Guide helps navigate notorious toddler years

November 16, 1994|By Kelly A.J. Powers | Kelly A.J. Powers,Special to The Sun

Parents of toddlers, your wait is over. Prepare for absolution and answers. A new book has most -- if not all -- the solutions.

At 900 pages, "What to Expect: The Toddler Years" wants to give parents of 1- to 3-year-olds peace of mind during these trying times. And parents are ready for it. The hype for this book has been building since word of its publication date surfaced in July. If sales of the first two books in the "What to Expect" series ( ". . . When You're Expecting" and ". . . The First Year") are any indication (8 million and counting rapidly), "The Toddler Years"

may be the hottest book for parents this year.

Already the publisher, Workman Publishing, has gone back to press three times, printing almost a million copies. This is even before the official publication date on "The Toddler Years," set for December.

"The book is already on the shelves, and I've gotten a lot of calls to reserve it," says Chris Brenchley, community relations coordinator at Borders Books and Music in Towson. "Something instructional like this never sells like this. The response is incredible."

Maybe because there is hardly anything like it. Even though the toddler years are among the most difficult ever for a parent, there are not many books that specifically address that stage.

"It was the letters that poured in that said things like, 'My baby's 10 months old, and you've got two months to tell me what I'm supposed to do next," says Arlene Eisenberg, one of the book's three authors and mother of her two co-authors.

For Kim Schmulowitz and her friends in Catonsville, the wait for the book was a long one. "There's Burton White's book, ["The First Three Years of Life"] but like a lot of others, I thought it was a little too dry and academic," says Ms. Schmulowitz, mother of two, ages 15 months and 3 1/2 . "We've been waiting very impatiently for a book like this. There isn't that much out there."

Now there is, in a big way. "The Toddler Years" is one of the biggest paperbacks at the bookstore. Talk about comprehensive. Still, 900 pages about an age group that spans just two years? That's hardly enough for some parents.

Especially first-time parents, like Lisa Ellison, 31, of Ellicott City. Ms. Ellison has a 17-month-old daughter who inspires endless questions.

"When I asked about 25 other experienced mothers in my mothers group for a book on toddlers, they didn't have anything to recommend," says Ms. Ellison. "My daughter shows interest in the potty, but I don't know what to do with that. She loves to run around nude, should I let her do that? She tried to nurse the other day. I wasn't sure what to do, so I let her, but then nothing happened, and she kind of laughed about it. But was that OK?"

The answers, Lisa, are yes (encourage potty training), no (running around nude) and maybe not. One thing about "The Toddler Years" that parents love is its certainty. There's not much wavering, or inclusion of many points of views, on issues like toilet training. There's this way, and no other way.

Which annoys child-rearing experts like Dr. Joseph Procaccini.

"On the positive side, 'The Toddler Years' is a good compendium, it definitely has everything from A to Z," says Dr. Procaccini of the Family, Work, & Education Center at Loyola College. "But overall, books like this turn me off, because the focus is more on what kids do, not what they are. I hear parents over and over saying, 'I don't understand these kids.' Parents want to reduce their kids by understanding them. This is the prescriptive approach to parenting, where the focus is on shaping children, processing them. I see a lot of shoulds, musts in this book."

Dr. Procaccini, who also teaches a child-rearing class to expectant parents at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, says he favors a more existential approach. "There's a science of parenting, but there's also an art to it. There's a lot of factors you can't control as a parent -- like the spiritual. That includes a lot of factors that you can't see and measure that come into play on how your child will turn out. And all of these you have no control over."

Ms. Eisenberg says the book was never intended to precisely prescribe child-rearing styles. "When it comes to the discipline issue, there are so many styles that we couldn't say just do this one," says the co-author. "The only rules that can't be broken are the ones that have to do with health and safety. I do think, in the book, we talk about how wonderful children are. We try to avoid making kids out as objects to control. The idea is not to control, but rather to teach them how to function in the world."

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