January 12, 2006


The Discipline Miracle: The Clinically Proven System for Raising Happy, Healthy, and Well-Behaved Kids.  By Linda Pearson, DNSc, with L.A. Stamford. AMACOM. $14.95.

     It seems a little strange for AMACOM, the publishing arm of the American Management Association, to be producing a book about disciplining children.  It also seems a little strange to find out that business techniques are the best way to run a family.  Yet such techniques are essentially what Linda Pearson recommends.

     This is, in many ways, an attractive proposition.  It somehow recalls the way Mickey Mouse used to ask TV’s original Mouseketeers, “Everybody neat and pretty?  Then on with the show!”  Yet Pearson, a family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, is not naïve.  She knows kids cause problems and can be difficult for parents to handle, and she approaches that parental task in a straightforward manner.  Her ideas may not be miraculous, but they’ve got a lot of common sense behind them.

     Pearson reduces child discipline to three fundamental principles: 1) Give your child a sense of security by always being dependable and emotionally available.  2) Act like a good corporate boss by insisting children follow rules that will make them feel safe while teaching them self-control.  3) Give kids what they will need for the real world – boundaries, rules, consequences – instead of always giving them what they want.

     Stated this way, Pearson’s approach sounds a bit soulless.  That is the problem many parents are likely to have with this book: it calls on them to have strong emotional connections with their children, but it has none itself.  It is more a training manual, both for parents and for kids, than a set of recommendations for loving enforcement of necessary family rules and restrictions.

     Its somewhat off-putting style aside, The Discipline Miracle is filled with good ideas and clearly written examples.  After stating her three principles, each in its own chapter, Pearson follows up with separate chapters on putting each principle to work (that corporate approach again).  The application chapters mix excellent advice with more problematic comments.  For example, it is very good to know that certain fears are normal in children of certain ages, but it is far more difficult, as a practical matter, to follow this advice: “If you suspect that your child has modeled her fear of something by watching an important person in her life react with an intense emotion…allow her to watch you deal calmly with a similar event or thing.”

     On balance, Pearson’s principles are sound, though not as easy to follow as she suggests.  And she takes things a bit too far in later chapters by suggesting that her three principles can lessen the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (maybe in some cases, but surely not as a general rule) and that they can mitigate especially difficult family circumstances, such as divorce (again, perhaps in some cases, but not all).  Pearson’s book is best used as a guide to techniques that make intellectual sense but may not have the right emotional connection for all families.  If you find a largely businesslike implementation of structural principles a sound way to manage discipline issues, you will find Pearson an excellent guide.  But her ideas are certainly no “miracle.”

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