There are books, books and more books published each year offering advice on child rearing. Sometimes I wonder how children were ever raised at all before the advent of the printing press. And as problems of childhood become more diverse and complex, advice manuals have become more specialized.
No mere encyclopedia of baby care, like the once omnipresent volume by Benjamin Spock, will do for the babies of the 1990s. Parents today want detailed treatises on a variety of topics. The books reviewed here attempt to address some of them. Long-Distance Parenting, A Guide for Divorced Parents By Marla Gelper Cohen (New American Library) 193 pp.; $17.95
That one out of every two marriages ends in divorce is a sad fact of American life. Of more concern but less commonly addressed is what happens to the children of these marriages.
Cohen, a family therapist who works with families in transition, writes from the dual premise that no parent wants to be shut out of a child's life and that caring relationships with both parents -- even if one lives far away -- is essential for a child's healthy emotional growth. She was prompted to write her book by a personal experience: her 14-year-old son decided to live with his father in another state 10 years after the divorce. Yet Cohen balances the "personal pain" that sparked her interest in long-distance parenting with an analysis of the many families in similar circumstances with whom she has worked.
Some families handle it well. Others, Cohen documents, do not. Her book attempts to answer what made the difference, how long-distance parents can keep in touch with their children, and how ex-spouses can help or hinder that process. The book also discusses the importance of parent-child bonding, what children experience when confronted with divorce and long-distance separations and the highs and lows of reunions and goodbyes. Help Me to Help My Child. A Sourcebook for Parents of Learning Disabled Children By Jill Bloom (Little, Brown & Co.) 324 pp.; $18.95
Journalist Jill Bloom's book began as a means to understanding her daughter's learning disability, a condition estimated to occur in about 15 percent of all school-age children in the U.S.
Imagine not being able to read a basic textbook because of a dysfunction that jumbles the words of a sentence or even the letters of the words. Or having difficulties following simple instructions from a teacher because of a disability that affects the mind's organizational processes. Or the child who is constantly restless and can't seem to focus his attention on the daily lesson plan. These are only a few of the learning disabilities Bloom covers in her useful sourcebook.
This book is not a testimonial for a specific therapy or method of dealing with learning disabilities. Instead, it describes how learning disabilities affect the family and seeks to teach parents how to effectively advocate for their children.
Bloom tells parents how to identify specific problems when suspicions of learning disabilities arise, where to go for help, what the diagnostic process entails, the child's legal rights in obtaining the educational assistance he or she needs, and useful strategies for living with a learning-disabled child. She includes lists of national and local resources. Home-Alone Kids. The Working Parent's Complete Guide to Providing the Best Care for Your Child By Bryan E. Robinson, Bobbie H. Rowland and Mick Coleman (Lexington Books) 160 pp.; $17.95
More than 7 million children in the United States take care of themselves each day in an unsupervised setting at home after school. Some experts have documented a daily decline in work productivity between 3 and 5 p.m., when guilt-ridden parents call home to check up on their "latchkey" kids. These are not necessarily neglected children; many are the offspring of working parents who have no realistic alternative to letting children temporarily care for themselves.
"Home-Alone Kids" is a splendid compilation of examples from both parents and children who rely upon self-care, useful advice from child development specialists, and a number of checklists and self-assessment quizzes on various issues related to self-care.
The authors take the working parent step-by-step toward understanding what self-care is, whether your children are ready to be left alone, how to prepare the child for self-care, an awareness of community resources to draw upon, and how to make the home safer for such children.
The book provides useful counsel on how a parent can monitor the child's adjustment to staying alone and the importance of trying to balance a busy work schedule and parental responsibilities. It also discusses alternative options to self-care, what to do if it doesn't work out and the importance of formalizing self-care agreements between the child and parent that provide a sense of structure and security for both.
As economics requires both parents to work outside the home and as the number of single-parent families increases, so will the number of children who rely upon the self-care options discussed in this book. "Home-Alone Kids" discusses all these important issues in a succinct and understandable manner with a healthy dose of reassuring advice and a nonjudgmental stance. How to Find Help for a Troubled Kid. A Parent's Guide to Programs and Services for Adolescents By John Reaves and James B. Austin, PhD (Henry Colt & Co.) 376 pp.; $19.95
This is not so much an advice book as it is a compendium of services available for teenagers who are troubled enough to require some form of intervention outside the family.
If you consider the following distressing statistics, the need for such a book becomes quite clear: in the United States alone, over 1.5 million teens are arrested yearly for crimes ranging from truancy to murder; 1.5 million teenagers run away from home and 700,000 more drop out of school each year; 1 million adolescent girls become pregnant annually, and at least 5 million youths abuse drugs and alcohol on a daily to weekly basis.
John Reaves, an educational director of a child care program, and James Austin, a school psychologist, have written this book to make parents aware of the range of programs and services that exist and to assist them in selecting the one most likely to help their child. "How to Find Help for a Troubled Kid" defines such services as learning centers, military and specialized schools, psychiatric treatment units, alcohol and drug treatment centers and survival programs. The book also explains psychological evaluations and the juvenile justice system in addition to listing the locations, costs and specific features of many of these facilities. The Crying Baby By Sheila Kitzinger (Viking) 295 pp.; $18.95
When I first saw "The Crying Baby," I was intrigued. Perhaps the most common question mothers ask in my well-baby clinic is, "How can I get my baby to stop crying so much?" Frequently, I am at a loss for a good answer and I was hoping that the book would give me some rational responses. It did not.
The book is subtitled "Why Babies Cry, How Parents Feel and What You Can Do About It," but the issues it addresses most fully are how mothers feel about their babies, themselves and their spouses.
The author is trained as a social anthropologist but has written manuals on childbirth, breast-feeding and alternative birthing options. For "The Crying Baby," Kitzinger prepared two questionnaires on infant crying practices that appeared in two parenting magazines, one in Britain, the other in Australia. Despite lofty claims of a wide and balanced readership for these two magazines, Kitzinger received only 1,400 responses and bases the bulk of her conclusions upon only 200 of these babies, the 100 who cried the most each day and the 100 who cried least. It is from such a flawed analysis that Kitzinger creates theories on crying patterns that would be difficult to prove even under ideal study conditions.
If parents need a pep talk about this widespread plight, "The Crying Baby" may be of some use. For answers on how to approach the problem of excessive crying, I'm afraid we still need to rely on patience, the ability to filter out the noise, and the passage of time.
Howard Markel is a clinical fellow in adolescent medicine in the department of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He is co-author of "The H.L. Mencken Baby Book" (Hanley & Belfus, Inc., Philadelphia).