13 February, 2010

The book I wish I'd written

Or, no, I did not steal their title.

Recently this book landed on my desk for review. In fact I no longer pass books on for review, though this used to be part of my job, so I just kept it. I am pretty impressed (though already planning how I can persuade them to let me contribute to the next edition).

The chapters and topics span the whole of childhood, but majoring on infancy and adolescence, which is a fair reflection of both parents' concerns and the research that is out there. Most of the topics are related to behaviour, discipline, and social issues - my own research mainly concentrates on children's thinking and language so obviously I'd feel that was lacking - but I love the concept.

They begin by talking about the concept of evidence and why we need to look at more than just anecdotes in working out what works and what doesn't; there's a little history of child care advice and whether it's evidence-based or not (lots of crazy ideas out there in the past), which was interesting to me, at least.

The chapters that look like they might only be focussed on infancy (sleep, temperament, toilet training) also touch on related issues for older children - although I don't read most parenting books, I do get the impression that a lot of advice on some topics stops with infants - avoiding some quite distressing issues that mainly happen in older children. Soiling, for example, in an already-toilet-trained child can be really upsetting and hard to understand, though it's fairly easily dealt with.

I really appreciated the chapters that dealt with less-than-ideal circumstances though as the overall level of the book is pitched fairly high (probably because of where the authors are coming from) and the text is quite dense (yes, I know it's a book about children not for children but perhaps some graphics would have been nice), I'm not too sure how likely parents with desperate mental health issues are to read the book. But the sections on divorce and adoption are probably very good primers for well-educated parents in those situations, and there's also advice for those with child relatives and friends whose parents are struggling with depression, substance abuse, etc.

I think I may have either a British edition or the language has been tailored to be international (mentions of GPs etc.) but one section I felt didn't go far enough to reassure the very nervy subset of middle-class parents who are paranoid about vaccines - perhaps in the US the paranoia is not as great but here, it is really crazy (though thankfully calming down a bit). Some of these parents will never be reassured by anything professionals or researchers can say, but others might benefit from more calming statements and a clearer explanation than the fairly bald statements that "vaccines are safe". Or possibly just a direction to go and read Bad Science?