The Initiative Facts For Life: A Vital Source for Safe Motherhood

According to global statistics, approximately 9 million children die each year before their fifth birthday from completely preventable causes. Those statistics include the three million babies that are stillborn, the one million that die from injuries, and the one and a half million that die from dehydration. The death of even one child is tragic. These deaths are not due to a lack of maternal care, but are often the result of poverty and other environmental factors. The extent of the grief suffered by parents over the loss of these children is almost impossible to fathom. Caring individuals, professionals and volunteers alike, are working to reduce the amount of suffering caused by these needless deaths. Information is one of the most important tools in achieving that goal.
The goal of one project is to make potentially life-saving information available to parents all over the world. To accomplish that goal, Facts for Life, a trusted global resource for parents struggling to keep their children safe, recently published its 4th edition. Previous editions have been translated into more than 215 languages. The quality of maternal care is one of the most important factors in a child’s life. This edition includes all the information based on the most current scientific research and statistics in the fields of medicine and child development most necessary to enable mothers to provide the best maternal care possible.

Facts for Life consists of 14 chapters, each of which is devoted to a topic related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the care and safety of children. Rather than merely presenting statistics, scientific information is presented in language that parents can easily understand. Equally importantly, each chapter ends with a number of concrete actions a parent can take to make their children’s lives safer. Incorporating child safety strategies that have proven to be effective into daily maternal care has saved many lives. Not only has the project improved maternal care, but it has also influenced policy-makers to invest resources into programs that focus on prevention of many of the conditions that threaten children’s lives.

For example, 1.5 million children die each year from dehydration caused by diarrhea, making it the second leading cause of death for children. Diarrhea is often caused by unclean drinking water. While many in the Western world are able to take the basic necessities of life, such as clean drinking water, for granted, parents in other parts of the world must learn how to make drinking water safe. The chapter devoted to protecting children from the potentially deadly effects of diarrhea describes the symptoms and the proper treatment in detail. Further, it educates parents about all the potential causes and provides solutions, such as water purification and personal hygiene, for preventing it. Another chapter addresses malaria, which is still a very real threat in many places in the world.

While some chapters are more relevant to maternal care in the developing world, the majority of them address parenting issues relevant to parents everywhere. The statistics presented in the chapter devoted to child protection are disturbing indeed, which makes the information contained within it all the more important. For example, in 2002, approximately 150 million girls and 73 million boys under the age of 18 experienced rape or some other form of sexual violence. As of 2001, it was estimated that 325,000 children in the United States were at risk for becoming victims of sexual exploitation. The chapter outlines children’s rights and the role of maternal care in helping children safely exercise those rights.

The chapter on emergency preparedness presents useful information about a number of different types of emergencies, from disease epidemics to natural disasters. Sadly, it also includes information about land mines, including places they are often buried, how to identify one, and what emergency medical procedures to initiate in the event that a child steps on one. According to UNICEF, in 2015, war was one of the leading causes of death for children.
Hopefully, the future will include more international projects such as Facts for Life, and war as a cause of death for children will be listed in the category of “preventable”.

maternal care

193.W UFO Beam Illusion

Crushing Illusion of Truth: On Fictional Experts and Imagined Baby Care Guides

“Every group thinks that its way of caring for infants is the obvious, correct, natural way – a simple matter of common sense. However, as the anthropologist Clifford Geertz has pointed out, what we easily call “common sense” is anything but common. Indeed what people accept as common sense in one society may be considered odd, exotic, or even barbaric in another.”

–Judy S. DeLoache and Anna Gottlieb

Psychologist Judy S. DeLoache and anthropologist Anna Gottlieb, both professors in their respective fields, combined their expertise to create a unique and informative book. A World of Babies: Imagine Child Care Guides for Seven Societies presents a series of imagined baby care guides that might have been written by a wise and respected member of each of seven different societies. These guides are written by fictional characters using real information from anthropological studies of those societies. Each of these characters has the best interests of children at heart–and in mind

Imagined Baby Care Guides From Around the World

According to one review of the book, these imagined baby care guides answer a number of questions posed by parents around the world throughout history. The book takes us through history by including the Puritans of New England, as well as around the world, by including the Fulani society of western Africa as well as social life in a village in eastern Turkey. The Walpiri, an aboriginal people of northern Australia are represented, as are the Ifaluk people of Micronesia. The guides address topics such as ways to achieve a successful pregnancy, how often to bathe a baby, and how long to breastfeed. They also include descriptions of the ceremonies surrounding birth specific to each of these cultures.

Impressively, in addition to extensive research of the work of many respected anthropologists, historians and psychologists, the authors also utilize observations from their own field studies. In an article in Scientific American, Ms. DeLoache mentions some of the field work that was included in the book. Making the “authors” of these imagined baby care guides fictional characters reinforces the fact that the book is not intended to advise parents on how to raise their children, but rather, to present information about various child-rearing practices. The result is that readers are able to learn a great deal of about other cultures in a very entertaining way.

Imagined Baby Care Guides Versus “Expert” Baby Care Guides

People have been raising children since long before the first parenting guide was printed. The book clearly illustrates that parenting has always consisted of transmitting cultural traditions developed through generations of experience. In an article about the book, the author expresses the opinion that today’s parenting guides written by “experts” may be the result of the rapid social and technological change experienced by industrialized nations. Increased mobility and the subsequent shift from traditional extended families to the smaller nuclear family has resulted in the loss of many formerly important child-rearing and social traditions developed over time.

The fictional “experts” in the book are respected members of their communities, such as grandmothers and traditional healers. The book has been praised for its attention to ethnographic detail and a way of presenting parenting advice from within a greater social context. Social context includes many elements, including geographic location and climate, religious beliefs, economic circumstances, and political history. Presenting the imagined baby care guides within the context of the greater society allows readers to better understand practices that in the context of their own modern societies, may seem strange indeed.

Today’s “expert” parenting guides often rely more on scientific studies than personal parental experience, although there are some that combine the two. The fact that many of today’s modern societies are more diverse in terms of religious and political beliefs than societies of the past may account for some of the conflicting advice of modern parenting guides. One advantage of learning about child-rearing practices of other cultures through imagined baby care guides is that of gaining other perspectives through which to view our own. Another advantage is the possibility of resurrecting some valuable traditions lost to the faster pace of modern life.

The best possible result of this book is that parents will be not only simultaneously educated and entertained, but encouraged to create new traditions in which they rely more on one another and less on “expert” advice.

imagined baby care
UFO Beam Illusion
family life values

On Nostalgia, Myth and The Way We Never Were

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

The Changing Face of Family Life Values

Older people can often be heard lamenting the demise of “the good old days” when children respected their elders, adults behaved civilly towards one another, and good manners were a sign of superior child rearing. However, many believe that the good old days were largely a myth, and were only “good” for a small percentage of the population that consisted primarily of white males.

In her book The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, Author Stephanie Coontz attempts to separate the myths surrounding reminiscence of the good old days from the often harsh realities that women and children faced in the past. She points out how phrases such as “a man’s house is his castle” illustrated and perpetuated some of those realities.

In an interview on the topic of marriage and gender equality, Ms. Coontz was asked to elaborate on her statement that while marriage has changed more in the last 30 years than in the past 3,000, some aspects are now less stable. In her opinion, part of the reason that marriage was such a powerful institution was due to its rigidity. The lack of economic alternatives for women coupled with social stigma and discrimination against unmarried women are examples of that rigidity. A strict division of gender roles encouraged mutual dependence based on economic necessity.

Something Old, Something New

Today, economic changes have reduced that necessity, and with it, the stability of family life and values associated with the institution of marriage. Women have higher expectations of equality and are more willing to leave marriages in which they feel mistreated. She also makes the point that despite progress towards equality, in choosing a mate, many women’s attractions are still based on the social conditioning of the past. That conditioning included choosing a mate using criteria such as economic and emotional stability, rather than sexual attraction.

Sexual attraction was often reserved for “bad boys” with an air of mystery, unpredictability, or even danger, qualities that are unlikely to be useful in sustaining family life and values, or even a long-term relationship. Ms. Coontz believes that one of the challenges of reducing the instability of marriage in an age in which women often marry based on attraction is that of making equality sexy.

While marriage is becoming more equal, one of the reasons that it has become more difficult to sustain family life and values is that both men and women still have difficulty giving themselves permission to let go of old social conditioning. Women have been given the message that although they can now have careers, they must also still maintain their attractive femininity and do the majority of household work. Men have been given the message that they are expected to give up economic control and participate more in household chores, but are also still expected to play the role of protector and provider.

The result is an increase in unreasonable expectations surrounding family life and values and more pressure on both genders in relationships. One reviewer of Ms. Coontz’s timely book points out that continuing to believe in a mythical past reality can make us less able to deal with present reality. Nostalgia about mythical good old days can also keep us from both enjoying the very real progress towards equality that has been made, and furthering it.

Furthering Positive Change

In another interview in the Atlantic she cautions against alienating potential allies in the struggle for equality in family life and values by using terms such as “sexist” and “patriarchal” to describe those who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate inequality. While she acknowledges progress towards equality in terms of men taking on a bigger role in child care and household duties, she believes that structural changes are needed for lasting positive change. Social policies that support family life and values, such as subsidized child care and parental leave, must begin to reflect the reality that most people now want equality in relationships between genders.

Although women in the U.S. have many more career opportunities than women in many other countries, the gap between wage earners is much wider. Due to the lack of a sufficient child care infrastructure, including family leave policies that reflect family life and values, many mothers are forced to leave the work force for several years. The result is that their wages upon returning to the workforce are significantly lower than those of women without children. For a future in which marriage is more mutually satisfying and children are free of the pressure caused by gender stereotypes of the past, the long slow struggle towards equality is well worth our collective continued effort.

family life values
Nostalgia, 1941
family life during war

The Smallest Casualties of War

“We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.”

–Howard Zinn

Family Life During War: Children’s Perspective

During the 1960’s , partially in response to the Viet Nam war, a poster which contained the saying

“War is not healthy for children and other living things”

became very popular in the United States. One of the most powerful photographs ever taken was one in which how the horrors of war affected children was demonstrated in a very graphic and visceral way. The ways in family life during war affects children is a difficult topic to discuss and one that many people would prefer to avoid. However, because children are so often the innocent victims of war, revealing the plight of these children has the potential to arouse enough global compassion to prompt social and political action on their behalf.

Although the content is disturbing, J. De Berry and J. Boyden attempt to reveal some of the traumatic experiences that children of war face in their book “Children and Youth on the Front Line: Ethnography, Armed Conflict and Displacement (Studies in Forced Migration). The book is one of the first to incorporate information gathered from interviews with children themselves. It focuses on the sexual exploitation of girls as well as orphaned children who head households and those forced into combat.

Rather than the traditional view that children of war are little more than helpless victims, the author points to the vast amount of strength, creativity and resilience they must possess just to survive. While he acknowledges the value of the medical model of the effects of victimization and trauma, he also challenges experts to expand that model through more direct interaction and study of child survivors of war. The death of one or both parents, leaving children with no-one to care for them is just one of the many negative effects on family life during war.

According to one review no less than fifteen authors, many of whom were anthropologists who had spent time in war-torn regions, contributed to the book. The book points out that even the definition of “child” and the age of responsibility differs from culture to culture. For example, there are situations in which child soldiers forced to kill or be killed have been charged with war crimes. The legal age of accountability continues to be debated, and differs from country to country.

Negative Effects on Family Life During War

The death of one or both parents, leaving children with no-one to care for them is just one of the many negative effects on family life during war. There are many more. For example, one study showed that during war, the time that mothers are able to breast-feed their children is drastically reduced, which also increases the risk of illness and death.

According to an article, studies show that post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can not only be transmitted from one family member to another, but can even effect the development of a fetus in utero.

One study conducted in the U.S. also revealed an increase in child maltreatment by military personnel who had been deployed to war zones. Parents who experience combat often have difficulty adapting to civilian life and many do not receive adequate treatment for PTSD.

Children who experience such maltreatment exhibit psychological symptoms such as poor social adaptation, higher suicide rates, anxiety and aggression. The most recent research found that the increased stress of the non-deployed parent also resulted in a greater incidence of child abuse and neglect directly related to military deployment. The studies concluded that the stress of war, including the absence of a parent, affects every aspect of family life during war, and every family member, not just those that experience direct combat.

Rape and sexual violence is another common occurrence during war and has often been used as a tool of ethnic cleansing as well as a demonstration of power. Studies conducted among adolescent girls in Uganda and Kosovo showed that rape resulted in long-term difficulties with personal and social identity. Most studies have focused on adolescents, while relatively few have focused on younger children.

This book is devoted to giving the children of war a voice of their own and examining the ways in which they cope with the many forms of trauma associated with family life during war. Fortunately, there are a few international organizations that offer support to children of war. For the sake of all children, perhaps the horrors this book contains will serve to raise all parents’ voices in opposition to war as method of solving global problems.

family life during war
Child amid ruins following German aerial bombing of London. Toni Frissell, Abandoned boy, London, 1945
anthropology of family life

The Anthropology of Family Life: The Value of Questioning Our Cultural Norms

“My goal is to offer a correction to the ethnocentric lens that sees children only as precious, innocent and preternaturally cute cherubs. I hope to uncover something close to the norm for children’s lives and those of their caretakers.”

The Anthropology of Family Life and Questioning Cultural Norms

David F. Lancy’s book,”The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings, now in its 2nd edition, has been described as

“the only baby book you’ll ever need”.

A review of the book points out the extent to which humans remain largely unaware of the huge influence of their cultures on their parenting practices. This collection of observations based on his study of the anthropology of family life around the world succeeds in raising that awareness. Through learning about common parenting practices of other cultures, parents are able to question whether conforming to their own cultural norms is always in the best interests of their children.

Lancy is a pioneer in the relatively new field of the anthropology of family life. As a professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Utah State University, this is his seventh book. His research includes having done extensive fieldwork in Liberia, Sweden, Trinidad and Papau New Guinea. The anthropology of family life provides parents with the cultural context in which parenting practices are developed. It also offers a broad view of cultural alternatives which contributes to parents’ ability to make conscious informed parenting choices, rather than unconsciously conforming to cultural norms.

The Anthropology of Family Life and Other Cultural Norms

Lancy divides cultural child-rearing practices into two types, which he calls “pick when ripe” and “pick when green”. “Pick when ripe” cultures are defined as those in which adults don’t pay much attention to babies and toddlers. This is partly the result of higher infant mortality rates. Children are not considered to have individual identities and may not even be given a name until they are old enough to be weaned. Their individual identities are developed through a process of actions that constitute increasing levels of contributions to their communities according to their abilities. For example, they may be expected to run errands or perform portions of adult tasks to develop their skills.

In “pick when green” cultures, babies are recognized as individuals from the moment they are born and begin to be verbally instructed at a very young age. In an article in Slate magazine, Lancy pointed to the phenomenon of parents verbally instructing their children to share, rather than modeling sharing behavior over time as an example of the “pick when green” cultural mentality and parenting style.

In many cultures, children are expected to begin making contributions to the family and wider community at a very early age in comparison to Western cultures. Rather than formal schooling, in most parts of the world, knowledge is gained through imitation and play. Older children also play a much larger role in the caretaking of their younger siblings. Fathers play a much smaller role in the lives of their children as well.

The Role of Adult-Child Play in the Anthropology of Family Life

According to an article in the Boston Globe, Lancy is concerned that many professionals in the field of child development are promoting a parenting style that involves adult-child play to low-income parents too aggressively. He questions the validity of the premise that parenting styles that differ from the model in which children learn through verbal interaction and instruction from their parents are inherently inferior. He believes that the potential positive outcomes of programs based on the belief that adult-child play is crucial for child development could be reduced by suspicions of “racism or cultural imperialism”.

He points to decades of studies of the anthropology of family life that demonstrate that globally and historically, the practice of adult-child play is actually relatively rare. However, developmental psychologies Alison Gopnik disagrees with his assertion, and believes that the definition of parent-child play should be expanded to include not just verbal interaction, but physical touch and cuddling, which also provides mental and emotional stimulation.

There are similarities between an African child learning a physical skill from an older sibling and an American child learning a new vocabulary word from a nanny in that both demonstrate a degree of playfulness . She does agree with his assertion that American culture has taken structured “play” with the goal of increasing future academic achievement too far.

One of the most important tasks of parenting all over the world is that of transmitting cultural norms to the extent that the child gains the skills that will enable it to survive, and even thrive within that culture.

One of the most valuable contributions of the anthropology of family life is the information it gives parents to enable them compare their own cultural norms with those of others. Information is power, which includes the power to choose to transmit those norms that prove beneficial, and eliminate those that don’t.

anthropology of family life
Bedouin Mother and Child NGM-v31-p552 by Garrigues. – 300 ppi scan of the National Geographic Magazine, Volume 31 (1917),
parental differences

Parenting Without Borders: How Parents can Benefit from the Global Village

“I think some things have fallen off our radar like the idea that it’s okay to have children feel interdependent with you. Like you are there for them but they are also there for you. That doesn’t have to mean that you are stifling them – it’s a very rich way to live in harmony with other people and that is an idea that I saw carried out in the societies where children are thriving the most on objective measures of well-being.”

 –Christine Gross-Loh

Child Well-Being—Economics and Parental Differences

According to UNICEF, some of the objective measures used to determine overall child well- being include material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment. Surprisingly, the most recent report showed that the United States and the U.K. rank at the bottom in most categories. The Netherlands ranked in the top ten in all categories, with Northern European countries ranking in the top four. The fact that the Czech Republic ranked higher than many wealthier nations such as France and Austria suggests that parental differences may be even more important than economic considerations in achieving a high degree of child well-being.

This is the first generation of children to spend much of their early childhoods in child care outside the home. A great deal of neuroscientific research has concluded that developing secure relationships in the early years of life is critical for optimum child development. The development of child care support systems in many countries have not kept pace with the changing economic realities of parents who must utilize them. Stressing the importance of developing child care systems that make this transition easier for parents and children, the report suggests that the future well-being of children may depend on it.

How Parental Differences can contribute to Child Well-Being

Meanwhile, whatever their parental differences, parents around the world continue to meet the challenges presented by changing economic realities and rapidly advancing technology with remarkable creativity. All parents want to help their children develop positive characteristics such as creativity, resilience, academic excellence and independence. In her 2013 book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, Christine Gross-Loh, who has also written a series of articles for The Atlantic magazine, takes readers on an educational around-the-world parenting tour.

Every culture has its own parenting strengths and weaknesses, and the goal of this book is to examine as many of those strengths as possible. Since the advent of the internet, this is also the first generation of children able to benefit from the combined knowledge and experience of the global village. Some of the topics that illustrate parental differences include co-sleeping, protectiveness, and the value of play and self-esteem. From her observations of other cultures, the author advocates implementing the best parenting practices from each culture.

How Parental Differences are Reflected in Social Systems

In the U.S., the high value placed on individuality is reflected both in parenting and in social institutions. In an interview, the author pointed out that the tendency of American parents to feel responsible for “shaping ” their child might be balanced by the Japanese culture’s belief in allowing children to become themselves. She also points out that learning about parental differences of other cultures differences can help parents realize that there is not just one right way to parent, which can help them relax and enjoy their children more.

She provides many examples of the ways that cultural parental differences are reflected in social systems. For example, in France, school lunchtime consists of several courses and lasts for two hours, which reflects the cultural value placed on relaxation and community during mealtimes. Schools in Finland provide individualized education plans for each student depending upon their academic strengths and interests and abilities.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, she compares some of the educational differences between the U.S. and Japan. One of the most striking differences was that in Japan, every student studies home economics from fifth grade through high school. Home economics includes such diverse and practical courses as embroidery, woodworking, meal planning, cooking and grocery shopping. In the U.S., home economics courses, which were once offered to girls while boys engaged in classes considered more “masculine” such as woodworking, have virtually disappeared.

In a review, one criticism of the book was that while it offered many examples of potentially beneficial cultural exchanges, many of them would require structural changes to implement. One such change is demonstrated by the highly regarded University of Chicago Laboratory School, which now makes home economics compulsory for their seventh and eighth-grade curriculum. Their website states that the courses foster

“competency to make educated and intelligent choices, and to apply principles and generalizations to new situations.”

Individually, parents do have the power to implement some of the beneficial practices of other cultures. For example, they can consider sleeping arrangements that foster a sense security, eating habits that reflect self-care, and activities that promote kindness and community as well as independence.

parental differences
Global Village Wikipedia CC 2.0
expert child psychologist

The Proven Benefits of Social Activities in Your Child’s Brain Development


Expert child psychologist Dr. Dorothy Einon’s books have proved to be a favorite with many parents. A lecturer in psychology at University College, London, she has a background of research in child development. That research includes studying different educational cultures in order to provide parents with beneficial activities they can participate in with their children.

The Role of Brain Development for the Expert Child Psychologist

According to one article, a baby’s brain at birth contains 100 billion neurons. The formation of the brain begins at approximately three weeks after conception. Each neuron begins with about 2,500 synapses, but by the age of three, that number increases to about 15,000. Part of the brain’s function is to eliminate those that are rarely used. Scientists have determined that there are specific windows of opportunity, or periods of time that are optimal for learning specific tasks. For example, neurons that control vision begin sending messages between 2 and 4 months of age.

Dr. Einon, in her capacity as an expert child psychologist, believes that these studies demonstrate the importance of early stimulation in building a good foundation for optimum brain development as well as the development of crucial social skills. Experience is an important factor in brain development, and emotions have been found to develop in layers. The stress response develops almost immediately, while other emotions such as empathy and envy begin to develop during the second year.

The Importance of Research to the Expert Child Psychologist

One area of Dr. Einon’s research has been on the value of play in the development of social skills as well as brain development. In one experiment with rats, littermates were separated into three groups. During the ages of 20 to 50 days, one group was given an hour of play-fighting experience each day, while another was isolated. Those who were not given the play-fighting experience demonstrated aggression more frequently. The results of that research was then applied to practical life situations.

For example, in one article , she points out that the ability to initiate a friendship begins to be developed between ages 2 and 3. Children normally display more interest in the games then in the individual children participating in them before that age. After age three, children begin to choose activities based on their feelings towards other children. Dr. Einon advises parents of shy children against protecting them from interactions that they may at first find difficult and offers methods of gradually introducing them to positive social situations.

The Development of a Baby IQ Test

Einon was approached by Fisher Price in response to the number of parents who had expressed a desire for guidelines that would help them determine whether their children were developing normally. While she did develop a 10-question test for that purpose, she also stressed that children don’t all develop at the same rate. To account for those normal differences in developmental rates, she estimated that the results would show that about half of children would score, if only temporarily, below average.

As an expert child psychologist, she points out that average IQ scores have risen by an average of three points each decade since the introduction of the tests in 1917. She attributes that increase to parents being educated about the ways in which they can help stimulate their children’s minds with the use of games and toys. The test itself sparked some controversy regarding whether it was a legitimate measure of ability or a clever marketing tool for children’s toys.

Educational Activities Designed by an Expert Child Psychologist

Despite the controversy surrounding the test, there is a large body of research that demonstrates the importance of interactive activities on brain development. One study, which spanned two decades, revealed that cognitive stimulation children received from parents at age four would continue to positively affect their brain development even 15 years later. Brain scans are able to measure the growth of specific parts of the brain.

Other studies show that babies learn more quickly in response to human interaction than when presented with similar information through videos. The majority of Dr. Einon’s books offer hundreds of educational and skill building activities that parents can participate in with their children. These activities not only contribute to brain development, but to emotional and social development as well. This whole-child approach is one of the things that make her books so popular. They not only make research accessible, but offer parents ready-made activities that allow them to apply the knowledge gained by research in an enjoyable way.

Even as an expert child psychologist with a specialty in “normal” developmental guidelines, Dr. Einon stresses the importance of recognizing children’s unique differences. For example, for parents of more than one child, she advises against dividing things equally, which she believes can lead to constant comparison. Instead, she advocates responding to each child’s differing needs. She also believes in allowing children the opportunity to release frustration through physical activity. Participating in enjoyable activities that encourage brain development, help release frustration and strengthen social bonds benefit both parent and child–and ultimately– the world.

expert child psychologist

family life struggles

How Brain Science And Mindfulness Can Help Us Solve Our Struggles Within Family Life

“We now know that the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain—her whole brain—that develop skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives. You could call it brain sculpting, or brain nourishing, or brain building. Whatever phrase you prefer, the point is crucial, and thrilling: as a result of the words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.”

–Daniel J. Siegel

Dr. Daniel J. Siegel is currently a clinical professor of psychiatry on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development at the UCLA School of Medicine. He also serves as the innovative executive director of the Mindsight Institute. One of his innovations is the Norton Professional Series on interpersonal neurobiology, of which he is the founding editor, and which has published a number of works that focus on recovery from trauma. Some of the titles in the series include, “Healing Trauma,” “The Power of Emotion,” and “Trauma and the Body.” In addition to his teaching and writing, he has also delivered lectures all over the world and has made a number of videos to make to make his research findings more accessible to people. His goal is to reduce the number of family life struggles while increasing the quality of interpersonal relationships between family members.

The Role of Trauma in Family Life Struggles

In a world in which, due to war and economic and social inequality, the devastating effects of trauma have created a cycle of abuse and neglect, he has made it his life’s work to break that cycle. One of the most important ways to accomplish that is educating parents. While trauma causes physical changes in the brain that can increase family life struggles, there are steps that can be taken to reverse the damage. Because one of the characteristics of the human brain is it’s remarkable plasticity and potential for healing, he developed a workbook to accompany his 2011 book, “The Whole Brain Child“. The workbook contains practical exercises and activities that assist in healthy brain development.

Much of his work focuses on mindfulness. He considers one of the most important things parents can do to achieve what he calls “attunement” with their children, is to become aware of, and take steps towards healing, their own childhood wounds. Through becoming aware of the qualities of their own attachments and fears, parents can avoid transmitting those fears to their children. Best of all, while parents may begin the process out of love for their children and a desire to both heal trauma and prevent further damage, the process results in healing for the parents as well.

The Role of Education in Reducing Family Life Struggles

A number of his books are based on the scientific premise that brain development is affected by the quality of interpersonal relationships. His gift for simplifying and communicating the complex relationship between physical and mental experiences and brain development has earned him rave reviews from colleagues and lay readers alike. It has also gotten him invited to participate in the prestigious TED talks series more than once. Using simple language and easily understandable examples, he is able to transmit a great deal of information in a very short time.

In a review in the Guardian, Siegel suggests that rather than fearing the onset of adolescence and the physiological changes that accompany it, parents should embrace it as a potentially powerful agent of positive social change. Because adolescence is a time of rapid brain development as well as elasticity, it is a time of great creativity. He believes that channeling that creativity in positive directions can result not in increased family life struggles, but in exploring new, and more sustainable, ways to do things. That creative spark, combined with heightened emotions associated with the increase of hormonal activity, could have the power to create sustainable solutions to some of the global problems that currently pose a very real threat to life on the planet. Individual family life struggles all too often result in family life struggles on a global scale within the human family.

The best news for parents is his scientific conclusion that the brain can change, and that different areas can be accessed and stimulated, at any age. In an audio interview, he offers strategies for parents who are struggling to adapt to the powerful changes in their children during adolescence. One of the indicators of a great teacher is the recognition that people have a variety of learning styles. Differences in learning styles can be one source of family life struggles. Since most parents are too busy providing for their children to take formal courses in neurobiology, he makes this valuable information available in visual, audio, and written form to benefit as many parents as possible. Towards that end, “The Whole-Brain Child” has also been translated into 17 languages.

family life struggles
Plasma ball, day 18 by Pete Markham
parenting styles and advice

Miriam Stoppard–There’s No Stopping A Force of Nature

“Love is an amazing thing. It makes you feel you can climb mountains and swim oceans for the loved one…and that great drive and desire comes flooding back with grandchildren.”

–Miriam Stoppard

Miriam Stoppard, now in her 70’s, has experienced life as a doctor, journalist, writer, broadcaster, and businesswoman. Perhaps more importantly, she has experienced it all as a mother of two sons, four stepchildren, and eleven grandchildren. One of her sons is actor Ed Stoppard, from her marriage to playwright Tom Stoppard from 1972 to 1992 .

She attended Universities at Newcastle, Bristol and London and earned numerous degrees, including her M.D. She became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1998. In 2007, she was voted the United Kingdom’s number one parenting guru by the Bounty Mums. She received the Stonewall Journalist of the Year Award in 2008.

Sharing a Lifetime of Experience

Despite her advanced age, she continues to be active as an expert on parenting styles and advice via a regular column in the Daily Mirror. Some controversy arose when in one of those articles, she accused mothers who continued breastfeeding through toddlerhood of being

“mothers who desire to keep their child dependent on them.”

Among her most recent opinions regarding parenting styles and advice is the suggestion that the ideal length of time for breastfeeding is until the appearance of teeth.

While today there are a number of accepted child-rearing philosophies, in the past women were expected to follow the advice of experts, often without question. In the fifties, women began to express that motherhood wasn’t always the ideal experience portrayed in literature. In addition to bliss, they often felt anger and hopelessness in trying to live up to experts’ recommended parenting styles and advice. That anger was often followed by guilt.

The Rise of Feminism

In many ways, it was the feminist movement that helped women communicate their actual experiences of motherhood rather than feeling that something was wrong with them. Parenting styles and advice often didn’t reflect many of the social and economic realities associated with motherhood in the industrial age. For the first time, women didn’t feel alone in questioning socially accepted parenting styles and advice. As a result, books by capable feminist authors such as Miriam Stoppard sold in great numbers.

Many male experts responded by becoming more authoritative, and their recommended parenting styles and advice contained long lists of things to do and not to do in any conceivable situation. It was almost as if they considered women children as well, with faulty instincts, and incapable of determining the right course of action.

By the seventies, society was beginning to show signs of the influence of these feminist writers. One of those changes was that rather than focusing on “motherhood”, more books that recommended parenting styles and advice focused on “parenthood”. Although in the majority of cases, the primary caretaker was still the mother, this linguistic change proved to be a powerful one. Miriam Stoppard’s 1984 book “The Baby Care Book” referred extensively to the joint responsibility of parenthood.

The child care system did not sufficiently serve the needs of working mothers, who already suffered a great deal of guilt for leaving their children. Parenting styles and advice provided by experts was often contradictory, contributing to a lessening of self-confidence in parenting, especially for inexperienced new mothers. A common complaint among women regarding such advice was that much of it seemed to go directly against their instincts and what felt right for them.

Reconciling Conflicting Advice from Experts

One of the contradictions was that many experts were of the opinion that mothers would know instinctively how to mother, which completely ignored the necessity for parenting education and the value of shared experience. Other experts seemed to assume that mothers knew nothing about parenting and needed to be instructed as if they had no prior life experience. Increasingly, as women became more educated, they began to replace male experts in matters of parenting styles and advice. Many male experts responded by becoming more respectful towards women’s capabilities in their writing.

Miriam Stoppard’s professional capabilities helped transform male attitudes towards women and mothers. She has more than eighty published books that have sold more than 25 million copies worldwide to her credit. Although she wrote primarily about pregnancy, child development and women’s health, she was also politically astute and active. During her journalistic career, she conducted interviews with some very important people, including Margaret Thatcher. She also appeared regularly on medical and scientific television programs such as “Where There’s Life” and Don’t Ask Me.

Now 77 years old, after a life of so many accomplishments, in a recent interview with the Daily Mail, when asked what she’d most like to be remembered for, replied

“For introducing the concept that women should choose how they give birth.”

I think all mothers would agree that choice is a fine legacy.



Parental Effectiveness Training

How Communication Skills and Sharing Power Can Make Parents More Effective Leaders

“It is one of those simple but beautiful paradoxes of life: When a person feels that he is truly accepted by another, as he is, then he is freed to move from there and to begin to think about how he wants to change, how we wants to grow, how he can become different, how he might become more of what he is capable of being.”

Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children

Parental Effectiveness Training: Communication is the Key

Clinical psychologist Thomas Gordon developed a parental effectiveness training course in 1962 that remains not only popular, but widely respected, even today. In fact, his books have been translated into 33 languages and over five million copies have been sold. Additionally, more than a million people in 45 countries around the world have participated in the course. Recognized as a pioneer in communication skills, in addition to authoring several parenting books, his training course was modified to address nearly any type of group. Several of the skills he outlined and advocated developing are frequently used by family therapists as well as business owners. Among those skills are active listening and communicating using I-messages. He believed that those basic skills were necessary for successful conflict resolution.

Families, like businesses, often experience conflict. A common source of conflicts is the internal power dynamic. One of the things that differentiated his theories from other parental effectiveness training experts was his belief that power had an adverse effect on relationships. While parents have power over their children both physically and economically, it was his opinion that it should never be used in a coercive manner to control their behavior. According to Gordon, parenting is a type of leadership and part of parental effectiveness training is teaching the skills that have proven to be useful in effective leadership in other types of human dynamics.

The Gordon Model of Parental Effectiveness Training

He began writing when he was asked by his mentor Dr. Carl Rogers, at the University of Chicago where he was earning his Ph.D., to author a chapter in a book he was writing. That chapter, titled “Group-Centered Leadership and Administration” would become the beginning of the parental effective training course that became known as the Gordon Model. Drawing on his experience as a business consultant he focused on the communication techniques he had found most successful. That experience led him to develop the core of his model using several key foundations.

The first principle of the model is that effective leaders create conditions in which they can relinquish control and become a member of the group. The desired result is that other group members will learn to function within a leadership role as well.

The second principle is that conflicts require that all people involved participate in resolving them. This requires an environment in which everyone feels safe and that their feelings and opinions are valued, which is the foundation of group-centered leadership. Achieving such an environment is accomplished through using communication techniques such as reflection and listening empathetically.

Another aspect of parental effectiveness training is parents learning effective problem-solving skills that they demonstrate to their children both through modeling and encouraging active participation in the process.

Gordon viewed group leadership as a number of functions that should be distributed to all the members. Problem solving consists of a number of steps, the first of which is recognizing that there is a problem. The next step is diagnosing or defining the problem more precisely. The group members then offer solutions to the problem before making a decision about what actions to take. Finally, the group agrees to accept and carry out that decision. The Gordon Model of parental effectiveness training proved to be so effective that he was asked to modify it for teachers, and in 1974 he co-authored the Teacher Effectiveness Training book.

In addition to serving on the faculty of the University of Chicago for five years after completing his Ph.D, he was also a member of the American Psychological Association. More specifically, he was a member of its Division of Peace Psychology. He also served for a time as the President of the California Psychological Association. Because of his significant contributions to parental effectiveness training, he was the first to receive a Career Achievement Award from the National Parenting Instructors Association and be invited to speak at the White House Conference on Children.

In further recognition of the lasting value of his work in improving the quality of communication skills within families and society, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. While he did not win that prize, he did receive the much longer titled prize of the Gold Medal Award for Enduring Contribution to Society in the Public Interest by the American Psychological Foundation in 1999. The following year, he was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

His death in 2002 left a lasting legacy of a parenting model still respected and utilized today, with few modifications from the original.

Parental Effectiveness Training
Edward Savage, The Washington Family, Google Art Project CC by 4.0