Terri Apter, PhD, is a family psychologist who has written other books including You Don’t Really Know Me. In her day job at the university of Cambridge, Massachussetts, she conducts research into family dynamics. This book draws a lot on the author’s professional experience, but it also shows that she empathises with the plight of a parent struggling to understand their child(ren).
Apter explains at the beginning of the book her approach to her subject matter. She was emotionally affected by research she was involved in, where children were subjected to unsympathetic requests that were intended to test their responses – such as telling them their tower was better or worse than someone else’s. Apter says, “Their unguarded expressions of pain brought home the unrelenting tension of my daily life and the question that nags every adolescent: If there are so many people who are smarter, more talented, more clearly focused than I, why should I keep trying and caring?”
In other words, by making children compete and telling them they have failed, they may give themselves lower expectations in life. It’s an interesting theory that could easily lead to the annoying “politically correct” view that school sports days are a bad thing.
This book is not about PC ideas though. It acknowledges that children will come up against competitive situations, and rather than suggest competitiveness should be avoided, Apter discusses ways to help children deal with it. Focusing on the ages between 5 and 15, the author addresses parents “who want to gain a fuller understanding of how children develop their sense of who they are and how they relate to other people”. The better you understand your child as they see themselves, the better equipped you are as a parent to help them develop as happy, confident children and young adults.
Chapters look at success and failure at school; self-esteem in adolescence; helping a child overcome low self-esteem and sibling rivalry, among others. I think all parents will be relieved to see that there is also a chapter that acknowledges, virtually celebrates even, imperfect parenting. We all lose our temper, get tired or get flustered at times and don’t give children the responses or the support they are looking for all the time. Apter devotes a chapter to this: How to be an imperfect parent without ruining your child’s life.
Discipline is also discussed, and what’s good about this subject particularly is that it puts a lot of the well publicised techniques into a psychological context. You may be well aware of techniques taught by the Supernannies of the world, but none of the TV stuff really explores how children feel about the parenting techniques you use on them. This book will really help you think more from the child’s point of view about how you discipline them. Are you authoritarian or permissive? Do you punish or do you praise? It’s all fascinating stuff and some of it can help you see yourself as a parent in a different light.