October 2000

The Irreducible Needs of Children

By T. Berry Brazelton
Review by
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The number of books on parenting is astounding, and their advice, taken together, is overwhelming and often contradictory. One trusted voice that rises above the din is that of T. Berry Brazelton, whose work as a pediatrician, author, and advocate for children has helped many parents cope with the stresses of raising children in a fast-paced world. Brazelton and co-author Stanley Greenspan have teamed to create a new work which not only aims to help individual families, but offers strong suggestions on what society as a whole should invest in the well-being of children.

Brazelton and Greenspan outline what they see as seven irreducible needs: the need for ongoing nurturing relationships; the need for physical protection, safety and regulation; the need for experiences tailored to individual differences; the need for developmentally appropriate experiences; the need for limit-setting, structure, and expectations; the need for stable, supportive communities and cultural continuity; and the need to protect the future.

For example, in a world increasingly dependent on non-parental child care, Brazelton and Greenspan emphasize the need for daily, personal, one-to-one contact between parent and child (the authors like to refer to it as "floor time"). Often, even the best child care centers come up short when it comes to meaningful one-on-one contact with children. A lack of personal contact, even in young infants, can stunt a child's intellectual and emotional growth.

The authors also discuss their opinions on more specific topics, such as how much television is too much, why "tough love" is a misguided idea, and whether spanking is appropriate.

The writing in The Irreducible Needs of Children does veer into academic areas of child psychology and physiology, possibly heavy subjects for parents not trained in the life sciences, but the authors wrap up each chapter with a fairly accessible summary.

While some of the authors' recommendations might seem to conflict with the reality of many parents' lives and the hopes for politicians and those in power to adopt meaningful legislation and funding for children's programs certainly sounds unrealistic there is plenty of practical parenting information for parents of infants, toddlers, and older children to put into practice immediately.

Shelton Clark is a writer in Nashville.


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