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Book Review: Elegant Parenting.
How to do it right the FIRST time. Strategies for the 21st century, by Dr. John Gall and Beth Gall.
Many of you may already know John Gall as your children's pediatrician or perhaps have participated, as we have, in his parenting seminars. If so, you know that as valuable as that ubiquitous pink medicine are the parenting suggestions he can provide. These are "shots in the arm" that really don't hurt and leave the parent feeling healthier for the visit.
He has recently consolidated all this wisdom into a book, "Elegant Parenting", which I have had the pleasure of illustrating. What sets this book apart from others on the subject and makes it, I think, particularly suited to those of the "open-school" philosophy is that it does not adhere to one way of doing things for everybody. Rather, it is based on helping parents develop a whole host of strategies to draw from and adapt to their own individual, always changing and growing families. John Gall calls it "Parenting as Performing Art".
These "strategies" form the bulk of the book. The first chapters, however, are devoted to "parenting as a communication skill" with emphasis on learning to read feedback. "Awareness of feedback" he says, "is the missing link that is left out of textbooks". And without it, raising children is a bewildering task. I like his example of how medical students are taught to examine babies. He describes a relaxed, gurgling baby doing everything naturally when along comes the professor. "He wants to look in the baby's mouth. He takes a tongue blade and jams it in the baby's mouth, and the baby promptly clamps his jaws together, so the professor has to force the baby's jaws open!" By not paying attention to feedback the professor’s actions are producing the opposite of what he wants!
"There are so many ways to do anything. You're only limited by what you can think of," says Gall. In this situation he says "the strategy (sic) I like to use is to bring the light up over their head, because when they try to look over their head, their mouths fall open!"
Now an added bonus of reading the book is membership in the "Flaky Moms and Dads Club". This can be very useful if you have a child who has chosen to fill the incompetent role in the family. "You can sometimes help them to move out of it ... by getting more incompetent than they are," says Gall. "You really ought to be able to lose skill and competency as the child gains it. And if your timing is good, you will turn out to be incompetent at doing something just about the time when the kid is reaching the developmental level when they can master it".
This strategy is one of my personal favorites, You end up with a child discovering their abilities on their own, so not only do they change behavior but gain in self esteem at the same time.
Of course, over a period of time, you can get called on this - so it's time for another strategy! All in all there are 68 strategies described plus blends of different strategies. Some enticing titles are:
"Providing a Secure Reality"
"The Magic Door"
"Providing a More Horrible Example (Mother, Don't Do That!)"
"The Extended Tom Sawyer Maneuver”
"Its Time for your Tantrum" (Messing Up The Sequence)
Making up the last part of the book are "Advanced Strategies". These are for dealing with larger goals such as how to help children fulfill their own destinies rather than push them into the embodiment of someone else's dreams. The wonderful side effect of this is a renewed sense of appreciation and joy in each individual child.
I think this book speaks to the philosophy "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime". It teaches skills that parents can use to "rise to the occasion" whatever that may be.
The writing is vivid in examples, full of wry humor and thought provoking observations. It applies for all ages of children, from new-born babies onward. Frankly there are good insights into dealing with adults as well! Our older daughter, Laura, has even learned to use some strategies with her younger sister, Madeline, now famous (or infamous) as a Science Fair experimental subject.
Published by General Systemantics™ Press, 7027 South Walker Bay Rd. NW, Walker, MN 56484 USA.
Hardcover: ISBN 0-9618251-2-X
Softcover: ISBN 0-9618251-3-8
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This page last updated Wednesday, May 14, 2008.
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