My Parenting Bible

As I prepare to direct the BABY TIME pilot, I’m researching parenting and child development, and my new bible is The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish by T. Berry Brazelton, MD and Stanley Greenspan MD. 

Here is an overly simplistic summary of the needs discussed in the book:

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1) The Need for Ongoing Nurturing Relationships

Children require sensitive, nurturing care to build capacities for trust, empathy and compassion. Emotional interactions teach communication and thinking, using emotional cueing for problem-solving and regulating interactions. They also lead to an understanding of concepts of time and space. Additionally, compassion and caring for another can only come through experiencing the intimacy and consistency of an ongoing love of someone in our lives. The authors recommend steady consistent care-givers who are never out of the line of sight during waking hours.

2) The Need for Physical Protection, Safety and Regulation

Areas discussed include toxic substances before birth, support in child birth, education about early pediatric care and nurturing, plus societal support for all new mothers and basic security.

3) The Need for Experiences Tailored to Individual Differences

Adjustments must be made to fit the individual. Not just activity level, but also physical differences like sensitivity to touch and sound. The authors found that nature decides the way a particular child takes in sensations, comprehending them, and then organizing and planning action, and nurture can act like a key in that lock that can open up the nature of that child to see their full potential.

4) The Need for Developmentally Appropriate Experiences

Each stage of development requires certain experiences. Some require more practice, and therefore moving on without mastering builds a bad foundation.

The basic stages:

-         Security and Ability to Look, Listen and be Calm (early months)

-         Relating: Ability to Feel Warm and Close to Others (4-6 months)

-         Intentional Two-Way Communication without Words (6-18 months), which allows for future cooperation

-         Solving Problems and Forming a Sense of Self (14-18 months)

-         Emotional Ideas, which allows them to form images of what they want and need, and substitute ideas for action.

-         Emotional Thinking (2 1/2 – 3 1/2), which allows them to build a bridge between ideas on an emotional level – underlies all future logical thought.

-         Triangular Thinking – Age of Fantasy and Omnipotence (4 1/2 – 7), which allows them to grasp more complicated relationships and build a wider range of emotions.

-         The Age of Peers and Politics (7-8), which opens them to group dynamics and the reality of life in shades of gray.

-         An Inner Sense of Self (10-12)

5) The Need for Limit Setting, Structure and Expectations

Limits are learned based on need to please – a combination of fear and desire for approval – as well as modeling morality.  And, expectations help provide the child with broad goals – like learning and discovering as a result of fulfilling curiosity. Children who feel unique and special develop a set of expectations for themselves regarding relationships and career that feel meaningful rather than just trying to carry out someone else’s agenda.

6) The Need for Stable Supportive Communities and Cultural Continuity

Stable, integrated communities that can embrace diversity while providing structure and support for families and children need to be achieved. Currently, families with the multi-risk problems – with years of ingrained helplessness, passivity, suspiciousness and avoidance –  tend to avoid help and become more self-destructive. Ideally, an outreach model could creates a working relationship between care-givers, child care providers, early interventionists and parents – changing from a deficit or failure model to one that values the strengths of the parent – which would encourage parents to become more involved.

7) Protecting the Future

Looking at the bigger picture of the world, we are connected by fear of nuclear weapons, ecological disasters and biological challenges, a world economy and greater communication that forces us into an automatic interdependency. Only common solutions can reduce the fear.

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The book highlights some of the basic problems that need to be resolved in our current systems if we hope to provide children with the best chance to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, children are not really a priority right now.

I’m not really in a position to help improve this situation in any direct way, but I do plan to include these ideas in the background of the episodes - making fun of those that don’t prioritize these issues, and illustrate the ridiculousness of a world that results from carelessly churning out children without attending to these basic needs.

One example is my sketch about the feuding homeless drunks. The basic premise is 2 dirty, smelly, abusive drunken fools who fight over an insignificant piece of property, eventually reconciling with each other, and revealing a shocking aspect of their tight relationship that prevents our hero from catching a much needed cab. These misfortunate misfits of society demonstrate the basic need for love, while showing how the lack of basic life skills can make a simple disagreement a real burden in living.