Customer Reviews: The Science of Parenting
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on June 11, 2006
I just bought this book a few days ago, and completely adore it. There are quite a few child-rearing styles out there, from attachment to Ferberizing, and new parents can feel completely overwhelmed with the anecdotes and 'expert advice' thrown their way from every side-- especially when they don't know what effect any of those tactics will have on their little one.

This book clears up the mystery by providing scientific research on how an infant's brain is affected by his/her early experiences with you (the parent); namely, it demonstrates that how you respond to the baby's emotions/needs is the biggest component in how they view themselves and the world-- both at the time and decades later, well into adulthood. As the introduction notes, for many years "we have been using child-rearing techniques without awareness of the possible long-term effects, because until now we simply could not see the effects of our actions on a child's developing brain. But with the advances of neuroscience, brain scans, and years of research on the brains of primates and other mammals, we no longer have the innocence of ignorance. For several years, science has been revealing to us that key emotional systems in the human brain are powerfully molded for better or worse by parenting experiences."

The serious subject matter might make you worry it's more of a textbook than anything else-- but don't be fooled. The layout of the book makes it exceedingly easy to read and digest, and the photos (which are numerous) are nice and colorful. There are also lots of sidebars and little nuggets of information scattered throughout the pages, which breaks the text up and makes it even easier to read.

All in all, this is a top-notch parenting guide, and I say this as someone who owns a LOT of child-rearing books! If I could give "The Science of Parenting" 10 stars, I would.
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on April 13, 2008
I found this book on the discount shelf, and I am so glad that I did! As a trained molecular biologist, I appreciate the author's ability to explain development of neuronal pathways in a way that anyone can understand.

I absolutely disagree with the reviewers who indicate that the author excessively asserts her personal opinion. I did not find that to be true at all. In any case, shouldn't people value the opinion of a trained child therapist? Not to mention, this book is not short; are you telling me one should base one's opinion of an entire book on a tiny section regarding the length of time out? That is ludicrous.

Regarding a lack of science, I think the reference section allays any fear of that. Maybe the other reviewers missed that part, or maybe they are not used to reading technical, scientific style writing. I can only guess. The fact that the reference section is so extensive is part of why I love this book so much!

There is a TON of useful information in this book, but the most important take-home point is that parents must always respond to their babies distress, ALWAYS. Response does not mean the child gets what he or she wants all the time: response means that you help the child deal with his/her emotions. Stress reduction pathways are formed so early in life, and once a child reaches 2 or 3, it is too late to reverse the damage that inattentive parenting can cause. Let's face it, as parents we have a responsibility to our children, like it or not. Wouldn't you rather have the information you need to do your very best for your kids?

You don't have to be a scientist to understand how important this information is.
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on July 14, 2006
As a psychoanalyst I find this book fascinating, not only in terms of parenting my own kids, but in terms of the wider issues of promoting emotional health and well-being. The book gives a solid scientific backing to my responding to my kids' distress, rather than being told I am just indulgent and spoiling. It has also helped me to avoid getting into a submission/dominance clash over tantrums and to realise when one should concede with grace with a child who is distraught and furious in his failure to get through and emotionally connect with his parent. Of course there is a difference between this and a pure battle of wills with an older child who needs to be taught that Mummy is boss, and where clear boundaries are vital to make him feel safe. The book has also helped me to avoid shaming responses and to acknowledge what Margaret Mahler calls "emotional re-fuelling" ( that time in the playground when they just need to come back to base again, to say hello.) It has also helped me appreciate the scientific validity for the fact that the seemingly contented infant can actually be the infant who has given up. What's the point of screaming for help, if no one comes? The book is not about the all giving, long-suffering resentful mother. This does nothing for the self- esteem of the child. Rather the book speaks of the vital importance of parent care and the science supporting this.

I am full of admiration for the author's patience and thoroughness in collating this vast array of up to date neuroscientific research studies which focus mainly on parent- child interaction. (As these references are all at the back of the book, parents don't need to refer to them, but I am sure they will be a vital resource for mental health professionals!)

As a practicing psychoanalyst, I believe that alongside attachment theory, this book also has real implications for treatment. The book allays mental health professionals the opportunity to integrate their various theories of the primary importance of relationships in the first few years of life, and how these can have long term effects on the key emotional systems in the child's brain.

This book is about prevention. I think it should be read not only by parents but by child care professionals and those working in the field of mental health.
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on May 18, 2009
This book gave me the data I needed to go with my gut. Permanent damage can be caused by stress chemicals that are released in a child who is not comforted. DO NOT listen to idiots who tell you to Sleep Train your child. Do not listen to idiots who tell you that you are being "manipulated" by a young baby. Read it, understand it, use it. And parent with love!
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on July 19, 2006
If you read the review of this in Mothering magazine and were hoping for a scientific defense of attachment/gentle parenting practices, do NOT waste your money on this book.

For example, consider the chapter on discipline. The same tired old folk "wisdom" is trotted out, with absolutely no scientific defense. Yes, the author recommends "time in" (ie talk with your kid when they behave in ways you don't like to see if you can figure out the problem) but she also recommends "time out" as a last resort "with one minute for each year of age". Where on earth did this recommendation for timing come from? What's the empirical evidence for it? It is so standard that it is rarely questioned. And here it is again - just another author's opinion, and just the same opinion as millions of other people. A tad disappointing.

Also, the author is very keen on ignoring bad behavior and praising (giving stickers etc) for good behavior in order to motivate more good behavior in the future. But, again, no empirical evidence is given for the efficacy of this. And in fact, there is empirical evidence that praising children (giving them rewards etc) for doing something (such as reading books) makes them LESS motivated to do those things in future. (See the Kohn book I mention later for the details.)

If you want a book that genuinely does provide empirical evidence regarding time out and other punitive strategies, doling out praise and blame etc, then read Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting". It is the most carefully researched parenting book I have ever read, and I've read way too many....
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on August 2, 2011
I read this book, thinking that it would be research-based, but found that, like other reviewers have mentioned, it contains components that reflect author bias. For example, there are "Case studies." This is the author presenting one individual case, and what happened when something wasn't done. For example, the baby who became "depressed" after being sleep trained. However, true research involves a high enough sample number of children, double-blind randomized trials. In psychology, this is difficult to do. However, just because one individual reacted a certain way, doesn't mean that all children will react the same way. Furthermore, case studies do not reveal whether there might have been other factors involved that resulted in that child's outcome.

I wouldn't trust that every piece of information is research-based, moreover because, being a physician myself, I knew that the last chapter was definitely NOT research based, regarding which food increases which hormone levels, etc.

Therefore, most of the book was discredited from my point of view because of the factors above. I would look elsewhere for a less biased, more research-based parenting book.
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on May 19, 2012
The Science of Parenting is the best parenting book I've read in many years. I couldn't put it down. It's easy to read for a non-scientist but offers footnotes to copious professional articles for those wanting more meat. The author presents research from the fields of neurobiology and neuropsychology which speaks to the importance of a child's secure attachment to her caregivers and to the way in which parenting behaviors can change brain chemistry for the better or worse. The book is also visually beautiful, with lots of color photographs and helpful sidebars.

A few folks criticized the book for not being entirely research-based in terms of some of her recommendations and for her presentation of "case studies". The book is so packed with objective science that when the author used her experience and expertise to advise certain practices that would create an optimal environment for a child's development it didn't seem off to me. If she hadn't provided this advice folks would have complained the book was too abstract and didn't contain any concrete suggestions!

I in fact did not agree with all her advice. She recommends time-outs and we try to avoid them; she uses punitive type consequences (taking away movie watching privileges for splattering pudding) while I prefer logical consequences (child has to clean up the pudding and no more dessert for the night; we talk about table manners, respecting the cook, etc.). The things I disagreed with her on were in gray areas of interesting discussion and didn't put me off the book whatsoever. I enjoyed reading the entire book and still give 5 stars.

I found the case studies very interesting because they provided an example of how the concepts she discusses in the abstract apply to a real life child or family.
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on March 1, 2014
Our nurse recommended this book with the simple statement - "If you don't want to raise a serial murderer, read this book". As new parents we found and read it, and boy did it solve nearly every issue that our new son presented.

Simple and effective - highly recommended!
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on February 1, 2014
I love this book! I've always wondered what part of baby's brain develops when and how things I do can enhance/inhibit development. Even before becoming a parent I thought someone should do research on this. TA-DA! Here it is! Finally! I highly recommend this book for people who have more of a "science brain" or potentially an anatomy/physiology background, since different regions of the brain are described. Knowing more about what those regions do just helps the, "oh, that makes sense," process happen quicker. Not saying if you don't have that background this book won't help you or make sense, but I think it helps (I have one so maybe I'm bias). I also recommend this book to parents who want to debunk myths about certain situations such as "spoiling" your child with attention. Maybe your feeling pressure from others that your doing something wrong by comforting every time baby cries, and beat yourself up about letting them cry so much? Read this book and you'll realize (in my opinion) you're in the right, they're wrong. You're doing more for your child than if left to "cry it out." Trust your instincts because they're there for a reason.
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on January 23, 2009
This is a pretty good book if you want some decent parenting advice and a few interesting facts about neuroscience, and can take it all with a grain of salt. But if you're looking for an unbiased analysis of the science of parenting, this book isn't it. The parenting advice generally seems reasonably good. None of the suggestions seem crazy and it offers a lot of good ideas I hadn't thought of. However, the scientific basis for this parenting advice is one-sided, and the tone is rather alarmist. It focuses on neuroscience and what we know about how the environment can shape the brain, and this is fine as far as it goes. But it doesn't acknowledge how much we don't know about neuroscience, and doesn't address what we know about child development from other sciences, such as genetics and sociology. Thus, it gives you the impression that the impact of environment on the brain is absolutely deterministic, and any parenting mistake you make will scar your children for life. For example, it says your primary mode of discipline should not be yelling at and hitting your child, because if it is, your child will learn that yelling and hitting is the right way to interact with others and will become a bully. The advice here is good, but the justification is flawed. You don't have to be a scientist to realize that you probably know quite a few people who were raised with this kind of discipline who are not bullies. While I have no doubt that yelling at and hitting your child all the time will always have some negative effect, it can't possibly be true that it will always lead to your child being a bully. There are so many other things that affect how your child will turn out, such as genes and the rest of his environment, and this book ignores all those other things.

Furthermore, the discussion of the science is extremely superficial, boiling it all down to a bunch of magic chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy or sad. To learn more about the science of how the brain actually works, I would recommend What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Eliot.
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