Many of us parent by instinct, and that approach works well much of the time. Smart parenting, in addition, is really about conscious decision making: selecting choices based on what we feel is best for our children in the short term and the long term. (Decision making starts from day one: breast feed or bottle feed? Which vaccines and when? You'll see our take on the vaccine issue starting on page 392.) Many smart parents like to think of parenting as a "reverse engineering" process -- that is, always keeping the end goal in sight.
But we also realize that everybody has limited time and resources, so our book is also about balance, as we try to relieve some of the stress of parenting and also give you the essentials.
Ultimately, our goal is to teach you how to create the optimal environment for your child: an environment that's most conducive to your child thriving in all areas of life physically, emotionally, socially, and developmentally. Why? Because the latest research shows us that the environment -- as defined not only by physical space but also by the behaviors of parents and other caregivers -- is the number one determinant of your child's future in all of these realms.
In this book, which covers child health and development from birth to about age five, you're going to learn about cutting-edge research and a variety of developmental approaches. Among all of us on the authorship team, we've had fourteen children, and two of us are pediatricians -- including one who's a full-time developmental pediatrician. So we've spent much of our personal and professional lives thinking and caring about the very same issues as you. A lot has changed since the days of Dr. Benjamin Spock -- in terms of how the world works, the challenges of parenting that your parents didn't face, and what we've discovered about how a child's mind and body develop.
You'll learn that kids are like dolphins (both ping their needs to their parents). You'll learn that some of the best parenting lessons are taught by children (they subtly send messages about where their skills, talents, and desires lie). You'll learn that kids actually learn more by doing less (cool brain section up ahead!). You'll learn that children are like mirrors (their brains are, actually), reflecting behavior that you, their caregivers, and other influential people in their lives model. And you'll learn that the most powerful messages you send your kids -- from day one all the way up to day 6,574 -- may involve absolutely no words at all.
We'll teach you about these amazing insights the best way we know how -- through biology. Ultimately, all of these lessons do come down to biology, even the ones that you wouldn't necessarily think would, like behavior. After all, we've always believed that explaining "why" can make the "what to do" much, much easier.
Along the way, we're going to ask you to join in a game of pretend, as you assume a metaphorical role as river guide. See, the way we think about child development -- and smart parenting -- is to imagine a child's journey through life as a boat ride down a long, often unpredictable river. You, as the guide, help control the direction and speed,while your youngster sits back and takes in everything around him (including watching you, so that he can eventually learn to paddle or steer on his own). This analogy, we hope, will help you understand parenting on several levels: