Book review: Amazing Minds

Posted on April 12, 2012 
Filed Under Anita, Book Review, The Star

Amazing Minds

By Anita Matthews

Published as Academic writing makes book tedious in ParenThots, The Star, Feb 20, 2012

Amazing Minds: The Science of Nurturing Your Child’s Developing Mind With Games, Activities and more
By Jan Faull, MEd with Jennifer McLean Oliver, PhD
Publisher: Berkley Books New York

This book held much promise and its foreword opened to an exciting read ahead. Unfortunately, after the 30th page, a slight irritation set in and by the time I hit the 50th page, I realised it would not get any better. So, I threw it aside and went on to re-read some fiction from my bookshelf.

A week later, I went back to Amazing Minds. Surely there must be something worthwhile to new parents who harbour a million dreams for their darling children. Is it possible for parents to shape their infants into perfect children? I found it in chapter four where Faull discussed imitation and memory of babies and how our actions shape their early journey from contentment and distress in babyhood to differentiating anger from joy in their interactions or within different environments. The author argued that babies who are disturbed by patterns in adult behaviour would avoid provoking similar behaviour even though they are curious to explore. This is useful as we, parents, often forget how observant babies are.

Why babies, toddlers and children act the way they do can be attributed to the daily conditioning that they have been subjected to since birth. It is widely believed that a newborn up to the age of five has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Babies would have soaked up a great deal more than we would ever imagine in the five-year period and parents are left to cheer on their child’s good habits and baulk at the display of poor practices.

This places us parents in an unenviable position. After all, which mum or dad wants to be on their toes at all times, thinking through how to act or speak or move, especially when the child is that young and there are so many things to do at that stage. But to think two steps ahead is something parents ought to do. Even for a late learner like me .…

Faull’s book is useful in that it discusses every aspect of an infant’s progress beginning from the sensory growth to their entry to social life. The book is divided according to a baby’s growth pattern – from the beginning when a baby’s senses are awakened by new smells, sights, sounds, touch and taste. As a baby grows, how these senses begin to interact with each other, their parents, the surroundings they are exposed to and the toys they play with.

The resulting effect is seen in each infant’s attempt to mimic their parents’ facial expressions and the appropriate behaviour to prompt a desired response. For instance, if you grit your teeth when smiling at your baby, he or she would associate the smile as veiled annoyance and would be alert each time that expression appeared.

The combination of senses is also related to the baby’s capacity to reason, respond, recognise colours, sorting objects and saying the first word. While the areas discussed would provide many insights, the author’s style of delivery is dulled by its format. Relying on academia-styled writing of relating a situation, experience, expectation, interpretation and possible outcomes becomes trying after a few chapters. It proved too tiring for me.

While Faull must be commended for backing her arguments with citations of renowned psychologists, behavourial experts, brain scientists and paediatricians such as Andrew Meltzoff, B. F. Skinner, J.P. Halberda; the lack of intimacy was telling.

Personalised anecdotes versus the continuous use of terms like “baby,” “toddler” and “children” from the research shared would have been far more engaging especially since the information presented was based on data that was mined and studied under specific circumstances. The examples were cold.

Furthermore, the introduction of a child named Wesley in chapter 11 titled “a mind of their own” was all too brief. Sadly, Wesley faded off.

Parents – new and old – become aware that their babies do have minds of their own. Often this is not too obvious from the onset but the trait of independence does become more apparent as the child grows. The realisation that my children have minds of their own was a shock to me and it did take me a while to realise my role is to guide them. Once we understand we cannot control children 100%, the task of parenting becomes less stressful.

Amazing Minds is an academic parenting tome that is rooted in empirical research. Its “scientific” presentation style places it behind more engaging parenting books that discuss child rearing. However, it would find a place among parents with a bent in academic writing form. Personally, I believe it takes more than science to raise a kid.

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