Calgary Sun

Thursday, April 1, 1999

Toddler experts should give their heads a rattle

Calgary Sun

When our daughter was an infant, I ran across a bizarre statement in a book by an "expert."

Babies can't smile until they're more than six months old, he said.

I put down the book and looked at baby. She was five months old and gurgling.

I smiled at her and she scrunched her tiny face that in a way that sure looked like smiling to me.

Watching her made me feel terrific. I hugged her. We seemed like a happy pair, baby and dad.

But the book considered me just another ignorant Canadian parent.

It said clearly that the smile of an infant is not really a happy emotion. It's just gas.

Every parent I know will tell you that the only gas is between the ears of baby experts who make such claims.

I had a choice back then.

I could believe the doctor and lose half the joy of having a little child. (run for the stomach medicine, dear -- the baby's happy again!)

Or I could relax, glow at my child's smile, trust my instincts -- and trust the experts only when their instincts matched mine.

Today, every instinct tells me not to trust the absurd new study on child-rearing. This study, conducted by something called the Invest In Kids Foundation, paints the large majority of Canadian parents as ignorant louts.

It says 82% of parents don't realize infants cannot manipulate them; 82% are not aware that babies can be depressed; and 66% don't know a toddler's experiences will affect later school performance.

The experts behind this study -- partly funded by your federal government -- want the government to be more involved in raising kids.

If you sense yet another interest group on the sniff for more funding, I'd say you're absolutely right.

The arrogance of this tripe is astounding.

First, it assumes the experts know everything that goes on in a child's mind, and parents don't.

Just as that doctor was certain that my baby couldn't smile, these people know that babies cannot manipulate and can be depressed.

Well, my instinct tells me that babies are very manipulative -- in the sense that they scream for food, a blanket, or a new diaper. To ensure their success, nature gave them unbelievably effective sirens and stink bombs.

Parents just serve their needs -- that's our job -- without pondering the metaphysics of manipulation.

Isn't that enough?

I suppose babies can be depressed, although in all my dealings with my kid's good days and bad days, I never once thought of it that way.

Life with an infant is far more urgent.

She's crying. Hug her quick. She looks sad. Offer her a toy or coo to her. She's crying. Check the diaper.

I thought that's what parents were supposed to do.

But now I realize that I lacked vital knowledge because I failed to ponder the issue of infant depression.

As for the claim that 66% of parents don't realize toddlerhood affects later learning, I think the figure is bogus.

But even if parents aren't aware of this precise fact, the huge majority still buy toys and books for their little kids, play with them and read them bedtime stories.

Sure, some parents are stupid, violent and neglectful (Baby Amber's mom being an extreme example.)

But this study questions the decency and wisdom of the great majority of Canadian families. Frankly, it gives me gas.

Copyright© 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.