1991 Attic Press, ISBN 1-85594-018-3 £7.99 Pbk.
The first thing that strikes the reader about this book is how “user-friendly” it is. “You can find the advice you need without having to wade through whole chapters – simply refer to the topic you want and positive, practical tips are listed step by step, point by point,” writes Pat Rees in her brief introduction. I took her at her word and turned first of all to the Index. There I found under “L”, for example, “Listening”, “Lunch Box” and “Lying”. The headings were inviting and varied and I was easily tempted to read my way right through the book. Before I leave the Index, however, I must comment on an omission which I consider to be rather serious. There is no mention of abortion or miscarriage, both of which are topics of major importance to a significant percentage of parents. The fact that these highly distressing subjects are avoided is disturbing. It seems to contribute to the conspiracy of silence about these things which can be so oppressive to the people who have suffered them. The fact that under “L” there was no mention at all of Loss is perhaps indicative of the only major shortcoming of the book.
Pat Rees takes a most cheerful and matter-of-fact approach to her subject and is full of encouragement and humour. Many of her “tips” show vivid understanding of the parents’ dilemma when faced with, say, “Nasty Habits” such as spitting, biting, nosepicking or tantrums. The need for firmness and clarity is affirmed but at the same time she is careful to safeguard the dignity of the child. Her hints could provide real assistance for parents who may feel that they are getting locked into confrontations with their children over such things. “Try a light approach,” she says, and gives plenty of illustrations of how to do so. “Don’t over-react” and “Make sure you get plenty of rest and time away from this lovable but temperamental little darling” are typical pieces of general advice too. She often gives information as well as ideas and insights into the various issues. Such information may well be quite reassuring for parents: “Would you believe that around two years old, two or three tantrums a day, lasting five to ten minutes, is thought to be normal? This stage does pass.” In a different vein, the information can also be quite scientific: “Milky drinks contain calcium, nature’s tranquilliser, so give a milky drink before bed.” Among a lot of tips to cope with jealousy, she says, “Keep loving, jealousy passes.” This down-to-earth approach is very refreshing and it distinguishes this Guide from many others which are, unintentionally I’m sure, rather too knowing.
Underneath this light approach, however, there is a particular message being given to the reader and it underpins many of the “hints” and “tips” with a firm philosophy of parenting. Time and again, Rees stresses the need for parents to encourage independence in their children. The section on “Developing Self Worth” says so outright, but it crops up in different forms in most sections. She reminds us that there is less likelihood of destructive jealousy over a new baby if you have already encouraged your child to be independent. It also helps in “Developing you Child’s Intelligence”, in starting school and so on. Even in her section on “Child Sexual Abuse – Protect Your Child”, she con sistently stresses this: ‘Teach them to trust their instincts….sometimes children can and should say “No” to adults…..Encourage your children as much as possible to be responsible for their own well-being from an early age.” At the same time, she insists, “Always believe your child.” I found this basic consistency of approach very appealing. It seemed that, for Rees, the child’s interests and the parents’ were genuinely linked in such a way as to encourage each to grow.
In spite of its light touch and unflinching attention to every detail (in “Bottle feeding” for example, she begins with “Wash your hands”!), I felt that this is a serious book which offers parents real support and guidance in a completely non-judgemental way.