You've Come a Long Way, Baby


Spare the rod and spoil the child.--Samuel Butler, 1663

I'm not advocating spanking, but I think it is less poisonous than lengthy disapproval.--Dr. Benjamin Spock, 1946

You can convince me that a good spanking does the child and the mother a lot of good. I've never doubted it. But I just don't like it.--Bruno Bettelheim, 1962

The swing away from discipline in the '40s and '50s has provided us with a discontented, angry generation . . . Certainly physical punishment should be used as little as possible and as a last resort--but it may well be necessary to clear the air.--Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, 1976

The American tradition of spanking may be one (reason) there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation.--Spock, 1985

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with attracting a misbehaving child's attention with one loud-but-not-very-hard whomp on his butt.--Lewis A. Coffin, pediatrician, Emory University, and Internet "Kidsdoctor," 1998

What's a parent to think?

While the American Academy of Pediatricians in December went on record as being against spanking, the American Psychological Assn.--which since 1974 has opposed corporal punishment in the schools--chose recently not to denounce corporal punishment of children in all situations.

The issue was brought up at APA's annual convention in August, but, says Irwin Hyman, one of the principals among antispanking forces, "I couldn't even get them to make a committee on it. It's a very controversial issue. There are enough conservative physicians who don't even want to touch it."

In the debate, adds Hyman, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of "The Case Against Spanking" (Jossey-Bass, 1997), "It's like the '60s in the tobacco war," with the pro-spankers, some of whom cite reasons of religion or tradition, insisting that the evidence that spanking is harmful is not yet conclusive.

From temper tantrums to toilet-training, from the birds and bees to bed-wetting, advice is not in short supply for parents of babies and young children. But whom to turn to? And, in the final analysis, will it matter whether your little darling was denied a pacifier or banned from mommy and daddy's bed?


The child-rearing debate really escalated in 1946, when Dr. Spock--who died in March at age 94--burst upon the pediatric scene with "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care" (a volume now so rare that the publisher directs callers to Bird Library at Syracuse University, which has the "only known copy").

And what a difference a few years--or a few decades--can make.

In 1946, Spock dispensed this advice on toilet-training: "It seems sensible . . . to leave [the baby] in peace until he is old enough to know a little of what it's all about. I would wait until he can at least sit up steadily alone, which will be around 7 to 9 months."

But in 1962, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim--whose credentials have been widely questioned since his 1990 suicide--wrote in "Dialogues With Mothers" (The Free Press) by the library tonite (Tues.) and get info."If they say 'no,' it's 'no.' Then maybe two months later you suggest it again; and this game you play up to the age of 3."

In 1989, best-selling children's advice writer Penelope Leach, in "Your Baby and Child" (Alfred Knopf) told parents, "If you start later, he will learn faster and reach the same point at the same time. . . . He won't set off for big school in diapers."

In 1983, the late Dr. Lee Salk's advice was: Never before 18 months. Two years later, Spock concurred: "Don't start until the middle of the second year."

And, finally, current advice from Dr. Bill and Martha Sears on the ParentTime Web site: "Tell your child the store is out of diapers" and let him play bare-bottom in the yard.


What about feeding? Mother's milk or formula? Low-fat or regular milk? Back in 1946, Spock was advocating breast-feeding, reasoning, "It's safer to do things the natural way unless you are absolutely sure you have a better way."

But through the '50s, '60s and '70s, few pediatricians urged new mothers to breast-feed and, despite campaigns by organizations such as La Leche League, most mothers chose bottle feeding. But many of today's young mothers choose to breast-feed.

"Breast-feeding is best," says Santa Clarita pediatrician Dr. Loraine Stern, but "you can't just tell women to breast-feed. You have to provide enough support services to help them over the rough spots. One problem is that this generation of grandmothers is highly likely not to have breast-fed."

In the '60s and '70s, pediatricians routinely advised new mothers to segue from formula to low-fat milk. Today, low-fat is in disfavor, the theory being that until age 2 children need the extra calories.


Pacifiers have been objects of debate for decades--and still are.

Bettelheim's take (1962): "The pacifier is usually easier to keep clean, it's softer [than a thumb] and they don't get callouses on their thumbs."

Brazelton's take (1976): To quiet a crying newborn, "Try the things that might quiet him or her--that is, feeding, changing, cuddling, rocking, or a finger or a pacifier to suck on."

Salk's take (1983): "While I am inclined to advise against using a pacifier, I am not absolutely opposed to them . . . but I am opposed to putting a pacifier into a child's mouth the instant she cries, which is not unlike giving an adult a tranquilizer every time he feels unhappy."

Spock's take (1985): "The pacifier, if used right, is an efficient way to prevent thumb-sucking" and "less likely to push the teeth out of position."

Leach's take (1989): "It is rare for books to suggest pacifiers, but there is no doubt that they can make a miraculous difference to a few miserable or jumpy babies." But, she adds, don't use them as a magic bullet "to shut the child up instead of trying to find out what's the matter."

The Searses' take (1998): If it's pacifier versus thumb, "we would vote for the thumb. It's easily found in the middle of the night, it doesn't fall on the floor"--and it tastes better.


When it comes to telling parents how to keep their sanity through a temper tantrum, the pros have always proved quite imaginative.

Parenting counselor Bobbie Sandoz, writing in "Parachutes for Parents" (Contemporary Books, 1997) advises: Let him cry it through "even if he bangs his head, kicks the walls, pulls his room apart or holds his breath and turns blue. . . . And never, never give in."

Spock (1946): If it's a public tantrum, "pick him up, with a grin if you can force it, and lug him off to a quiet spot where you can both cool off in private."

Spock (1985): If it's a public tantrum, "pick her up, with a grin if you can force it, and lug her off to a quiet spot where you can both cool off in private."

Leach: "Behave as if you had never heard of the things and then treat them, when they occur, as unpleasant but completely irrelevant interludes in the day's ordinary events."


And then there's that perennial parental bugaboo--telling the kid the facts of life.

"Sex education starts early, whether you plan it or not," Spock wrote in 1946, and again in 1985. The truth is a better answer than the stork, he counseled, "because he's not going to be fooled for long, and then you have him knowing that you lied to him."

Salk (1983): "When these first questions come up, I think you should answer them in a simple and matter-of-fact way," one that is age appropriate. For preschoolers, he suggests explaining egg and sperm and how they come together. And when the child asks if he can watch daddy and mommy in action? "Just explain that this is something people like to do when they are alone. It is very special and private."

Sandoz (1997): Answer their questions, naming body parts and their functions--but don't get carried away. Telling all in response to the first query, she says, is akin to telling the child interested in a cow "the whole story of dairy farming, the nutritional components of milk, and how it's marketed."


In the final analysis, does any of the above make much difference? Should parents spend sleepless nights wondering whether sharing their bed with their baby may encourage incest, as some pediatricians warn, or, as others suggest, it's a positive bonding experience?

"There's never going to be any last word on anything," says Stern, who is issues spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatricians and co-editor of Healthy Kids magazine. "Information changes. We're constantly learning new things." The things that really matter, she adds, are the safety issues, such as sleeping position and wearing a bike helmet.

Parents should be aware, she cautions, that there is "all kinds of cockamamie information" out there--a lot of it on the Internet--put forth by people with no credentials except that "they have children."

Stern adds, "Parents worry about all these millions of things, that they might do the wrong thing. The things you think are pivotal, they don't even remember" and vice versa. She tells about her husband asking her stepson, Mitch, if he recalled the song daddy made up to teach little Mitchie to cross the street safely. No, said the now-grown Mitch--"All I remember is I had to hold your hand and you had a wart on your thumb and I hated that wart."


Where does the American Academy of Pediatrics stand on some basic child-rearing issues?

Breast-Feeding: Human milk is preferred for all infants, with rare exceptions. Citing "compelling advantages," including health, psychological and economic benefits, the academy encourages pediatricians to promote and support breast-feeding.

Sex Education: Children need age-appropriate comprehensive health education, encompassing broad-based sexuality issues such as HIV/AIDS, from preschool through college.

Spanking: Because of the negative consequences of spanking, and its ineffectiveness in managing undesirable behavior, parents are encouraged to choose other methods of discipline such as removal of privileges.

Pacifiers: Pacifiers do not cause medical or psychological problems and will satisfy the sucking need some babies have.

Toilet-Training: There is no set age at which to begin. The child must be emotionally and physically ready. Many indicate readiness between 18 and 24 months; for others, it is 30 months or older. If a child resists strongly, wait awhile.

Bed-Wetting: Make sure a child understands that bed-wetting is not his fault and that it will get better in time. Reward him for dry nights, but do not punish him for wet ones. He does not have control over the problem and he, too, would like for it to stop.

Temper Tantrums: Parents should accept them as a normal and expected way for children to vent their frustrations. Try to keep calm. Making a funny face or other distractions may work. If all else fails, ignore the tantrum. Never punish a child for a tantrum. And never give in.

Bed Sharing: Adult beds are not designed for infant safety and may present a risk of accidental entrapment and suffocation. Despite some reports, there is no basis at this time for encouraging bed sharing as a strategy to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Stern offers a final, unofficial bit of advice: "Don't sweat everything. The most important single thing is that a child grows up knowing his parents adore him. . . . When children know they're loved, they can cope with just about anything."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World