Ross Laver May 20 1985


Ross Laver May 20 1985



Ross Laver

The halls of the Vancouver Academy of Music overflow with the sounds of students practising their scales. But in

one classroom the music j blends with the laughter of small children: there, some of the academy’s 200 pupils who are three to five years of age are learning to play miniature violins, cellos—and full-scale pianos. In Montreal smartly dressed women attend a weekly “parent effectiveness training” course in the affluent Town of Mount Royal. Clinical psychologist Esther Le; fevre began the program last winter to j help new parents cope with problems I including breast-feeding, children’s : bedtimes—and juggling careers and home life. But in Toronto, for Anna Barron-Schon, 31, the choice between keeping her job as a retail clerk or stayI ing home with her two children was simple: the job lost out. Three cities, three approaches. Never before in Canada has so much serious public attention focused on the care and nurturing of infants—on subjects ranging from diaper rash to day care, parental bonding to early education.

Anxious: One likely reason is that the I children of the postwar baby boom are now belatedly becoming parents themselves, creating what demographers call a faint “baby boom echo.” To cater to the I new market, publishers have unleashed a flood of books and articles, often contradictory, which provide anxious par! ents of newborns with step-by-step instructions on what to do and how to do it. At the same time, an unprecedented I surge in scientific research on child dej velopment is uncovering data that challenge some of society’s traditional beI liefs about how much newborn children know about the world around them and what parents can do to aid their devel■ opment. Said Lefevre: “At one time peo| pie learned how to raise children from members of their own family. Now, par: ents are turning more and more to professionals.”

Much of the increased interest in baÎ bies and child-rearing is a result of the fact that, as a group, new parents in the j 1980s tend to be older, more educated j and more affluent than their forerunners. Overall, the annual birthrate in Canada has remained constant during the past three years, at 15 babies per

1,000 population. But Statistics Canada reports that there has been a sharp increase in the number of children born to women aged 30 and older. In 1983 there were 88,043 births to women over 30, compared to only 65,698 a decade earlier.

Competitive: But what distinguishes the modern mother most is her career. Nationwide, more than half of all twoparent families with at least one child under the age of 6 have two incomes. And just as they are willing to devote time and energy to succeed in the workplace, many new mothers—and fathers —are anxious to prepare themselves as fully as they can for their new role as parents. In short, they demand the best

for their offspring —and they are prepared to work hard for it. Said University of Toronto psychologist Alison Gopnik, 29, herself a mother of two boys, age 6 and 4: “Working women today tend to look upon having a baby as another professional endeavor. They want to know a lot more about what kinds of activities are best for their children.” Added Roy Ferguson, a child care specialist at the University of Victoria: “Parenting used to be thought of as an innate skill. Now people see it as something that can be improved.”

Often, those new attitudes give rise to competitive parenthood. Accustomed to high-powered careers and upward mobility, many ambitious new parents aim to bring up state-of-the-art babies. They fight to place their offspring in the best preschools, the liveliest gym classes and

the most trendy art courses—many of which have impressive waiting lists. Said Vancouver Academy of Music director Jerold Gerbrecht: “There is no way we can keep up with the demand. Some parents sign up their kids on the day they are born—or even while the mother is pregnant.” Said Jaqueline Blomfield, director of program development for Montreal’s Westmount YMCA: “As adults we are striving for success and we want the same for our children. We tend to feel that the faster they develop, the better off they will be.” Still, some parents say that the current emphasis on quality child-rearing is excessive. Declared Halifax dentist Donald Stephenson, 39: “All the hype

about parenting is crazy.” He and his wife, Janis, 39, a teacher, have two sons and two daughters ranging from eight months to five years. Added their father: “When you look at all the information that is available, you cannot help feeling paranoid. There must be all sorts of things I just do not know about.” Guilt: Eva Czigler, 37, a CBC television producer whose daughter, Katherine, 4, attends a Toronto nursery school, says that she also feels the pressures of being a modern parent. Declared Czigler: “Parents today are almost paralysed by choices: where should my child go to school, what lessons should she take —the list goes on and on.” If anything, she added, the problem is intensified for working mothers: “Women who work carry a burden of guilt because we are not with our children as much as we

could be,” Czigler said, “so we want to make sure we give our kids the best.” But there are also pressures on women who stay home to raise their children. Barron-Schon, for one, did so after she and her husband, Brian Barron, decided they could support a family on his salary as an architect. “It was a purely selfish decision,” Barron-Schon said. “I was brought up that way and I want my children to be just like me.” Still, Barron-Schon added that being a full-time mother to Clara, 4, and Simon, 2, does have its drawbacks—especially because some of her friends do not agree with her choice. Added Barron-Schon: “People think that I am an idiot just because I enjoy domestic life.”

Despite the wealth of expert advice and self-help manuals, however, most child care specialists say that it is important for parents to trust their own judgment. The first paragraph of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s 1945 classic, Baby and Child Care—five revisions and 30 million copies later, the book is still a best seller—begins, “You know more than you think you do,” and it goes on to advise parents to use common sense and not to be overawed by the experts. For her part, Blomfield tells parents not to be afraid to rely on their own intuition. She said, “Parenting is still a hit-andmiss kind of thing.”

Aspirations: The sudden realization by new parents that they are responsible for another human life inevitably produces stress. As Montreal psychologist Lefevre said, the majority of new parents are planning to have no more than one or two children. With their parental aspirations riding on only one or two offspring, she added, “there is more anxiety about doing things right. All of their eggs are in one basket.” University of Calgary psychologist Terence Creighton says that many parents worry unnecessarily about some aspects of their children’s development. Feeding habits and toilet training are two of the most common causes of concern. Six years ago Creighton began a series of Great Kids conferences in Calgary to help parents cope with the pressures of child-rearing. Said Creighton: “Parents are constantly asking me whether they have done something wrong because their kid is not toilet trained. I tell them to forget about it. I have never met an adult who was not toilet trained.” Similarly, children are not apt to starve themselves. Added Creighton: “Using a fork is a fairly sophisticated motor skill. Children like to imitate their parents and sooner or later they will do it on their own.”

Often the advice that experts do furnish borders on the self-evident. According to Jerome Kagan, a renowned child psychologist at Harvard University in Boston and author of The Nature of

the Child, parents should try to create a “nurturant environment” for their infants—that is, they should provide them with plenty of love, attention and stimulation. Said Kagan: “What is important is a sense of predictability. A child needs to know that when he cries he will be taken care of and when he is hungry he will be fed.” Commenting on the theory that parents may spoil a baby by cradling him in their arms when he cries, Kagan declared, “There is no evidence whatsoever for that belief.”

Spank: At the same time, after a hard day at work, many midcareer parents may find themselves without the energy to explain to a child why some behavior is unacceptable. Kirby Chown, 38, of Toronto, for one, has struggled—not always successfully—with that problem. She is a lawyer with a major Bay Street firm, and her husband, David Oved, 38, is a legislative reporter for The Toronto Sun. Both have demanding jobs that require long absences from home. Said Chown, the mother of four-year-old twins Nicholas and Marcus: “When we see the boys we are usually both tired. Because the balance is so delicate between work and home, one of them is usually out of whack.” But Chown says that she does not spank her children, and she tries not to over-react to minor incidents. Added Chown: “They never liked bibs, so I did not make them wear them. But other things, like politeness, do matter. So they know that when I get

angry, it is for a good reason.”

Modern parents tend not to be as strict as earlier generations. But many authorities, including Edward Connors, clinical director of Regina’s Merici Centre for development problems in children, say that parents are less permissive than they were in the 1960s and early 1970s. According to Connors, there is evidence of a revived interest in discipline after a period of widespread—and, some of them argue, excessive—leniency. But Gordon _

Barnes, associate professor and head of family studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, argues that parents now try to develop a rational approach to discipline. Said Barnes: “The idea is to use logical consequences, where the child lives with the results of his actions. That seems more popular than the coercive or love-withdrawal approach used in the past.” But others say that there has been little real change. Declared Edmonton psychologist John Mitchell: “In the old days we just slapped.

Then we stopped slapping and started explaining. Now we slap and then we explain why we slapped.”

By far the most troubling task for many parents is the search for good, affordable child care. Apart from the natural ambivalence about handing over a child to someone else for a large part of the day, parents worry about the high level of staff turnover in many facilities and whether their children will be properly supervised. Cost is another important consideration: annual day care fees run from a low of about $2,500 for babysitting by a neighbor to as much as $15,000 for a trained, live-in nanny—an expense only partly offset by the maximum $2,000per-child federal tax deduction for paid care. Most parents prefer an informal, homelike setting: of the approximately one million children under 6 in day care - across Canada, an estimated 85 per cent are cared for in private houses, sometimes by trained child care specialists and sometimes by unskilled mothers, supplementing their household income. Said Martha Friendly, a University of Toronto researcher on day care resources: “Right now we have a patchwork funding scheme that doesn’t adequately support a system of high-quality child care. We have to establish a system where public funding is directly supporting comprehensive

_ child care.”

Unsupervised: The quality of care varies widely. Donna Lourenço, a word processor from Mississauga, Ont., recalls her concern two years ago when she arrived early at her twoyear-old daughter’s day care centre and discovered the child playing unsupervised on a slide. A week earlier the child, Taryn, had arrived home without a diaper. Said Lourenço, 25: “I vowed never to use day care again.” Lourenço now hires babysitters to look after Taryn and her eight-month-old son, Ryan, in her home while she is working part-time. Said Lourenço: “I do not believe in giving 100 per cent of myself to my kids

—but the children do come first.”

Indeed, some authorities contend that day care is generally undesirable. Dr. Elliott Barker, for one, a forensic psychiatrist who examines patients sent from the courts to the Ontario government’s maximum security facility at Penetanguishene, Ont., described day care centres for children under 3 as “part-time orphanages.”

Barker said that high staff turnover and rotating shifts in many centres rob youngsters of the chance to form close, stable bonds with adults who care for them. As a result, he is concerned that children raised in those environments might not properly develop such qualities as trust, empathy and affection. Declared Barker:

“In 15 years we could be faced with a generation of partial psychopaths”—a term he uses to describe adults who are “superficial, manipulative and unable to maintain lasting, mutually satisfactory relationships with others.”

Development: Not all child care experts share that view. But there is widespread agreement that until the age of 2 or 3, an infant is best off receiving individual attention. The reason: studies have demonstrated that the first three years of life are most critical in all spheres of a child’s development. Said Regina’s Connors: “There is fairly conclusive evidence that kids raised in a day care facility for their first two years do not show as quick a social and emotional development as ones in the home. It really is common sense that 1:1 childrearing will speed a child’s development.”

But Ferguson adds that many women who leave work to look after their children soon feel unfulfilled. He explained: “If the mother has been putting off her career because she feels she should be at home, her mothering is often not as good as it could be.” Declared Suzette LagacéAubin, 31, an assistant radio producer and the mother of a three-year-old boy: “When Julien René was born, I thought I would be able to stay at home for the first four or five years. But after 18 months I felt as if my brain were shrinking.”

Two-career couples who reject total immersion motherhood sometimes compromise by hiring babysitters who come to their home during the day. The Ste-

phensons of Halifax are one couple that insist on at-home care for their four active children—despite the $170-permonth cost. Said Janis Stephenson: “The woman who looks after them now is great. She keeps them busy with all sorts of projects. Then we get home and the kids are exposed to a whole new set of things with us.” Dawn Wilkinson of Winnipeg uses the same approach. Wilkinson, director of communications for Manitoba’s department of housing tried a regular babysitter and then group day care before finally settling on a day nanny for her two-year-old daughter, Ashley. Wilkinson and her husband, Donald, say they appreciate being able to match Ashley’s nanny to their needs. Said Dawn Wilkinson: “My biggest concern is finding someone who shares our values and priorities.”

Friendships: At the same time, many experts believe that group day care is beneficial for older children because it allows them to form friendships and interract with people of their own age. Vancouver lawyer Janet Prowse, for one, sent her oldest son, Clifton, now 6, to a day care centre when he was 2. Said Prowse, 38: “I found that our child wanted to play with other kids, and yet there were no other children in our neighborhood.”

As well, because U.S. research has confirmed that even newborn babies are capable of rudimentary learning, an entire industry has emerged to give upwardly mobile infants and toddlers a head start on everything from playing

Mozart concertos on the violin to running computer programs. In the Vancouver area parents of artistically inclined young children can enrol them in the nonprofit Vancouver Arts Umbrella. Located on fashionable Granville Island near the heart of the city, the centre offers classes for two-year-olds in dance, painting and clay and wood sculpture. Fees run from $49 to $57 for 10 45-minute sessions. Said Vancouver clinical psychologist Joan Pinkus, 36, whose son, Jordan, 3, has been enrolled in classes at the centre for the past year: “It provides us with an opportunity to socialize with other children. If he did not enjoy it, we would not come.” Rounding out Jordan’s schedule are weekly gym classes at a local community centre, storytime sessions at the library and an informal, 30-minute music class designed to expose preschoolers to the basics of rhythm and sound.

Fun: Toddler exercise classes are also springing up across the country. Toronto’s Central YMCA offers twice-weekly classes that allow oneand two-yearolds accompanied by adults to bounce, swing, climb and crawl to the rhythm of disco music; graduates of that program move on to Kindergym classes, where they clamber about on rings, ladders, slides and elevated beams—having fun and at the same time developing their motor skills. Said instructor Jeff Howell: “One little boy sat in the corner for a few weeks. When I introduced him to the trampoline he opened up completely.” And Dagmar Andersson, a Swedish an-

esthetist on a year’s sabbatical in Canada, said that her two-year-old son enjoyed the classes. Said Andersson: “When my son Mikael was born three months ago, Kristian was very shy and stayed with me all the time. After a couple of weeks he became very outgoing.” Children from six months to four years can enrol in swimming classes at Taylor Swimming Schools Ltd., located in a suburban shopping centre in Scarborough, Ont. Founded in 1979 by owner Keith Taylor, 28, the school has never advertised for business, but it currently has a waiting list of about 900 children—with some prospective clients signed

up by parents before they are born—for its eight-week $60 course.

Computers: Some more ambitious parents try to introduce their preschoolers to academic skills. And for the past year Montreal computer salesman Frederick Moss has been offering computer classes for threeand four-yearolds at his store, Maison Bit. Using educational games, the children quickly become skilled on the machines and even learn Logo, a computer language for children. Said Moss: “Parents want their children to be prepared for a world where computers are becoming a necessary tool.” Phyllis Simon, 37, has noted the same attitude among parents who shop at her stores, Vancouver Kidsbooks. Said Simon: “People seem to feel that unless they start preparing their children early, they are going to be left out of the job market.”

Yet some parents balk at force-feed-

ing knowledge to their children at an early age. Phil Elder, an environmental design professor at the University of Calgary, and his wife, Janet Keeping, a lawyer, have a four-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son who are not enrolled in special courses. Instead, they encourage Emily to develop her talent for drawing, constantly read books to the children and take them to the zoo, parks, children’s theatre and baseball games. Said Elder: “Emily is the kind of child who could tempt you into accelerated learning but that is putting a child under stress.”

The experts themselves are divided on the value of early learning. Those who question the trend include Berry Brazel-

ton of Harvard, a leading authority on children—who says that exposure to intense infant education may stunt a child’s emotional and creative growth (page 54). On the other side are such early-learning evangelists as Glenn Doman, 65, a physiotherapist and founder of the Better Baby Institute in Philadelphia. Doman tells parents who pay $495 (U.S.) to attend his seven-day courses that every infant is born with the potential to be greater than an Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci. He adds that unless formal instruction begins during infancy, the opportunity for intellectual supremacy is harder to realize. His prescription: daily flashcard sessions,

almost from the moment of birth, on subjects as varied as art history and Japanese. About 4,500 parents have taken the course since it was first offered in 1977, and those who cannot attend in person may select from a recently

launched line of videotaped lessons with such titles as How to Teach Your Baby Encyclopedic Knowledge and How to Get Your Baby in Superb Physical Condition.

Many of those who have pursued the Doman technique are convinced of its effectiveness. Toronto photographer Sherman Hines, 43, for one, attended a Better Baby Institute training course four years ago. Said Hines: “There is no question it has made a difference with my children.” He and his wife, Andrea, started flashing reading cards at son David (now 6) when he was 2; within a year, Hines said, David could recognize 5,000 words and could readily identify paintings by such Canadian artists as David Milne. His younger brother, Andrew, who will be 3 next month, got an even earlier start: his flashcard sessions began when he was only a few days old.

Hines says that many people object strongly to the better-baby philosophy—indeed, some of his friends now refuse to speak to him because they are convinced that he is hurting his children by forcing them to learn. But he says that Doman’s methods are valid, declaring: “Most people put their kids’ education on hold until they are 5 or 6 and then expect the school system to teach them everything. Unfortunately, by that stage it is usually too late.”

Most specialists say that early education can help a child to reach his potential once he begins formal education. But many of them disagree with Doman on the form the stimulation should take. Kagan, for one, contends that there is no evidence to suggest that using flashcards to teach children letters and numbers is beneficial to all children. And in some cases, they say, pressuring a child to learn may cause him to question his own ability and produce anxiety and stress that may impair future learning. For that reason Kagan and others urge parents to concentrate on their children’s creative and emotional development while encouraging intellectual achievement. Added Kagan: “What is really important is to foster a love of learning without pressuring the child.”

Peek-a-boo: For her part, Toronto psychologist Gopnik said that many success-oriented parents tend to overlook the education value of such traditional childhood games as peek-a-boo and drop the spoon. Those games, she added, are useful in teaching babies “that objects do not disappear when they are hidden from view and that objects go down, not up, when you drop them.” As well, research at several U.S. universities indicates that parents who _ mimic their baby’s first halting at| tempts at speech may indirectly be Q speeding their child’s grasp of language. 1 Said Gopnik: “The ability to recognize letters and numbers is something adults

think is very important to learn. But from a baby’s point of view it is really quite trivial.”

To test the effectiveness of early education Craig Ramey, 41, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, has been following the progress of 154 children, half of them enrolled in preschool classes when they were three months old or younger and half raised in whatever ways their parents chose. By the end of Grade 2 those who had attended preschool exhibited a better attitude toward learning and tended to outscore the others on IQ tests by 10 to 12 points. But Ramey said that such findings do not represent a blanket endorsement of early education techniques because the children in his study were exposed to a high-quality, comprehensive program which balanced social, emotional and cognitive experiences. In one typical exercise, when the children were three months old, instructors told parents to gaze at their children directly and imitate their gestures every time they smiled, laughed or cooed happily. Said Ramey: “Even such an apparently simple exercise helps to teach a child that he can initiate actions that cause reactions in the social world.”

Names: Even the conservative names that many parents now choose for their children seem to suggest a drive to raise miniature adults. The brief vogue for unconventional names, noticeable in the 1960s when such rock stars as Frank Zappa and Cher bestowed names like Moon Unit and Chastity on their daughters, has faded. Today singer David Bowie’s 14-year-old son answers to Joey, even though his father named him Zowie when he was born. Reading from an enrolment list, Montreal YMCA director Blomfield cited the frequent recurrance of “Rebecca, Daniel, Christopher, Nicholas, Alexandra, Lindsay, a lot of Davids,” adding that many parents use their children’s full names instead of such affectionate diminutives as Becky, Danny, Chris and Nicky. Said Glenn Cartwright, an educational psychologist at McGill University in Montreal: “I have a five-year-old child named Andrew, and we do not like anyone calling him Andy. Perhaps we are trying to get back to older, more formal values.”

The advice from most experts is that parents should not try to hurry their offspring out of childhood. Said Blomfield: “We tend to denigrate play, but play is how children develop. If we organize every part of their lives, they are not likely to become as resourceful as they might have been.” As they search for a better way to bring up baby, that is yet another message for new parents to consider.


Sherri Aikenhead

Diane Luckow


Vancouver and correspondents ’ reports.