Understanding Children’s Behaviour: By Dr Dinah Jayson

This is one of the Family Doctor Books put out by the British Medical Association. At £4.95 for 208 pages of useful information it is clearly aimed at a mass readership, and in the introduction it says that the book is intended for “anyone bringing up, caring for or working with children – parents, carers, teachers or youth workers alike”, while acknowledging that its main target group is parents.It has a number of main sections:

– normal development and behaviour,

– understanding children’s difficult behaviours,

– common behavioural problems,

– medical and psychiatric conditions,

– finding solutions to problem behaviour,

– surviving parenthood,

– sources of help,

plus conclusions and useful information.

The book is clearly and logically laid out and has summaries of the key points for each section. The information at the end provides lots of contact details for specialist services. The advice which Dr Jayson offers is good common sense, consistent with professional thinking, and the book should be of real help to its main target readership. I did not find anything in the book with which I disagreed and I can recommend parents to buy it. It has already been revised a number of times, an so it must be reaching a sizeable readership.

We decided to review this book, however, because of its claims to be of use to professionals working with children, and in this respect we have a few points of unease.

The first is that some of the advice is so bland and obvious that it hardly merits saying, such as the first key point, “Understanding your child’s behaviour will put you in a better position to deal with the situation”(p.3) or “Other problem behaviours include stealing, aggression and truancy” (p.73) or “Get help if you do not succeed” (p.143).

Much of the advice is generalised. It might be argued that this is inevitable, but if the book is really to be considered for professionals it needs more factual detail, and greater concentration on serious problem behaviour. The book is more useful where it is more factual, such as the ages at which children might be expected to develop skills, or the table about the amount of sleep children require (p.43).

The second main point is related. A way of countering the danger of overgeneralisation would be to include short case examples of problems and how they have been overcome. This would ground the general observations in real situations with which readers might be able to identify.

Thirdly, the book appears to be aimed primarily at parents of young children, with only passing references to older children and young people. The introduction mentioned “teachers and youth workers” as possible readers. I am not sure if this is meant to cover all varieties of child care worker but, in view of the emphasis on younger children, the book would probably be of more use to play group workers and nursery nurses, for example, than youth workers and residential child care workers dealing with young people.

Fourthly, perhaps in concentrating on younger children, the book has not really dealt with serious behaviour problems. Where there are problems, it is usually recommended that help is sought. This is good advice for parents, but not enough for professionals.

Fifthly, some contentious problems seem to have been ducked or under-represented. There is nothing in the index about smacking or punishment, and the only reference to control focused on a parent who was losing it (pp.135 ff.). So Dr Jayson neither condones nor rejects smacking. I think that a book like this needs to take a reasoned stance on this subject to help parents know what to do, and the consequences of different approaches, especially as the summertime riots are being blamed on parents not smacking their children.

There are only a dozen lines on drug abuse, giving only the most general indications of what parents might need to look for. Again, sexual problems, including gender identity, sexualised behaviour and sexual abuse are all encompassed in two pages.

Finally, the author was obviously having to talk about boys and girls, and this presents a drafting problem. In law I understand that references are made to ‘he’ and ‘him’ on the understanding that this covers both sexes. Alternatively, authors can use the clumsy ‘s/he’ and ‘him/her’ or write everything in the plural about children, but this cuts out references to single children. Dr Jayson decided to go for random use of both genders, which I found quite comprehensible but also slightly irritating. There is no easy answer.

In summary, this book is fine for parents, and will be suitable for some professionals starting work with young children, but it will be of limited use to those whose bread and butter is having to deal with young people presenting serious problem behaviour.

Jayson, Dinah (2004, updated 2008) Understanding Children’s Behaviour

Family Doctor Publications

ISBN 978 – 1 903474 – 20 – 4

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