Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: What Babies Say Before They Can Talk : The Nine Signals Infants Use to Express Their Feelings

What Babies Say Before They Can Talk : The Nine Signals Infants Use to Express Their Feelings
What Babies Say Before They Can Talk : The Nine Signals Infants Use to Express Their Feelings by Paul Holinger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Babies Say Before They Can Talk is a fantastic book about communicating with your baby. Admittedly, the title is a bit misleading. While Paul Holinger does spent the last third of the book reviewing nine facial cues that babies give to communicate - interest, enjoyment, surprise, distress, anger, fear, shame, disgust, and dissmell (a reaction to bad smells)- , the majority of this book is filled with excellent parenting advice, not only for babies, but for toddlers and even small children.

The general theme is this: try to interpret and listen to what your child is thinking or feeling, and respond with care. Simple, right? Not so; I think this takes some real discipline on the part of parents, especially when babies get a little older and are into everything. Holinger gives an example of a baby playing with the ribbon on a wrapped box, potentially ruining what an adult would value - it's looking pretty on a box. Most parents would chide a child for playing with the ribbon, and some would discipline the child for touching it. Holinger asks the parent to step back and ask why the child is touching the ribbon. The baby is probably interested because it feels nice and the mechanics of the ribbon are interesting and confusing - the baby wants to figure out how it works! In this example, by disciplining the child or scolding her, a parent may not be disciplining the baby's playing with the ribbon, but actually discouraging playfulness and creativity. Holinger suggests that a more appropriate response is to try to validate the child's curiosity ("Look at that interesting ribbon you found! It sure is soft, and look how pulling on one end makes it longer!"), and then, if needed, distracting them, or re-directing their attention, always letting them know why something is inappropriate instead of just saying "No!" ("I see that you're very interested in that riboon, but it's part of a present for your grandma, so we shouldn't play with it. But look at the bow on my shoe laces and the way these strings do the same thing, let's play with this instead.")

Holinger, using the backing of many scientific studies,* argues that parents should encourage children when they're interested, verbally affirm what they think a child is feeling or thinking, and be careful to always offer explanations when a "no" is given.

Holinger is a clear writer and the book was a fast and informative read. I really enjoyed reading What Babies Say Before They Can Talk after finishing Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina. Medina has a chapter on always validating a child's feelings and making sure they feel heard and respected, and I feel that Holinger's book was a more in-depth exploration of this topic. Holinger was also more liberal with actual parenting advice, whereas Medina more lays out what scientific studies show, and makes suggestions for parents.

Also, while the book says it is aimed at parents of babies from birth to speaking, I think it will be most useful for parents of babies from 12-30 months.

*A note on the studies - I would assume that they are all peer-reviewed studies and Holinger has an extensive list at the back of the book, but I would have appreciated the explicit statement that they are peer-reviewed studies that are sound, as well as consistent citations and references to the studies throughout the book, which are not given.

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