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You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Child-rearing has changed a lot since the days when corporal punishment was the norm. But parenting hasn't gotten any easier.

June 25, 1998|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Spare the rod and spoil the child.--Samuel Butler, 1663

I'm not advocating spanking, but I think it is less poisonous than lengthy disapproval.--Dr. Benjamin Spock, 1946

You can convince me that a good spanking does the child and the mother a lot of good. I've never doubted it. But I just don't like it.--Bruno Bettelheim, 1962

The swing away from discipline in the '40s and '50s has provided us with a discontented, angry generation . . . Certainly physical punishment should be used as little as possible and as a last resort--but it may well be necessary to clear the air.--Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, 1976

The American tradition of spanking may be one (reason) there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation.--Spock, 1985

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with attracting a misbehaving child's attention with one loud-but-not-very-hard whomp on his butt.--Lewis A. Coffin, pediatrician, Emory University, and Internet "Kidsdoctor," 1998

What's a parent to think?

While the American Academy of Pediatricians in December went on record as being against spanking, the American Psychological Assn.--which since 1974 has opposed corporal punishment in the schools--chose recently not to denounce corporal punishment of children in all situations.

The issue was brought up at APA's annual convention in August, but, says Irwin Hyman, one of the principals among antispanking forces, "I couldn't even get them to make a committee on it. It's a very controversial issue. There are enough conservative physicians who don't even want to touch it."

In the debate, adds Hyman, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of "The Case Against Spanking" (Jossey-Bass, 1997), "It's like the '60s in the tobacco war," with the pro-spankers, some of whom cite reasons of religion or tradition, insisting that the evidence that spanking is harmful is not yet conclusive.

From temper tantrums to toilet-training, from the birds and bees to bed-wetting, advice is not in short supply for parents of babies and young children. But whom to turn to? And, in the final analysis, will it matter whether your little darling was denied a pacifier or banned from mommy and daddy's bed?

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The child-rearing debate really escalated in 1946, when Dr. Spock--who died in March at age 94--burst upon the pediatric scene with "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care" (a volume now so rare that the publisher directs callers to Bird Library at Syracuse University, which has the "only known copy").

And what a difference a few years--or a few decades--can make.

In 1946, Spock dispensed this advice on toilet-training: "It seems sensible . . . to leave [the baby] in peace until he is old enough to know a little of what it's all about. I would wait until he can at least sit up steadily alone, which will be around 7 to 9 months."

But in 1962, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim--whose credentials have been widely questioned since his 1990 suicide--wrote in "Dialogues With Mothers" (The Free Press) by the library tonite (Tues.) and get info."If they say 'no,' it's 'no.' Then maybe two months later you suggest it again; and this game you play up to the age of 3."

In 1989, best-selling children's advice writer Penelope Leach, in "Your Baby and Child" (Alfred Knopf) told parents, "If you start later, he will learn faster and reach the same point at the same time. . . . He won't set off for big school in diapers."

In 1983, the late Dr. Lee Salk's advice was: Never before 18 months. Two years later, Spock concurred: "Don't start until the middle of the second year."

And, finally, current advice from Dr. Bill and Martha Sears on the ParentTime Web site: "Tell your child the store is out of diapers" and let him play bare-bottom in the yard.

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What about feeding? Mother's milk or formula? Low-fat or regular milk? Back in 1946, Spock was advocating breast-feeding, reasoning, "It's safer to do things the natural way unless you are absolutely sure you have a better way."

But through the '50s, '60s and '70s, few pediatricians urged new mothers to breast-feed and, despite campaigns by organizations such as La Leche League, most mothers chose bottle feeding. But many of today's young mothers choose to breast-feed.

"Breast-feeding is best," says Santa Clarita pediatrician Dr. Loraine Stern, but "you can't just tell women to breast-feed. You have to provide enough support services to help them over the rough spots. One problem is that this generation of grandmothers is highly likely not to have breast-fed."

In the '60s and '70s, pediatricians routinely advised new mothers to segue from formula to low-fat milk. Today, low-fat is in disfavor, the theory being that until age 2 children need the extra calories.

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Pacifiers have been objects of debate for decades--and still are.

Bettelheim's take (1962): "The pacifier is usually easier to keep clean, it's softer [than a thumb] and they don't get callouses on their thumbs."

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