If you want to feel proud of what you already know about how to raise an emotionally healthy child, compare your beliefs to those of a very prominent 1920’s psychologist, Dr. John Watson.
Treat them as though they were young adults…Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinary good job of a difficult task. Try it out. In a week’s time you will…be utterly ashamed of the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it [up to now].” (J. Watson, 1928, p. 81-82.)
Your “gut level” negative reaction to his advice is in part a product of the wealth of very good research on emotional development from 1960 onward. Thanks to modern technology (computers, video cameras, the internet), advances in our understanding of how the brain works, more complex statistical tools, and the entry of thousands of very bright, passionate young scientists into the field, we now know a lot more about child development than we our parents and grandparents did.
Here are just a few of the advances in policy toward children that would not have happened were it for not for research by hard-working, dedicated social scientists around the world:
§ Fathers are now encouraged to attend the births of their babies and newborn babies often “room in” with their mothers.
§ Hospitals no longer ban parents from their sick children’s sides but, instead, encourage involvement in care.
§ Many hospitals employ “Child Life Advocates,” individuals trained to support hospitalized children emotionally when parents can’t be present.
§ Adoption policies now advise adoption as soon as possible after birth instead of waiting until age 2 when the child’s “innate nature” has supposedly “unfolded.”
§ Pediatricians recognize the importance of correcting visual and auditory problems as soon after birth as possible in order to avoid permanent deficits.
§ Head Start and Early Head Start programs are making a significant difference in the lives of millions of children in terms of both emotional and intellectual development.
§ Parental leave policies are becoming more and more common.
§ To ensure adequate emotional and physical care, adult-infant ratios in child care facilities are a matter of law
§ The Children’s Television Workshop started the trend of educational TV for children with the creation of Sesame Street.
§ AND…last but definitely not least, there is growing recognition of the benefits of encouraging babies to use signs before they can speak!
Let’s hear it for research!
Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis