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I wanted to review this book because the title led me to believe that it might have something to do with a Buddhist approach to helping children deal with emotional turbulence.
The author uses the insights of the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Winnicott as a base from which to describe "in detail what it looks like to hold a child in mind through each stage of development from the new born period through adolescence."
Gold wants to show how behavioral issues such as crying, tantrums, sleep problems and general defiance can be defused by seeing these problems from a child's point of view. I would tend to agree with this approach. However, the book shows us that to view these issues from a child's point of view requires us to view the behavior through the lens polished in advance by Winnicott, Bowlby and Fonagy.
Indeed, in his review of Gold's book, Fonagy writes that God, "strikes at the core of what being a parent mean: to recognize your child as a person with thoughts and feelings." I agree with the importance of Fonagy's insight. The central question is how can behavioral pediatrics view children as persons when the very behavioral approach established by Watson and Skinner degrades the notion of personhood? The behavioral approach to human nature cannot do justice to the unique singularity and haecceity of persons.
The book consists of vignettes "distilled from hundreds of stories" that Gold was told in her practice. The "persons" in the book are behavioral composites. I found it troubling that the father's role in raising a child was not given due consideration. The composite men in the book were presented as incompetent and weak. This calls for further analysis that will not be carried out here.
Equally troubling is Gold's claim not to be an expert. She writes, "In reality, you are an expert with your child, you know better that I do what to do." Clearly, the composites in the book are experts at being incompetent. The tactic of experts telling non-experts that they are really the real experts is truly baffling.
The huge claim and promise of the book is "once you have finished reading the book....you will integrate on the level of your own brain biochemistry, a new way of being with your child." As if parents who are not connected to their children are going to wake up with the epiphany, "Now I know why my two year old son has tantrums after spending four hours walking up and down the aisles of a big box store- I haven't read enough Winnicott."
The book while well edited and well written is not a manual for parents. It reads more like a series of thoughtful papers presented at a conference on behavioral pediatrics. Having lived through many of the issues Gold describes in her book, I found myself disagreeing with her" non-expert" advice on many levels.
It seems that the solutions to our difficulties are clearly in front of us and do not require the introduction of further theory to elucidate how we fall short of our potential. The problems that the author discusses have more to do with the bizarre behavioral of parents than with the normal reactions of their children.
The book describes "parents" who are their wits end; who can no longer deal with crying, acting out, tantrums, hitting etc. Rather than reach for Winnicott, we might reach for Wittgenstein and Ayer and look at the obvious.
We might ask the following questions: was it really necessary to force feed your child hotdogs when they obviously gag at the very thought of taking another bite of your sausage nostalgia? Is it really worthwhile to feed your toddler sushi to impress your friends at the mall when your child cannot stomach the texture of the artistically rendered raw fish creation? Did you really expect a three year old to sit through a two hour movie without moving, without becoming bored, frustrated and angry at your lack of aesthetic choice and common sense? How did you expect your child to react after having been overstimulated on a diet filled with Oreo's, orange soda and Dora the Explorer?
For parents who cannot see that their children are persons, with thoughts and feelings, this book or any other book will not teach them how to be properly human. If behavior is understood in terms of levels of development, then clearly parents are at fault for expecting their children to run before they can stand. The general message is that parents really should not be blamed since they are only reacting to how they were raised is not always the case.
Gold shows how "the effects of parent's relationships with their own parents on their experience of raising a child is central." For example, a mother may be strict with her daughter and more lenient with her son. It is quite eye-opening to realize that in dealing with our own children, we may be still reacting to our mother's sadness or our Father's anxiety.
Gold does move into a Buddhist direction when she writes, "the key to the success of our children lies with their parent's capacity to fully emotionally present with them." Do parents, composite, real or otherwise, really need to be told that a child "needs his parents to help him regulate and contain his feelings?" How is this possible with parents who are emotionally illiterate? To balance Gold's behavioral approach I would recommend that readers study Thich Nhat Hahn's recent book- Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child.
© 2012 Marko Zlomislic
Marko Zlomislic is professor of philosophy at Conestoga College, Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada