Recommended Books for New or Expecting Parents
This book provides new insight into children that you likely
won't read anywhere else. The main contribution of this book is that it
describes how infants and toddlers go through very predictable fussy periods
that are followed by an astonishing burst of cognitive development.
These fussy periods are usually seen as teething, growth
spurts, or, worse, intentional manipulation. If seen the wrong way, they are
responded to incorrectly, often with punishment. If you understand what they
are, and know when they are likely to happen, you can respond to them in a much
The book is also rich in describing what kind of abilities
your child will have after each leap and what activities are age appropriate.
The leaps, ten in total, start at one month old, when the infant first becomes
interested in the external world. They end at 18 months old where the infant,
building on all the previous leaps, is capable of system building, where they
will draw, talk in sentences, among many other things. These leaps line up very
well with other researcher's work on the timeline on the cognitive development
of infants, such as Dr. White's descriptions in New First Three Years of
Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth
It cannot be overstated: sleep is the foundation upon which
all other healthy growth rests. Proper sleep aids overall health, reduces
irritability, and aids learning. I see this book, published in 1999, as a clear
example of how medical science constantly provides better information of how to
The main takeaway from this book is to look for sleepy signs
in your child, and, when seen, let the child sleep. It describes expected sleep
milestones through the first 3 years of life. It describes the certain,
specific times when you should let your child try to fall asleep on their own.
Sleeping and feeding are the two most important topics to master to raise a
newborn properly. Read and follow this book and you will nail sleeping.
Self Confident Baby by Magda Gerber
The main takeaway from this book is to respect the child. One
major guiding principle that I got from this book is to always explain what is
going on to a child. Gerber asks you to imagine you live in a world of giants
who grab you and do things to you without knowing what is about to happen. A
child can understand more than an adult realizes and even simply hearing your
voice before doing something may alert them that something is about to happen.
Explaining what is going on also helps a child to make a stronger connection
between words and objects.
Gerber advocates babyproofing your house such that there is
at least one room so well designed that should an emergency take you away, you
would be completely comfortable that your child could not get hurt. As a mom, I
completely agree with this and can't begin to tell you how nice it is when you
finally reach this level of babyproofing. It is great for your baby too—they can
explore without being told, "No!" However, Gerber also is a fan of
putting a child in play pens for "alone time." Sure, the child is
very safe in the playpen, but I am with Dr. White (see below) that confining the
child like this is dead time where the child learns that boredom is normal.
Another big thing I got from this book was, with modest
encouragement, to let children solve problems on their own. I call it the
"Hands Tied Behind Your Back" philosophy on parenting. It means you
talk a child through a problem but you don't step in and do it for them. I
started this at a young age with our son. When he would push his wagon around,
he sometimes hit an obstacle. I would tell him, "You hit an obstacle.
There will be many in your life. You have to negotiate it." An unusual
compliment I got when he was a bit older is that he was good at maneuvering around
various obstacles as he pushed things and walked. I strongly credit the fact
that I let him solve this problem on his own.
Gerber also advises against infant swings or other
contraptions designed to entertain the child. She is a strong advocate of
natural play. I am in complete agreement and was glad I read this before
choosing a daycare. I purposely chose one that did not use any swings. However,
when the child becomes a toddler, Gerber remains opposed to structured
learning. I have much to say on this topic but for now I will just say I
disagree with this.
If you are going to read one alternative book—one that gives
advice that is not mainstream advice—make it be this one. In short, this book
says there is no need for a baby to ever be fed jar food. They can go straight
to finger foods when they are 6 or 7 months old. This book was a lifesaver for
us. My son rejected jar food. This experience was upsetting and disheartening
to say the least. This book gives the advice and confidence you need to go
straight to finger foods. People were amazed at how good of an eater my son was
at just 8 months old. It is so much easier and less laborious to not have to
spoon feed your child; plus they are learning a life skill. They control
what they eat—and when they are done. Eating changed from a constant battle to
a constant joy. If I could give new parents one bit of advice, where I had only
a post-it note to give them advice, it would be to skip jar food.
Blossom Method by Vivien Sabel
This short book deserves a read if only to appreciate its
general philosophy. Sabel teaches parents how to look for hunger signs in their
0 – 3 month old infant. This is a very important philosophy to adopt: observe
the child for cues as to what they need so as to deliver them well before they
become frustrated and start crying. Sabel grew up with a deaf mother and so she
learned to read body language in others. It gives very specific details of what
to look for. I recommend buying the paper edition not an electronic one to get
the best view of diagrams.
New First Three Years of Life by Burton L. White
This book by Burton L. White is the product of researching
children in their homes for decades. As a data-driven book, it is more than
worth a read. It is very pro-stimulation to aid the cognitive development of
infants. If you are in favor of providing a lot of stimulus to a young infant,
this book will tell you what toys at what ages are appropriate.
Interestingly even though this book is very pro-stimulation,
it emphasizes the importance of natural play during the first 3 years of life,
letting the child explore as much about real/adult life as possible. Several
traditional toys are described as not worth buying. Dr. White warns against
"dead times" such as when the child is strapped in a swing, in a car
seat, in a play pen, where the child is not learning anything. These are
detrimental to the development of the child—he or she learns that boredom is
normal. Engaging the child is the most important thing to do to have a
well-developing child. By 2 years old, the child is already on the path towards
who they will become as an older child. The age of 2 does not need to be the
Terrible Twos. They can be a joy.
One minor problem I have with the book is the author is very
aggressive in giving stimulus to a 0 – 8 month old, including a mobile,
mirror, and activity gym. I think he may have originated the argument that an
infant cannot move on his or her own so stimulus must be brought to him or her.
I disagree. Even at a young age, the baby can move their eyes and head to look
at things, and in this way, the child chooses what to look at and must work
towards it. Also, I am very opposed to the author's advocacy to use a walker,
something commonly recommended against now.
This book has some recommendations for discipline that are
worth contemplating. First, even though the author recommends discipline, like
just about all experts, he suggests keeping any kind of punishment to a
minimum. Instead, babyproof a home as best as possible so you do not have to
say no to the child or worry a lot. There are still some things that may be
problematic, such as pulling hair or pulling glasses off of other's faces. Dr.
White suggests immobilizing a young infant for 15-30 seconds to get them to
stop the behavior. He says the behavior will disappear in one week. It is a
matter of teaching respect for other people. If you are able to stop such
behavior, anyone else who cares for the child will likely be grateful. Other
than these minor problems, the best discipline is keeping the child engaged.
I have one major problem with this book. It mentions nothing
of known fussy periods, as outlined vividly in another heavy hitter book on the
cognitive development of infants, The Wonder Weeks. Wonder Weeks
describes how there are known, predictable, passing fussy periods that infants
go through, which precede an astonishing burst of cognitive abilities. Not only
does New First Three Years of Life not mention them, they are taken as times
when the child is trying to be manipulative. Seeing them as manipulative,
instead of natural, can have obvious problematic effects.
If you want advice on what to expect when a new sibling
arrives in the home, this book gives a great overview of what to expect.
This book argues against authoritarian structures of
relationships where one person dictates to another what to do, with the
parent-child relationship being no exception. Instead of ordering a child to do
something, the book encourages you to ask the child questions to find out what
is really going on in their mind and why they might be upset, irritated, or
unwilling to go along with a plan. Your child is a thinking creature with their
opinions and feelings, yes, even at young ages! It is not about letting the
child do whatever they want; as a fellow human being, you also have thoughts,
feelings, needs, and opinions, which you should also state to the child. Then
you encourage the child to be their own problem solver: ask them for ideas of
how all parties can have their needs satisfied. I found the book to be a tad
condescending in tone but it is well worth a read.
This book is by me! It combines much of the knowledge I
learned in the above books and puts it in one succinct book. I present my
philosophy of respect for the child, where a parent observes, observes, and
then observes their child some more. All health needs, including feeding and
sleep, should be responded to promptly and completely. I am a bit harsh on the
advice you are likely to get from uneducated friends and family and I warn
expecting mothers about some hospital practices that may cause them undue
stress. The title is tongue in cheek—a response to the many people who told me
I was so "lucky" to have a well-behaved infant.