Thursday, October 30, 2008

The next book to help me be a better parent

I’m still in that searching for good parenting advice period and have now finished my second book. Before I tell you about the book, I want to mention that I’m recently getting to know a few babies in a more intimate way than just waving at them in the stroller while I chat with their moms. Of course there is Mirena, who now comes over two afternoons a week. And last week, we watched my friend Laura’s baby on Saturday and she watched River on Sunday.

Both of these experiences make me recall my Spanish friend’s saying, “Every baby is a world unto themselves.” And they are. Each of the three is entirely distinct. Which makes me wonder how people can really presume to give advice. What works for River may well not work for Mirena. And what works for Isabela doesn’t match River’s needs. I suppose people advise toward the mean. But for our purposes, I can’t put my faith into any single idea or author, because none of them know River’s needs precisely. The best I can do is to read widely and then pick and choose among the ideas presented those I think will have a positive benefit.

So, the book I read is Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul. I first saw it reviewed in Brain, Child magazine (my new favorite magazine). I didn’t pay much attention though since the subtitle “How we are sold on $800 strollers, fetal education, baby sign language, sleeping coaches, toddler couture and diaper wipe warmers – and what it means for our children” didn’t apply to me. The only thing we have used from that list is a teeny bit of sign language. But even with that, we are only teaching him 10-15 signs and we’re not spending any money to do it.

But then, I passed by a table of books outside a bookstore and began to flip through this one. I landed on a page about hiring consultants to help toddlers learn to get potty trained. She mentioned one in particular called Booty Camp. For $250 ($300 now) parents can get their toddler potty trained in a day.

On the parent listserv I belong to, there had been a lot of discussion lately about parents unsure of what to do with their toddlers. One recent discussion had centered upon a 4-year old, who pooped in his pants at daycare and got it all over the rugs. After requesting advice, the parents decided to send him to preschool in diapers and to include going to the potty with changing clothes, but otherwise allow him to choose when to train. Of course, I can’t know the child or the situation. But the prevalence with which I heard of these types of cases in the U.S. (look at all the sold out classes at Booty Camp to see how many people need help with this) doesn’t seem right to me.

So I was intrigued by the Booty Camp founder’s method. She loads the kids up with sugar and salt, as much as they want to eat and drink. They wear only underpants. She tells them that when they need to go to the bathroom, they must use the potty. She says it’s “unacceptable” for them to go in their pants. If they do so, she says it’s gross, dirty and stinky and the child must clean it up. The parent is instructed to not react to any attention-seeking behavior. The child is also not provided with any rewards. If anything, toys are removed so that he can focus on paying attention to his body. She believes that there is a point at which a poop is no longer an “accident” but a decision, and should no longer be excused. It worked for the parent profiled in the book and from that day on, her son used the potty.

I picked up the book due to this potty perusal. It’s not so much a parental advice book as it is a manifesto against the heavy hand of consumerism on parents these days. The book is easy to read and the beginning and end are strongest. The book contains some interesting facts and statistics, some of which I’ll probably refer to in future posts.

I can say that it made me feel better about our decisions to not be participating in baby classes (besides swimming), to go with mostly used clothing and toys and to focus on what we believe matters – quality time, access to experiences and saving for education when it’s really needed.

Read any helpful books lately?

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