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The Big Answer

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Toddlers and Parents: A Declaration of Independence

a book by T. Berry Brazelton

(our site's book review)

This is a book about the struggle for independence and self-mastery undergone by all of us from ages one to three—the toddler stage. Brazelton says that the more autonomy the child can achieve at this age, the better. It’s critical that the child learns to choose for himself, whenever possible. Erik Erikson says that the self-esteem and self-control learned in this stage give one a lasting sense of good will and pride, but if parents over-control there will instead be doubt and shame. Like Maslow (Toward a Psychology of Being), Brazelton believes that exploration and adventuring are critical, and should be done from a base of security represented by parental love. He offers “time outs” and sending a child to his room as appropriate “punishments” for when a toddler goes past appropriate behavioral limits. These are only to be used when nothing else works.

A 'time-out' is merely the modern version of the dunce chair, which isolates a 'naughty' child
A 'time-out' is merely the modern version of the dunce chair, which isolates a 'naughty' child

As long as “punishment” is defined in these terms, we can agree with it, since nothing is more important in toddlerhood than learning limits, self-control and autonomy. If parents are unresponsive to toddler tests and limit checking and resort to permissiveness, the toddler will have to find many limits the hard way, and he’ll experience confusion and anxiety, says Brazelton. However, Solter outlines The Disadvantages of Time-Out and instead advocates Time In and the "Cuddle Corner, which have no punitive context."

In general, T. Berry Brazelton is from the attachment school of Bowlby and Ainsworth, and has some rather conservative ideas about discipline, as did John Bowlby. However, Bolwby, Hart and White see the importance of making sure the childcare is not too steep-gradient, as childcare help from relatives or from other mothers who do cooperative childcare can be very helpful and vital for child and mother alike. Brazelton often depicts situations where such respite is obviously critically needed, but he sometimes fails to show the insight of Burton L. White (The First Three Years of Life), Mary Ainsworth, Thomas Gordon, Louise Hart and other experts. Instead, he actually recommends “angry outbursts” from parents as serving an important purpose, and calls them “honestly open reactions.” We call them an irresponsible loss of control that need to be replaced with I-statements where the anger is stated, unthreateningly.

There are many serious problems with Brazelton’s strategies. The kindest perspective one can have on his ideas are that he was overly swayed by such researchers as Diana Baumrind, who—although entirely correct that authoritative parenting rather than authoritarian or permissive parenting is the way to go—overuses the idea of the need for firm control and punishment. Also, one could note that if a person needed instructions on how to somehow cope with the overwhelming task of disciplining kids if one lived in an isolated nuclear family in a vacuum, most of Brazelton’s ideas wouldn’t fall too short of the mark. And that brings up the first of a number of errors in his thinking:

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

Brazelton has seen so many situations full of sibling hate and violence that he has unfortunately adopted them as the norm
Brazelton has seen so many situations full of sibling hate and violence that he has unfortunately adopted them as the norm