Loving Without Spoiling
by Nancy Samalin
Hardcover, 256 pages
Reviewed by Christine McNeil Montano
Easton CT USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 5, October-November 2003, p. 114.
Nancy Samalin's latest book is a fast, easy read about how to discipline children aged one through the teenage years. Samalin gives many examples of common behavior problems that cause family stress, followed by both the positive and negative ways parents could choose to react. Through a series of "Tips," Samalin discusses communication methods, setting limits, and establishing family expectations and rules.
Samalin divides parenting styles into three categories, using these three terms: 1) "permissive" (not recommended); 2) "too strict" (not recommended) and 3) "simply authoritarian," which she recommends. Don't let Samalin's use of the term "authoritarian" discourage you from reading this book. Her use of the phrase fits into LLL's concept of "loving guidance."
By "permissive parenting" Samalin refers to parents who hesitate to set limits or those who waffle on their rules and how these choices can be problematic for the entire family. The parent's role is to guide and teach their children. Setting limits, making reasonable family rules, and being consistent are necessary components of successful parenting, according to Samalin.
The overly strict parent takes control and expects unquestioning obedience. Being too authoritarian means exacting obedience from children at all costs. Children don't always require an explanation, nor do they have to like your rule. But when you say, "The answer is no because I said it is so," it's the same as saying, "How dare you question my authority? Who do you think you are?" That's a familiar script many of us adults remember unpleasantly from our own childhoods. Overly strict child rearing breeds defiance and sneakiness.
Samalin provides examples of what she feels is "too strict" and "simply authoritarian" parenting. A preschooler cries for candy at the supermarket. The "too strict" parent says, "I told you no and I mean no! If you ask me again there will be no candy for a month!" The "simply authoritarian" parent says,"That candy looks good, but candy isn't on our list today."
Because how we choose to act as parents is largely determined by our own attitude and emotions, Samalin acknowledges that it is normal to feel some negative emotions toward our children. She recommends we become aware of our emotions and acknowledge their presence, but not to let our emotions rule our behavior. She suggests calming ourselves down first, saying nothing that is negative, and avoiding using a demeaning tone of voice. Samalin especially urges parents not to lash out by inflicting physical pain onto their children and explicitly condemns spanking in Tip 49.
Tip 82 is a wonderful section about raising emotionally healthy children. In this section, Samalin has many references in which she implores parents to act with loving guidance. She specifically recommends tailoring parenting style to the child's temperament and personality, and appreciating a child's uniqueness. It is important to note she does not recommend one way to parent and then expect everyone who reads her advice to do it without regard for their family's unique situation. Samalin underscores that she wants the parent to live in harmony with the child and to tailor their family dynamics to meet the needs of each child (and parent).
She never once mentions the use of the ever-popular "time-outs" so, sadly, we miss her opinion on this entirely. Samalin recommends using consequences-warning of their impending use and if the offense occurs, to follow through on it and administer an appropriate consequence such as loss of playing with a certain toy.
Samalin endorses prevention of parental burnout as essential to good parenting. Unfortunately, she gives only one remedy: separation of mother and toddler or child. I was disappointed that other options are not discussed. LLL suggests that the parents consider the developmental stage of the child and the child's unique personality and temperament before separations, especially for weekends or longer vacations.
To cram parenting advice for the broad range of ages one through the teenage years is a daunting, if not impossible, task. In this book, information about parenting children under the age of five is a bit lacking. The book does not address many of the most common issues dealt with in the first year.
It should be noted that many of the ideas in LLL philosophy are not mentioned. For example, the author never concentrates on the importance of fathers. It is a parenting book for either gender and the book is neutral as to any difference between the mother-child relationship and the father-child relationship.
Samalin's recommendations are loaded with common sense, yet she is not afraid to tackle difficult or taboo subjects such as how parents can better handle their emotions of favoring one child over another child or how to handle actual feelings of dislike toward one's own child. The book is unique in the number of examples as well as the clarity in communicating ideas and the reasons behind using them.
Christine McNeil Montano lives with her husband, Tony, and sons Jay (5) and John (3). Christine is presently a member of LLLI's Book Evaluation Committee, and has been a Leader in Connecticut, USA for four years.