Parents' survival course

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 1995, 12:00am

Just Kids: How to Survive the Twos to Twelves, John Murray $170 MANY new parents discover that they have suddenly become part of a very large club. There is something about having a child that pushes parents to seek out other parents, advice, books - anything that helps them feel that what happens within the confines of their home is normal, and however difficult, will eventually pass.

From the moment a baby is born parents seek out other parents having a similar problem with colic, teething or weaning.

It doesn't stop with babyhood. Parent and toddler play-groups are full of parents comparing notes on how they get their toddlers to eat. There is always a small huddle of parents at dinner parties bemoaning the latest fashion in trainers among pre-teens.

Letting it all hang out does after all make us feel better, even if it does not solve the problem of monster kids.

This is the idea behind Michael Rosen's book. It is not just a survival manual but a collection of anecdotes, homilies and common-sense advice which makes you feel you are not alone, however amateurish you feel your parenting may be.

And yes, there are parents who can deal with their children with humour, while not denying that what they'd really love to do is wring their scraggy little necks.

No parent of young children can claim to be an expert. Having just got the hang of dealing with the tantrums of a two-year-old, suddenly they find their toddler has turned into an argumentative and bossy three-year-old and a new strategy is required.

Those who consider themselves to have a black-belt in parenthood have merely survived the onslaught better than the rest of us. The only thing you can become expert at is muddling through.

But Rosen is not just trying to prepare us for the worst excesses of offspring behaviour. Nor is he trying to raise a few laughs from the most basic of sit-coms: family life.

He tackles various topical issues such as sex education, divorce and bullying with level-headed sensitivity.

As he says in his introduction to the book: 'Even minor changes can, at first appear mysterious and unsettling, so that the first thing we need to do about it is talk. What's happening? Why is it happening? What can we do about it?' Interspersed with anecdotes from his own life as a father and step-father of five, the book is eminently readable.

It is divided into short topics which a busy parent can dip into at random. Subjects tackled include bedtimes, computers, food and grandparents.

There is humour in the way that children inevitably get the better of their dad, and the way in which dad tries to get to the root of the psychology behind the seemingly illogical behaviour. And it fills a niche in the child-care market.

Why is it that Dr Spock told us so much about weaning and potty training but omitted to tell us how to get a nine-year-old to tidy his room? Rosen has no such inhibitions: 'When you say 'take one toy at a time and put it where it goes', they look amazed and baffled. When you say 'take each item of dirty clothing and put it in the dirty washing basket', they look insulted. When you say 'take each item of clean clothing and put them in the drawers we have provided', they look appalled. If you give them instructions and then leave the room you discover three hours later that all they have done is put one piece of Lego in a box and since then they've been reading a book . . .' Penelope Leach may tell you how to discipline a child but only a parent can tell you if such methods work.

Many parents are convinced that Hong Kong is a difficult place to bring up children. They are more inclined to answer back, to be stubborn, to play up, to be hyperactive.

It may come as a surprise to discover that parents everywhere feel it must be something special in their home environment that makes their kids particularly difficult to deal with.

But like parents anywhere, you keep your wits about you, and armed with Rosen's combat-readiness guide, you can discover that after all, child-rearing is funny.

Step back, laugh a little, take advice from those who have been through it before. They are, after all, just kids.