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Take It Easy, Baby : MISEDUCATION Preschoolers at Risk by David Elkind (Alfred A. Knopf: $16.95 , cloth ; $7.95 , paper; 211 pp.)

November 29, 1987|Milton Chen | Chen is director of instructional television at KQED in San Francisco, which provides educational services to teachers and parents in Northern California. and

Since my daughter is approaching her first birthday, my interest in David Elkind's new book is more than academic. Elkind, a distinguished professor of child study at Tufts University, attracted national attention with his previous book, "The Hurried Child," in which he decried the pace at which we put children through childhood.

In this book, Elkind traces the roots of the hurried child to, sadly, the hurried infant. He strongly rebukes the current compulsion of preschools and parents to equip infants and young children with academic and physical skills. He targets toddler training programs such as Glenn Doman's Better Baby Institute, whose approach is signaled by the title of one of Doman's books, "How to Give Your Baby an Encyclopedic Mind."

Instead, Elkind urges parents to give their babies something more important: "a strong sense of security, a healthy feeling of self-esteem, and an enthusiasm for living and learning." He describes parents who display their infants' abilities as engaging in a pernicious form of conspicuous consumption, "practices that are more reflective of parental ego than parental need." Elkind's "Gourmet Parents" want their kids to go first class, from their designer clothes to their Ivy League nursery schools. Proud beneficiaries of advanced degrees, these parents want their own educational successes to be visited as early as possible on their offspring. For "Gold Medal Parents" intent on cheering their preschoolers on in swimming, gymnastics, skiing or other sports, Elkind has a warning that young bodies are unprepared for intensive athletic activity. In the rush to instruct young children, Elkind says, "we put them at risk for short-term stress and long-term personality damage. . . . There is no evidence that such early instruction has lasting benefits."

Elkind is a fine explainer and simplifier of research on child development. In a clear, calm, almost avuncular voice, he counsels parents not to try so hard, to slow down and enjoy these precious years. He would have us trust that, as one author put it, "babies are a lot smarter than they look."

In reading this book, I was frankly amazed at the service industry that has grown up around infants. Our daughter is not on any preschool waiting list, nor is she a regular at any baby fitness class. But Maggie does laugh easily, crawls with abandon, smiles when we enter the room. As far as we're concerned, when it comes to the latest parenting craze, ignorance is bliss. I think Dr. Elkind would agree.

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