Top critical review
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Worth reading if you are not already familiar with the content
on 27 October 2013
This book is a synthesis of ideas from various places, the majority (although not all) of which I agree with wholeheartedly. It's done fairly well, but I think how useful it is will probably depend on what you have already come across before as well as what seems blindingly obvious to you - if you've never read a parenting book, it will probably be interesting. I didn't find it contained any earth-shattering practical advice.
It's very readable, but I did find the CRUCIAL acronym annoyingly contrived, and could have done without the constant suggestion that all parents behave in various ways that I have never done! Ultimately I don't think it changed the way I parent at all, but observing other parents, I can see that it will certainly be useful to a lot of people.
The contents are roughly as follows:
- 'Who do I want my toddler to be?' - this is all about the fact that when you are parenting you are playing the long game, discussing the development of empathy, confidence and independence, curiosity and a desire to learn, and commitment and ambition, saying things like e.g. the way to develop empathy is to exhibit compassion your self, the way to develop independence is to allow more dependence when younger etc.
- 'Why toddlers are not mini adults' - this is the 'science' chapter and talks about synaptic pruning, the triune brain theory, Piaget including his three mountains experiment, and Bandura's bobo doll. The basic message is that the early years are important and there is stuff that toddlers' brains just aren't biologically capable of yet.
- 'The science of toddler sleep' - this basically says to accept that toddlers sleep badly. Only practical advice is to get to bed early, get blackout blinds and have a nice bedtime ritual. As you'd expect from the author, there is lots on why you shouldn't sleep train, primarily quoting Middlemiss's work on cortisol levels, which is interesting but has possible issues with it (and certainly doesn't cover 'crying in arms' which the author conflates with controlled crying). Ultimately, the only advice here is to wait, which is fine if your toddler is waking up once a night, but not if there are waking up dozens of times each night. I'd have liked to have seen something about how to deal with the cot-to-bed transition (and ha, how to cosleep with a toddler who wants to play with your face rather than sleep!)
- 'The science of picky eating' - basically says that the underlying reasons are incorrect expectations, a need for control from the toddler's point of view and biological differences in taste between adults and young children. I have the least picky toddler ever, though don't know if that is just luck but agree with just not stressing too much about what your toddler eats. I'm less convinced by the author's encouragement of grazing (which I suspect too easily leads to comfort eating) and short-order cooking. I prefer Ellyn Satter's approach here.
- 'Carrots and sticks and the problem with praise' - this is a good summary of the problems with rewards and praise. If you've read Alfie Kohn and Carol Dweck, there won't be anything new, but it's good stuff.
- 'The battle for CONTROL' - this is about encouraging free play and not overdirecting - I came across this concept by reading Janet Lansbury, but if you haven't, then definitely worthwhile.
- 'The RHYTHM of life' - about the importance of rhythm/routine. My favourite book on this is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
- 'UNDERSTANDING the real problem' - about not labelling toddlers and understanding their biological limitations
- 'COMMUNICATION - toddler style' - a bit of a mishmash chapter, about treating tantrums as a form of communication, modelling the behaviour you want, and then odd tips like phrasing things you want positively rather than negatively (e.g. 'stay on the pavement' rather than 'don't go in the road').
- 'Treating your toddler as an INDIVIDUAL" - basically a reminder that not all toddlers are the same, talks about mind-mindfulness
- 'AVOIDING difficult situations' - again a reminder to organise your life to avoid things that are likely to cause problems, includes a good section on how to cope when your toddler is having a tantrum, and tips for coping when people criticise your parenting
- 'The importance of unconditional LOVE' - talks about Maslow, oxytocin, Tronick's still face experiment, responding to your toddler with compassion, and nurturing yourself and how you need to be calm to calm your toddler. There's also a section on separation anxiety and how to leave your toddler when you really have to.
- 'Why you don't need to be permissive to parent respectfully' - talks about the fear of making our toddlers cry, authoritative parenting, and how to set and enforce limits (basically offering an alternative)
- 'CRUCIAL in action - ten worked examples' - this covers biting/hitting, throwing, not sharing, refusal to get dressed/have nappy changed, refusal to eat, not sleeping through the night, tantrumming constantly, not using their potty, not settling in childcare, and a new sibling. I felt this was a slightly weak section. E.g. with hitting, it doesn't say how to deal with repeated hitting, throwing etc. what to do if your child isn't interested in the alternative or if there isn't an alternative available e.g. if you are at friend's house, say. In the section on sharing, it doesn't talk about dealing with snatching (as you don't want to model snatching behaviour yourself!). The only practical suggestion with getting dressed is to give them choices and to make it fun, without many ideas for the latter - I certainly know neither of those worked with my son!
Overall, I'm not sure it's a book that I'd recommend to a friend, partly because I feel iffy about the sleep and food chapters and partly because the CRUCIAL acronym makes me cringe, plus there are other books I'd recommend first. However, if the contents is new to you, then you'll probably get a lot out of this book.