy plenty of books for their children and complain that their children just don’t seem to be interested in reading them. But the question is, of course, are the parents reading? Is reading seen to be a part of the family’s routine? If so, of course, children are much more likely to become readers. More time reading then correlates with all sorts of other things, such as literacy, vocabulary, introduction to other historical periods and cultures, etc.

I can see this with my son. He sees me read a lot, and he’s quite happy to choose a picture book and to sit with it for 45 minutes looking at the pages. So even though I don’t always remember or manage to read to him, I really don’t have any worries about his future literacy and interest in books.

Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child by Robert J. MacKenzie

Read: 21 February, 2012

Since my son was born, I’ve occasionally indulged in “mommy boards” – online forii where mothers argue, call each other names, and generally try to maximize the amount of parental guilt each feels. In other words, oodles of fun.

In these groups, The Great Spanking Debate often rears its ugly head. At one end of the spectrum are those who decry spanking as a failure in parenting, while at the other are those who say that spanking is God’s Gift to Parents. But the more interesting responses are from the vast majority who say that spanking isn’t ideal, but that many kids simply don’t response to other methods of discipline and make the occasional spank a necessity.

Setting Limits is about those kids.

The premise of the book is that while some kids are naturally very compliant and eager to please, some kids are strong-willed and will always seek to test limits. Setting Limits doesn’t talk about spanking, but the position of the author is clear that the problem lies with the parent. Compliant kids are very forgiving and will respond well even to inconsistent or inefficient disciplinary methods, but strong-willed kids need a much more strategic parenting style.

The focus of the book is on setting clear expectations, making consequences proportional to transgressions and logically related to transgressions, and following through on stated punishments. I still found it a bit heavy handed for my bleeding heart, but I generally found the advice sound. The real strength of Setting Limits is in the numerous examples of possible situations. Too often, parenting books cover the theory, give a few highly scripted examples, and leave me feeling no wiser as to how I should actually be applying any of it. But in Setting Limits, much of the book is devoted to running through a wide variety of situations, making the practical application far easier.

But, like many books in the genre, Setting Limits was far too wordy and repetitive, repeating every idea about as many times as the English lexicon could allow. The book could easily have been a quarter of its present length and still be a little on the wordy side.

My son is still pre-verbal, so I’m a little early to actually put any of the theory to the test, but I do feel that Setting Limits has helped me prepare a bit. I would recommend it but, as with all parenting books, with the caveat that it should be read as a possible source of ideas only, not as an instruction manual.

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NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Read: 17 November, 2011

Common sense and instinct can tell us a lot of things. For example, it’s good to praise our kids, it’s good to leave the radio on because babies will learn language better the more words they hear,  and racial desegregation of schools will lead to less racism as kids grow up interacting with peers of different races.

Unfortunately, all of these are wrong.

“NurtureShock” is the feeling a new parent experiences when they discover that the Parental Instincts Fairy has missed their home. It turns out that while the instinct to protect our children is very real, the how of it is up to us to figure out.

NurtureShock is different from the other parenting books I’ve reviewed in that it isn’t an instruction manual. Instead, it simply summarizes some of the recent science in child development. Although the science itself is very interesting and I positively devoured the book, the lack of practical application was frustrating. As a parent, I don’t just want to know the science, I want to know how I can use it.

I think that NurtureShock would have done better if each chapter were divided in half. The first part would remain exactly as is, but the second part would provide examples to show how parents might apply the theory to their own parenting.

But that doesn’t mean that NurtureShock isn’t worth reading. Far from it, I think it should be required reading for every new parent because it fundamentally challenges so many of the assumptions we make about our kids and how they develop.

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Raising a Secure Child by Zeynep Biringen

Read: 13 September, 2011

Raising a Secure Child starts from the same Daniel Goleman research that informed Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. Since the two were so similar in many ways, I can’t help but to review the former in light of the latter.

I complained that Emotionally Intelligent Parenting provided sample dialogues to illustrate their points that were clearly idealized and read like something from the Stepford Wives. It was almost creepy. Raising a Secure Child, while making much greater use of dialogues and sample situations, did a much better job. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this was one of the book’s most positive features. Every major point was backed up with a short vignette of a family either doing it right or doing it wrong that helped me see what the point should (or shouldn’t) look like in practice. I found these to be a huge help in visualizing how I might out the advice into practice.

While Emotionally Intelligent Parenting focused on always saying the right thing, the focus in Raising a Secure Child was much more on the non-verbal interactions between parent and child. In other words, really meaning it is seen as more valuable than always having the right script handy. This made a good deal more intuitive sense to me.

Both books had the same emphasis on being emotionally present for kids (although, again, I felt that Raising a Secure Child made the point in a way that felt more practically applicable), and both talked about the importance of structure and limit-setting.

Raising a Secure Child spent a good deal of time on helping me to analyse my own upbringing to help me see how that might affect how I interact with my son. While it’s something I have thought about a lot, I still found it helpful to go through in a more methodical sort of way.

And while it isn’t applicable to my family, I do think the sections on children with special needs and getting through a divorce could be very useful.

Both books covered the full range from baby to young adult. I think that both are worth reading, but Raising a Secure Child is by far the better of the two.

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth

Read: 9 September, 2011

There’s a trick to reading parenting books: Never read them reactively.

It’s a rule I’m normally really good at following, but I broke it when I picked up Health Sleep Habits, Happy Child. To make a long story short, my son sleeps wonderfully at night but is a terrible day napper. This often leads to some horrific bouts of crankiness, so I looked up infant sleep books at my local library to see if I could find something to help.

The central advice of Healthy Sleep Habits is to have babies take regular naps (and he does emphasize the “regular”). Great! I agree! Now how do we accomplish this?

Well, that’s where the book starts to fall apart. Weissbluth recommends a sleep routine that may include things like reading a bedtime story (which excites my son because books are OMGWTFAWESOME!!), a bath (which excites my son because water is OMGWTFAWESOME!!), a massage (which excites my son because physical contact is OMGWTFAWESOME!!), and a lullaby (which… Yeah, I think you get the point).

I realize that my son is a bit weird. The grandson of two professional track-and-fielders (one of whom held a world record for a year) and a professional mountain climbing instructor, he’s predisposed to some rather heightened energy levels. Not only is he an unstoppable force, he’s also hitting all of his physical milestones on the very early end of the spectrum.

So Weissbluth’s advice doesn’t seem to work for our family (and I refuse to even try the cry-it-out method that he says may help if the stable bedtime routine fails). Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a huge deal. I don’t know any adults who need nipples in their mouths to fall asleep, so I can reasonably assume that TurboKid will eventually grow out of his sleep problems, like I did. I could just keep trying with the routine and that would be the end of it.

The problem with Weissbluth is that he peppers his book with comments like:

I think it possible that unhealthy sleep habits contribute to school-related problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities.

and:

Warning: If your child does not learn to sleep well, he may become an incurable adult insomniac, chronically disabled from sleepiness and dependent on sleeping pills.

These sorts of friendly reminders are helpfully printed apart from the text, presented in bold and segregated in little boxes, lest you fail to notice that you are irrevocably breaking your baby.

There were aspects of the book that I enjoyed, such as the breakdown of strategies by age. But these were so overshadowed by the fear-mongering that it’s hard for me to write anything other than a negative review. It’s bad enough that I’m dealing with a cranky baby and that I can’t get the method to work. To add a level of desperation, to make my failure something that will turn my precious babe into a disabled drug user, is just cruel.

Bad, Weissbluth. Bad.

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Emotionally Intelligent Parenting by Maurice J. Elias, Steven E. Tobias, and Brian S. Friedlander

Read: 26 August, 2011

Since my son is now moving from the “pooping lump” stage into the “destroyer of worlds” stage, I figured that it was about time I start reading some books to help me control this little monster. So apologies to anyone who isn’t particularly interested in parenting books, but I’ve got a stack to get through. Then it’ll be over for a while, I promise!

Emotionally Intelligent Parenting has very little fact in it. For the most part, it’s just a discussion of strategies that the authors think are beneficial and how to execute them. I found it rather worrisome, however, that when facts were presented, they were incorrect. It started early, in the introduction by Daniel Goleman, when he says that parents today “have less free time to spend with [our children] than our own parents did with us.” I’d say that’s intuitively true, one of those common sense things, but it’s factually false.

So that made me wonder about the advice given in the book, which, for the  most part, seemed intuitively true. Plus, there was something about the repeated advice to talk about feelings that doesn’t sit too well with my old New England Protestant family upbringing!

A lot of the advice was centred around acronyms like FIG TESPN, which is supposed to remind you (and kids) of how to work through problems. It seems to me that this is needlessly complicated and of dubious worth – not to mention absurd to implement on a daily basis.

My final major complaint is that I really wasn’t wowed by the dialogues in the book. These were usually there to illustrate how to put the ideas into practice. Thing is that it made the parents sound like robots and I’m pretty sure that any kids subjected to these kinds of speeches would interpret them as insincerity. And then, to illustrate how well the method supposedly works, the  dialogues invariably end with kids saying: “I never really thought about it like that […] Can we talk later? I have to do my homework now.” Yeah right.

That’s not to say that the book was all bad, not by any means. There were some gems, such as the parenting Golden Rule to “do unto your children as you would have other people do unto your children.” There was also a lot of emphasis on modelling, so making sure that you display the behaviour you want to see in your children. And the last bit that really resonated with me was the advice to focus on goals. For example, focus on specific behaviour that you want corrected and work on that, or think about whether punishment is really the most effective means of prompting change.

Overall, I’d say that this was an interesting read and I did get some ideas, but I found that most of it was not realistically implementable. It also lacked evidence to back the assertions made.

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How To Have Your Second Child First by Kerry Colburn and Rob Sorensen

Read: 25 August, 2011

As a new parent, it seems that I’m always one step behind my son. Just as I’ve figured out how to deal with one of his quirks, he passes into a new phase and my awesome new strategy is no longer useful.

That’s where How To Have Your Second Child First comes in. The idea is to have parents who’ve already been through the process ‘spill the beans’ so that first time parents can avoid making all the mistakes that first time parents always make. For example, how important is it to warm your baby’s bottle? Does a household really need to be kept in total silence while the baby is sleeping? Does everything your baby might touch need to be sterilized?

The book is organized like a list of lessons, each with some explanation and quotes from ‘experienced’ parents. Like most of these books, it’s a mix of really good advice and advice that may simply not fit your family. So I’ll give the same speech I always give for parenting books: Have a read through and take away what makes sense for you, ignore the rest.

That being said, I do think that the book’s underlying message is incredibly important. Don’t sweat the small stuff, you won’t break your baby.

My son is nearly six months old, so I definitely read this too late for it to be of much help. It would be far better as a baby shower gift, or a 2nd-3rd trimester library take-out. I do think it should be on every parent-to-be’s reading list.

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