What Every Baby Knows

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

T. Berry Brazelton is the kind of doctor that everyone seeks but few find: One who listens. He listens to the parents who come to him with concerns about their children’s development, sleeping habits, and emotional well-being. He has a gift for hearing not only these parents’ words but also their own needs and struggles, which are often reflected in their children’s behavior. He examines his young patients with attentiveness not only to growth charts and immunizations but also to behavior and temperament.

In WHAT EVERY BABY KNOWS, these skills are applied to five families with a range of child-rearing problems. Though the needs vary, the group is relatively homogenous: The parents are all white, middle- to upper-middle-class professionals. They are articulate, sensitive individuals-- qualities important for the television programs in which these parents were asked to talk at length about complex family problems. There are no problems of child abuse, poor nutrition, or delinquency in the families featured here. Instead, they discuss colic, sibling rivalry, prematurity, separation anxiety, effects of divorce, and the like.

Each chapter on an individual family begins with a brief family history. “Office visit” sections are transcripts of Dr. Brazelton’s conversations with parents and children. They are followed by his discussion of issues raised in the visits, with answers to related questions from other parents. Finally, a report on a follow-up visit with each family reveals how parents and children progressed toward resolution of their difficulties.

Brazelton advocates consistent discipline: “A ’spoiled’ child is an anxious child. He seeks the firmness of an assured parent.” Naptimes and bedtimes should be regular; children should be required to abide by reasonable limits. Yet Brazelton also seeks to free children from pressures imposed by overly controlling parents: “This autonomy that she showed me just then by pushing my hand away, this independence, is really so marvelous,” he remarks to the anxious mother of a toddler.

To all mothers and fathers this engaging doctor aims to impart his gift of listening: “’Every baby knows’ what is needed and will show a sensitive parent when things are off balance.” Even more than his practical advice on common child-rearing struggles, it is this attitude, shining through on every page of WHAT EVERY BABY KNOWS, that makes Dr. Brazelton’s newest book an attractive addition to his other popular publications.