Tantrums, Fussing, & Whining, Oh My . . .

h1 August 18th, 2007 by jules

The parenting-manual section of a bookstore mostly gives me the willies. Perhaps I’m not being fair and perhaps I should read more of these titles. I’m almost sure of this; I’m almost sure that a handful of them are truly helpful, but approximately 99.999% of the parenting self-help books really make me want to run screaming from the bookstore. (I feel compelled here to add: Should one of my children have a really serious problem, I am sure I’d be turning to a book or two, and I know that I am quite blessed to have healthy girls.) I’ve said it before — at my “Mother of All Books” post from this time last year — and I’ll say it again: We mamas are flooded with parenting manuals (and magazine articles — oh, the magazine articles! Make them go away!) about how to be a better mother (“10 Ways to Lose That Baby Weight,” “15 Ways to Make Your Child Smarter,” “Is Your Child Eating Enough?” “Help Your Child Get the Most Out of Play,” you get the picture) — with the implication here being that we’re just not good enough and also trivializing the intensity and complexity of mothering.

But today I make an exception. I will be reviewing an actual parenting self-help book from a woman who . . . well, I just think she’s got it goin’ on. She is one of only a few exceptions I will make when it comes to books like this. I mean, just look: She’s got me straying from children’s lit for a moment and reviewing an actual non-fiction title.

The No-Cry Discipline Solution:
Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behavior Without Whining, Tantrums, and Tears

by Elizabeth Pantley
McGraw Hill
May 2007
(review copy)

We here at 7-Imp, thanks to the blog itself, have had the opportunity to talk to some of our very favorite authors, people we would otherwise not have had a chance to talk to, and we are truly grateful for such correspondence. (I’m talkin’ getting an email out of the blue from authors like The One, The Only Haven Kimmel, whose writing we adore, and having to pick ourselves up off the floor.) But when parenting educator (and president of Better Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company) Elizabeth Pantley emailed me to tell me about her new book on discipline, I just about squealed. Okay, so I did. She is a SUPERSTAH in my world. I think I jumped up and down. Here is a picture of her below; I hope she doesn’t mind me lifting it from her Amazon profile. I just want to hug her neck. Here’s why:

author Elizabeth PantleyIf you are reading this and you don’t have children (which probably isn’t likely, as I bet your eyes glaze over at the image of parenting self-help books, and I wouldn’t blame you), then I don’t know if it’s possible to find the words to truly capture the real agony a lot of parents go through to get their children to sleep through the night already. I risk sounding too whiny: I know lots of parents out there have big, scary battles to face; again, I am grateful my girls are healthy and happy and, compared to the balance of the rest of the world, we live in great luxury. But, if you’ll allow me that disclaimer, I’ll say it again: Getting your child to sleep without waking you repeatedly in the night, right when it feels as if the center of gravity is directly under your bed, is much more difficult than the media and even other parents will have you think.

To complicate matters for our family, our first daughter (now almost three-and-a-half) responded to the crib as if it were fashioned in a tenth circle of Hell that perhaps Dante forgot to write about. Just would not take to it. We immediately took her to our bed, the only place she’d sleep. Then, I proceeded to read a whole slew of parenting books about babies and sleep—in an effort to try to get her into a crib, which I quickly learned was futile—and, dear me, I was appalled at some of these books. I think I read them all — Weissbluth, Kim West, Dr. Sears, and more. (I had heard enough about Ferber and Ezzo to know they were not a good fit for us.) But Elizabeth Pantley’s first book on babies and sleep, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night (McGraw Hill, 2002), was the only one—with the exception of Dr. William Sears’ books (I want to give that man a hug, too)—that acknowledged that where and how successfully a baby sleeps is ALL ABOUT his/her temperament, that babies do not come with sleep instruction manuals which they will follow. Thank you. Someone buy this smart lady a drink, I thought. While I was throwing other baby books across the room—no kidding—in frustration (my children were out of book-throwing range, I promise), Pantley’s book and her gentle words on babies and sleep made me cry out of happiness, just knowing that someone understood, that one more “parenting expert” wasn’t going to tell me to have my baby cry-it-out. (While crying never hurt a child, if I had let my girls, as wee babes, cry while in the crib as long as they were wont to, I’m sure it would classify as child abuse. And never mind that I couldn’t stand it for more than about three minutes anyway.)

Here was a parenting expert telling me it was okay that my child thought the crib (which had quickly become a prison for stuffed animals and a very expensive laundry receptacle) was not for her. And reminding me that every parent—and child—is different. And reminding me to trust my intuition, a novel concept anymore in these days when women turn to a parenting magazine before they turn to their own mother for advice. And reminding me that, before I know it, they’ll be grown and perhaps rolling their eyes at me and asking for the car for the weekend anyway. (Pantley has the unique perspective of being a mother to four children, including a daughter already done with high school and a six-year-old son.) So—though she also gave plenty of helpful tips for those strange, mysterious crib-sleeping children (who are they? what’s that like?)—she also didn’t consider people like me a freak for snuggling up with my wee babies.

Have I mentioned that I think she’s the BEST? There’s a reason that you will hear a lot of mothers say that reading her books is like getting a warm embrace from a friend.

Wow. That was a long set-up. But I wanted to explain why someone like me—who reads fiction 99.9% of the time, who doesn’t feel as if I have enough time in my life to read all the fiction titles I want (and so rarely reads non-fiction; shame on me), and who shudders at most parenting manuals—was excited about Pantley’s new book about discipline.

one of two co-sleeping childrenHere’s the low-down. (And there’s my oldest as a wee babe—you guessed it—sleeping in our bed. And before I get nasty mail about the pillow there, well, it was perfectly safe, and I pretty much never left her side): You may not be surprised to read that I LOVED THIS BOOK. And I loved it for all the reasons I love Pantley (and want to buy her a drink and hug her neck and thank her for writing self-help books about children and parenting): She never condescends; she reminds us to follow our intuition; she reminds us that every child and parent and family are different and, therefore, so will be our approaches to discipline. Could she please tour the country and tell other parenting-manual authors this?

And here’s what you get in the book:

  • She opens the book with a gentle (as always) suggestion to banish already the myths about discipline — you know, if I read all the parenting manuals, my life will be trouble-free; if I have a strong relationship with my partner, we will always agree on raising children; and (the most pernicious myth) if I am truly attached, committed, and connected to my child, discipline will be easy and the child will naturally behave properly. Hubba-wha? Wubba-huh? I don’t think so. See? She starts the book off with her usual brilliance — acknowledging that there’s never, ever a simple fix or a one-size-fits-all solution. Word.
  • She asks you to look ahead to your child as a teenager and think about what values/behaviors you want instilled in him/her, and—since she’s always practical, too—she includes a chart of typical misbehaviors, the preferred behavior, and very specific actions you can take to help your child develop that preferred behavior. Trust me when I say it’s practical; I would have been instantly annoyed if it weren’t. Instead, I was exclaiming things aloud, like WHY HAVEN’T I THOUGHT OF THAT BEFORE?!
  • She writes about the foundation for better discipline, such as the ever-so necessary this-too-shall-pass reminder (for those inevitable bad days) and the live-in-the-moment wisdom: “Being in the moment is choosing to truly connect and enjoy your child—even if it’s only for ten minutes—watching her mouth form words as she speaks, watching her hands as she expresses her ideas, enjoying the enthusiasm of her imagination, listening to her ideas, absorbing what she believes, and cherishing the little person that she is.” Pantley knows all too well how hard this can be some days, with all the responsibilities that a parent juggles, and so she gently reminds us what our children really want from us.
  • Are you ready? Here comes more of her brilliance: She reminds us of this simple, little fact in Part 1 of the book — “If we capable, mature adults cannot control our emotions completely {having already pointed out that OF COURSE we don’t always manage to do that. Think of your cat vomiting on your carpet and your reaction. Voilà!}, is it even remotely possible that our children would be capable of such a feat?” Boy howdy and howdy boy, do I need to read this part of the book about, oh, every day, reminding me that my children’s bad behavior, when it occurs, is caused by undeveloped emotional control. It’s far too easy to forget this when you’re, say, playing referee all day to two very young children squabbling. {Ahem, speaking from experience there.} She writes:

    For the first six or more years of a child’s life I can’t really think of a single thing that child could do that would truly warrant a parent’s anger. Yes, of course we get angry at our children, we are human. But what I’m trying to say is that a young child is incapable of doing anything that would significantly affect us—the things that they do to push our buttons are inconsequential to the grand picture of life. If we could somehow get through our days with this concept in mind, we parents would be happier and calmer.

    Later, she also reminds us that discipline is not a one-shot deal: “Think about something that you do or don’t do—but that you know you should do differently. Perhaps it’s exercising or eating healthily . . . . if you, the mature adult, still don’t do everything the right way, how can you possible expect such a feat from your young child?” So, she writes, we teach the same lessons over and over, but “{e}ven then, just because a child knows what is right doesn’t mean he will always do the right thing. (Do you always drive the posted speed limit?)” I’m tellin’ ya, that right there gives you an example of two of Pantley’s major charms: her take on parenting from the perspective of a young child and her reminders that we really are only human after all. (“Be kind to yourself. Anger is a difficult emotion to control,” she writes later, acknowledging that we’re just going to flippin’ lose it some days.) As modern mothers in our often whacked-out society, we need these reminders.

Okay, I’m writing a novella here. Let’s wrap up:

  • Part 3 of the book is all about managing our own anger. This is also well-handled, and that’s saying a lot coming from me, someone who—when angry and then attempting the just-breathe-through-it technique—somehow manages to get exponentially angrier. Parts 2 and 4 are where it’s all at — Part 2 being about everyday challenges with practical, extremely helpful advice and with an entire chapter devoted to tantrums, fussing, and whining (and she sets it all up with a very clear reminder that “{y}ou know yourself and your child, so choose the ideas that appeal to you, try them out, and gauge the results”). And Part 4 provides specific solutions to everyday problems. Yes, a reference section. Say your child is giving you the business over getting out of the bathtub at night. Well, just flip to “Bath, Won’t Get Out.” Now, don’t you just want to hug her neck for this handy-dandy back section of the book?
  • And two more wonderful things: Pantley’s “test parents”—who reported to her about the success or failure of her discipline techniques as she was writing this book—live all over the world and represent all kinds of families: “married, single, unmarried partners . . . at-home moms, at-home dads, working parents, interracial families, multicultural families, gay families, and several grandparents-as-parents. They are a varied and interesting group.” Secondly, she provides Reminder Pages. Yes, admit that you need them! You’ve just read an entire chapter or two full of perfectly helpful tips on discipline, smacking your head that you haven’t thought of such simple solutions, and then you promptly forget them the next day. No worries. Pantley has a summary list for your fridge.

If you’ve made it this far (in my post that is more of a tribute to Pantley — my paean to Pantley, if you will) and are interested in even more of her titles, visit her web site here. She’s the real deal.

Now, off with you, and go take in the wonder of your child.

15 comments to “Tantrums, Fussing, & Whining, Oh My . . .”

  1. OK, jules, I went and read a bit of the Q & A over at her site, and you’re right! But, of course! Why not show your child how to clap loudly instead of biting? (I could REALLY have used that tip about 16 years ago.) And the “Practice restaurant eating at home by coming to the table early and staying longer.” How brilliant and simple is that?

    I think the most difficult thing about being a mother is that you’re learning HOW to be a mother at the same time that you’re actually supposed to be doing it. Plus, throw in hormones.
    And the sense that everyone else is doing it better. Crap. It’s a good thing our kids love us anyway, huh?

  2. I’m not a parent, but I was 13 when my brother was born, so I witnessed as a teenager and young adult all the struggles parents have. Not the same as having them myself, but I think a lot different than lots of non-parents out there. She sounds great, and I will have to remember her for when I AM a parent. Thank you!

  3. Thanks, you guys. Kimberly, yes, when you have children, remember Pantley’s name. She and Dr. Sears are the two who make the most sense to me, though each parent has to work out for him/herself which philosophy speaks to them the most. I just find that those two are the best at recognizing that children don’t come with manuals. I still can’t believe some of those sleep books that are written as if children will actually follow sleep instructions. Heh. (And the ones that say, my daughter slept through the night at 8 weeks, so this should work for you — don’t get me started on those).

    Reading Pantley’s books is like talking to a good friend, who is putting her arm around you to say, it will all work out. Her book on babies and sleep (pictured up there — she also has one on toddlers and sleep) was a lifesaver for me (but then I think I’ve already made that quite clear!) . . .

  4. I had to laugh about your crib being an expensive laundry recepticle… because my daughter slept in a laundry basket for the first 5 weeks of her life.

    We bought the No Cry Sleep Solution, and found it to be quite insightful– except that it didn’t work for us because (as we found out later) it’s really hard to do sleep training when one’s baby sleeps in the same room as the parent. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but at a certain point, no one got any sleep until we converted my writing room into a bedroom for our daughter.

    I’ll definitely take a look at the No Cry Discipline Solution. which is cool. Here’s a confession from one mom to another (and everyone else reading this): Martha Sears made me cry. In my circle of friends, we unintentionally slipped up and called her “Martha Stewart” a number of times.

  5. P.S. That fragment I accidentally left in my comment was something about Pantley being local. Then, I realized that she may have moved since I last knew her to be a local author. I erased the sentence, but not totally.

  6. Alkelda, do you mean she made you cry in an oh-my-I’ll-never-live-up kind of way? I can see that. As for her husband, what makes me want to hug his neck is his acknowledgement of and writing about what he calls “high-need babies.” For the longest time, it kinda made me roll my eyes, and I thought, how psycho-babbly. Just another way to diagnose your child, but then I read a description of it in his intro to his book all about high-need babies, and I stood there in the stacks in the library and cried, having finally found someone who understood MY SCREAMING CHILD!! (who would NOT NOT NOT let me put her down EVER and would wail at even her father). There really is something to the “high-need” stuff.

    And, yes, I know co-sleeping’s not for everyone. Some people simply can’t sleep that way.

    Now, imagining your ultra-beautiful daughter sleeping in a laundry basket as a wee babe is too much cuteness for me for one day. I might just pass out.

  7. Jules,
    Is there a chapter in this book about not knowing that the child thought the father was trying to kill her when he told her repeatedly to turn over and sleep on her stomach so she would stop coughing. Since I did not find out that you thought you could not breathe when sleeping on your stomach until you were in college, I think this qualifies as a sleeping problem that should be covered somewhere.

    Love Dad

  8. HA! I’ll just have to write a book one day.

  9. And jules, they don’t stop being “high-need” when they grow up…they just (in a perfect world) learn how to manage those needs and even let them grow into unique talents and gifts. I think I’ve recommended it to you before, but the book The Gifted Adult by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen is great for parents to read. Not only because you’ll want to see what happens at the grown-up stage, but because it’s a fact that high-need babies almost always come from high-need (and gifted) parents. We are taught to deny this, so by the time we are parents, we’re all “not me, I’m ordinary” when in fact, our children are holding up mirrors to the self we once were and still are, now. The first rule of parenting is not only “Know Thy Child.” It’s also “Know Thyself.”

    From the introduction:

    “I have a powerful need to know”
    “I set very high standards for myself and can be my own worst critic.”
    “I have always felt deeply wounded by injustice and human suffering”
    “I have maintained my childlike sense of playfulness and wonder.”

    I would go on, but I want you to read it!

  10. Sara,

    Hook, line, and sinker. I’m in.

  11. Would it be sad to admit that all three of our children didn’t last in a crib for long? The joke in my family was how the most expensive piece of furniture in our house, almost nine years ago, was used as the clean laundry receptacle.

    Ferber depressed me beyond belief, and for a few years, I felt inadequate that my children took half hour naps rather than the touted upon two hour naps. Add the co-sleeping, and…well I really felt like I was in over my head.

    Enter Dr. Sears. He saved my sanity.

    It’ll get better Jules. This book sounds great.

  12. I hear ya, Vivian. It took me WAY too long to understand that my girls didn’t have to sleep the way some book prescribed it.

    We were determined for our second daughter to be a crib-sleeper, and she was – for about 4 mos. And then it all ended, because I couldn’t stand to let them cry for more than, say, five minutes in the crib. (To my credit, I tried for longer periods of time with each of them, too, but they are both incredibly strong-willed).

    A friend once told me something about how each of her children cried for twenty minutes each night in the crib for three nights or something and then they took to it. And I had to bite my tongue: If my girls had done that, we wouldn’t have had crib issues. But it was more like never-ending I’m-dying cries, and I’m just not interested. I mean, they have wills of steel.

    We have very creative sleeping arrangements in our house now with each girl being a co-sleeper but *not* owning a king-sized bed. But we’re okay with that, ’cause we know this is a fleeting time. I hardly complain about cuddling up with my wee girls.

    But I know it’s not for everyone, too.

    Anyway, yes, Dr. Sears and Pantley saved my sanity.

  13. Hi Jules,

    Well, I think I shall print this lovely review and frame it for my office wall! ~ :o) I’m glowing and smiling, inspired and encouraged. Thank you, my new friend, you have certainly made my day, week, month…..

    Elizabeth ~^*

  14. I don’t have kids, but I’m always grateful for reviews by parents about parenting books, especially from people I know, because then I can tell those poor parents who come into the library looking for books about getting their babies to sleep, for instance, that someone I know used this book or that book and that it really worked for that person’s family. I try to keep an eclectic parenting collection in the Children’s Room, but I always worry that parents are going to wind up with a book that’s not a good fit for their family and that is going to just frustrate them further. I also always wish that more parenting titles were available on audio. I mean, most parents of preschoolers that I know have trouble doing stuff like bathing and eating so much as reading entire books. I can’t help but think that publishers would make a buck off this on the library market alone….

  15. I found this archived page from facebook, Jules! And what a wonderful entry it is. I completely agree with the annoyingness of many parenting books and articles.The super routine let your baby cry books seem both cruel and unrealistic (not sure how you make babies wake and eat at specific times) while I had an attachment parenting one that said your baby will be doomed if they ever cry (what a standard to hold yourself to!). One article I just read on parenting 3 children under 3 helpfully suggested you make sure all 3 nap at once! I let my sister with a 3 year old and 7 month old know that because I’m sure she’d never have tried it otherwise.

    And it’s not just books! A child health nurse told our parents group that we should just pat our babies on their backs while they’re on our shoulders, and then put them into their cots and they’ll go to sleep. I was so close to saying DO YOU NOT THINK THAT WOMAN OVER THERE WHO LOOKS LIKE SHE HAS NOT SLEPT IN A MILLION YEARS HAS NOT TRIED THIS?! If it was that easy as if any parent would complain of sleep deprivation!

    Elizabeth’s books on sleeping are so lovely and sane. (Fortunately Rowan isn’t a bad sleeper at the moment). I will make sure I get the discipline one at some point!

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact sevenimp_blaine@blaine.org. Thanks.