Just Ask Prof. Elkind

I just finished rereading Prof. David Elkind’s The Hurried Child last week. Elkind, Professor Emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University, rails against the growing tendency to introduce into the preschool years and early grades themes and curricula better suited to older, more intellectually developed children (I’m happy to say that here in Israel, we’ve managed to avoid a lot of this pressure in the school system. My daughter is learning letters and basic math and has a notebook devoted to this in her kindergarten class, but nothing resembling homework or pressure to get it exactly right).

One would think that Elkind would be a big fan of the AP/NP concept that a child must never be pressured to develop new skills, for fear that the stress will do their fragile little psyches in. Only when the child really wants to, they say. In fact, The Hurried Child, which seems to promote that view, is on some AP resource lists.

But then I found his blog, and it seems his problem is with pushing children to develop before they are ready, which is not necessarily the same as a child not wanting to take a developmental step, or that parents must never push a baby towards a developmentally appropriate behavior. I was blown away by this recent post about sleep issues:

By the last quarter of the first year and into the second, it is not necessary to rush to the baby when she cries. At this stage the baby needs to learn to handle a certain amount of stress. By the end of the first year, the infant can tolerate a little bit of anxiety and panic, and it is healthy for her to learn to do so. For example, after feeding if the baby is left alone and fidgets and cries, this will usually die down after a few moments. This is true at bed time as well. The cries and protests after the bedtime rituals have been gone through will quiet of themselves if you do not rush in the moment the baby acts up. Of course if the baby goes into a real panic, it is necessary to go in and reassure her. But it is often enough to speak to the baby in a comforting tone and to pat her softly. It is really not necessary to pick the baby up and hold her and rock her or try to feed her or to entertain her. You don’t want to reinforce this soothing behavior by making it so rewarding the baby will do it for the rewards rather than because she is upset.

The next paragraph discusses how reactive cosleeping is a bad idea…and in this very sensible post about CIO there is nothing whatsoever about the supposed ‘proven harms’ of the practice (hmmm…wonder why that is?).

I get the feeling APers who read this would be about ready to stone this expert just about….now. 😉 . There’s also a video on the website hosting the blog – justaskbaby.com, (which I find a bit elementary, but which would probably appeal much more to young, first-time mothers) which states that 9-11 month old babies can be spoiled, in complete opposition to what passes for conventional wisdom these days (babies can’t be spoiled, and the term ‘baby’ can be extended to age 4-5 year olds for the sake of certain debates).

So is Professor Elkind a dinosaur spouting outdated information, or is he a pretty sharp guy with decades-long experience observing babies and children? My instincts are saying the latter. (I’m still not sold on time-in vs. time-out, though.)

The rest of the blog is also quite interesting, and focuses on infant/child development and educational issues.


One Response

  1. This was a nicely timed post. I recently had a playdate with a friend of a friend and her son. Her older daughter is 5 1/2 and attends all day kindergarten. Mine was half-day back in the 70s. On top of that they have to pay $200 month for this public school and half-day was not an option. I don’t have a strong opinion about full day or half day, but was surprised by the fee.

    Her writing lessons are basically what I got as a 6 1/2 year old in first grade. Her mother informed me that writing is introduced earlier than when we were kids (a child psychologist friend informs that not all children have the motor skills for writing by kindergarten), but you’re not supposed to correct the spelling, because that’s a skill that comes later. So weird!

    Finally, the little girl’s teacher told her mother that she had to little separation between fantasy and reality, to which I say, so what? She can deal with reality later.

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