Thursday, August 23, 2007

Book Review: Between Parent and Child

When Jane was born I felt a tad ignorant about parenting; but I figured I had time to learn. Two children later and with Jane having turned 5 I am more concerned about my parenting skills. My wise mother suggested reading Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim Ginott. "It would probably be more useful than those economics books you've been reading," she said. Taliatha and I just finished it and although I'm not terribly well read in this genre here are my impressions.

First, I'm pleased to report that unlike some parenting books and magazines Between Parent and Child doesn't offer gimmicky advice for problems that usually just go away. (Why won't my precious angel sleep through the night? How do I get enough ME time? How can I help my kid read by age 3?) Instead, Dr. Ginott presents principles for interacting with your children that can be adapted to different situations. His primary thesis is that children are more responsive when parents address feelings before rushing to punish or lecture. The book gives numerous examples of common conflicts and useful tactics for resolving them. These include problems with eating, homework, siblings, bedtime, etc. For example, what do you do if your kid wants something at the store but you don't want to get it? First, don't try and convince little Timmy that he already has enough toys or that it's too expensive. This will just lead to counter arguments. Kids quickly learn how to try and get what they want. Instead, acknowledge Timmy's feelings. "Yeah, that would be so much fun if we could play with that toy! I like it too!" Often just validating your child's wish will fulfill their need and you may not even have to state the obvious: you're not going to buy the toy. That's the idea anyway, I'll have to let you know how it goes in practice.

Another part of the book that was helpful for me was the discussion on parents' emotions. Before reading this book my approach to conflicts has been, "I need more patience. If I can just not get angry everything will be fine." The problem was that I didn't have a strategy for when my patience did run out. Instead of yelling or angrily tossing the perpetrator into time out, Dr. Ginott recommends expressing in simple words how their behavior makes you feel. Emphatically express your frustration in words and focus on the behavior, not the child. "It makes me very upset when you push her," not "Why are you so mean to her?" This provides a constructive outlet when I'm upset and it models for my children how to resolve angry feelings through talking rather than yelling or fighting. This doesn't mean that you remove consequences. What it does do is allow you to resolve your emotions first so you don't dispense discipline hastily or angrily.

A lot of the book's advice is better suited for slightly older children. Sometimes you can't reason through things with a two or three year old. Still, I have seen some improvement in how I interact with my son Paul, who just turned three. Having specific tactics for resolving problems has helped me relax and have more confidence that I can handle whatever the kids throw my way. I think the most rewarding part has been focusing on how my kids feel more than their "bad" behavior. This has helped me appreciate them more as people and this in turn has strengthened our relationships.


  1. Interesting. I'll have to pick that up.

    On the subject of books that offer gimmicky advice for problems that usually just go away, I beg to differ; for one problem, specifically. When Noah was about 6 months old, we couldn't get him to sleep, and read a half dozen books on the subject. Most were crap. One was so awful that I couldn't finish it. Two actually helped by explaining some of the physiology of sleep, and how we could avoid interrupting Noah's natural sleep cycles.

    Anyway, I like the idea of having basic principles for guiding action in different situations. We're getting to the point where Noah needs a little discipline. Like I said, I'll have to give it a look.

  2. Thanks Aaron. Yeah, I'm sure there are some good books out there. It's just too bad you guys had to wade through 4 books before finding something that actually explained what was going on underneath the problem.

  3. This book sounds really refreshing. Thanks for the review. I have to put in a plug for the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, which saved my life with baby number 2. With number 1, I just thought sleeping through the night would happen at 6 months no matter what. It never happened for him until he was 2. I read this book and realized that you actually need to teach a child how to sleep. I felt like such a fool! I realized that I had done everything wrong with number 1, and followed the advice in the book from day one and it worked like a charm.

  4. Rob,
    Thanks for the review, I think I'm going to get the book and give it a read. We've been very challenged lately dealing with Max, and I've been reading a lot trying to find some help--he's just very very stubborn and independent. It's getting a little better now, but not without a lot of effort on our parts.
    I did recently read most of "Parenting with Love and Logic" (I think that's what it's called, anyway) and it was quite good, sounds like it's actually pretty similar to this book. I think it's worth checking out too.

    Also, to join in the sleeping baby discussion, we got the book "On becoming Babywise" when Max was just a month or so old, followed their recommendations, and he's been a fabulous sleeper ever since.

  5. Carly,
    I might have to look into some of this baby sleeping stuff. Both of our girls woke up at least two times a night for the first year. Paul has been our only baby who slept pretty consistently.
    That sounds like a good book. Does it emphasize having logical consequences associated with behaviors? Sometimes it seems like our only consequences are 1) you don't get a treat or 2) go in timeout.

  6. I have to read a little more of it--between work and homework I haven't been doing a very good job. But it does encourage that when at all possible parents let children deal with the natural consequences of their actions.
    We read a part of it the other day about that if your kid is like refusing to get dressed in the morning and making you late, you should just take them to school without pants (and of course this only really applies to little kids, and they said to check up with the school first if necessary). So amazingly, like the day after we read that Max decided to throw a fit about his pants and wouldn't put them on. Kris took him to school in his underwear (giving him plenty of chances to get dressed on the way in) I think he was a little embarrassed, which was good, and we haven't had trouble since. It was interesting. So I'm ready to try some more stuff out of the book if I can ever read it.