November 30, 2006


The New Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children. By John Rosemond. Andrews McMeel. $24.95.

Raising Gifted Kids: Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Exceptional Child Thrive. By Barbara Klein, Ph.D. AMACOM. $16.95.

     Many parents wish that children came with instruction manuals.  Wish granted!  Of course, you still have to read the books, figure out if they apply to your particular family, and then implement the recommendations.  But, after all, you have to do much the same with anything programmable – a cell phone or DVD recorder, for instance.

     Ah, but children are not programmable, at least not in any reasonably straightforward way.  So it would be a mistake to believe that either of these books can simply be taken at face value and used with your own kids.  Still, both books make a number of good points and can help you decide what you actually want to do.

     The New Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children is an update of a book originally published more than 15 years ago, but as family psychologist John Rosemond explains, that doesn’t matter much: “I’m trying to turn the clock back. …I am absolutely, without a shred of doubt, convinced that parenting was stronger fifty years ago than it is today, and that children were stronger as a result.”  If you disagree with this belief – and it is a belief, not an incontrovertible fact – then Rosemond’s book is decidedly not for you.  But if you think it’s worth trying some old-fashioned ideas because they have stood the test of time, then you’ll find the book appealing.  Rosemond’s core belief is that “the secret to raising a happy, healthy child is to give more attention to your marriage than you give to your child – a lot more, in fact.”  This will strike some modern parents as selfishness, while others will find that it confirms their instincts.  Rosemond argues that parents must love their kids unconditionally but must also make sure they behave properly, disciplining them “with power and purpose.”  Benevolent dictatorship is the family model that Rosemond favors, and he argues with some intensity that it succeeds – using his own family as a prime example (he has two adult children and six grandchildren).  Rosemond has little patience with medicating children or asking for special consideration if they have difficulty in school.  Sufficiently firm parenting is what works, he says.  This means, among other things, no TV (the Rosemonds gave theirs to charity without telling their kids), no video games, and no computer-based learning.  Rosemond is an advocate – director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting – and tends to be dogmatic.  His book will appeal mostly to like-minded people and to parents who are floundering and unsure of themselves.

     Rosemond believes that all children are gifted, but that poor parenting and external influences such as television dilute their gifts.  Barbara Klein adopts a different and more conventional definition of gifted kids: they are extremely bright and, for that reason, uniquely challenged by an educational environment that all too often focuses on slow and troubled learners at the expense of kids who learn quickly and well, then come back for more.  Gifted children, Klein points out, dislike routine tasks, are easily bored, and tend to be introspective and sensitive.  Klein’s acknowledgment of the special difficulties of raising gifted children is welcome, as is her call for more resources for their benefit – and for parents to consider home schooling if needed aids are not available.  But that recommendation, like some of her others, may be a stretch, if not impossible, for many families.  How, for example, are parents supposed to determine whether programs for the gifted are good for their kids, or too high-pressure, and how can parents locate schools with “a project based approach to learning, which allows for creativity and problem solving” and is Klein’s ideal environment?  Klein also is sometimes self-contradictory, downplaying the importance of IQ scores but also stating that an IQ above 132 means a child is gifted, 145-plus is “highly gifted” and 160-plus is “profoundly gifted.”  Thus, as with any parenting book, Klein’s needs to be read carefully: parents should sort through the elements useful in their particular situation and pass over the rest.  Raising Gifted Kids contains some clearly valuable information – for example, the fact that a gifted child can be outstanding in a specific area but quite immature in others – but, its “everything you need to know” claim notwithstanding, neither it nor any other book is a perfect instruction manual for raising your particular child.

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