Recommended Books for New or Expecting Parents Amber Pawlik

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Recommended Books for New or Expecting Parents

The Wonder Weeks

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 better way.

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 Life.

Healthy 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 raise children.

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.

Your 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.

Baby Led Weaning

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.

The 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.

The 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.

Parent Effectiveness Training

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.

The Lucky Mom

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.

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