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Medical Bookshelf

Help in Mental Development of Youngsters

December 26, 1985|ROSELLE M. LEWIS

Your Child's Mind: The Complete Guide to Infant and Child Emotional Well-Being by Herman Roiphe MD and Anne Roiphe (St. Martin's/Marek: $19.95); First Feelings: Milestones in the Emotional Development of Your Baby and Child by Stanley Greenspan MD and Nancy Thorndike Greenspan (Viking: $17.95).

Both of these guides--coincidentally, both are the collaboration of physicians and their wives--divide a child's emotional development into specific time frames, much as Gessel did for motor skills and Spock for physical well-being.

"Every parent is a dreamer. We all hold our newborn infants in our arms and envision a child rich in happiness, strong in intelligence, beautiful in body and mind."

Though the credits for "Your Child's Mind" are shared, the voice is very much that of Anne Roiphe, novelist and playwright ("Up the Sandbox"). She admits to poring over her psychoanalyst-husband's medical journals, resulting in a highly readable book that divides both normal and abnormal behavior in three main stages of a child's development: from birth to 3; 3 to 6 and 6 to 10.

In short chapters, some not more than a paragraph, the Roiphes, whose approach is decidedly Freudian, cover a number of common physical problems often attended by highly charged emotions: the poor eater, thumb sucking, the use of pacifiers and colic.

They also consider temper tantrums, breath holding and the "bad child," who "aggressively might hit or pull a cat's tail, accompanied by a kind of fleeting cruel smile."

More importantly, they discuss mental retardation that occurs in some premature infants; Down's syndrome (37 out of 100,000 babies are affected) and personality disorders in older children. After tackling school-related upsets, the Roiphes gently remind the reader not to play the role of a football father, a stage mother or even a straight-A mother.

Though these children and parents step from a New York urban setting of private schools, music lessons and summer camps, the book attains more general use in its furthering the idea that the main purpose in raising a child is to "bring into being an integrated, happy human being."

"First Feelings" surveys much of the same territory by describing children's growth as milestones, initially divided into three-month maturation steps.

The Greenspans stress making the child feel a sense of early-on calm and security. This is achieved by "wooing" the baby through a series of specific attention-getting exercises and avoiding both hyperexcitability and underarousal. (The "slug-a-bed," oversleeping child must be properly aroused, largely through sense stimulation.)

Emotions, it seems, don't develop naturally. Some parents may either prove "uninteresting" to their offspring or find they must overcome problems in "parenting style." Though the Greenspans dispense generally known information, their thorough overview of children's affective (feeling or emotional) life should promote a smooth transition from birth right to the portals of kindergarten.

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