Magic Words


It’s such a basic word. One syllable, easy to pronounce, with a satisfying purse of the lips in the beginning and a drawn out middle that makes you smile if you stretch it out. As your mother might’ve once said, it is, indeed, a “Magic Word.”

So why is it so difficult for your child to say?

There could be a scientific answer to that aggravation. In the book “Parentology” by Dalton Conley, you’ll see how manners and more are now coming from the lab.

From the moment a dad- or mom-to-be announces they’re expecting, they usually receive overwhelming amounts of parenting advice. That’s because, says Conley, we lack a “common culture,” and we’re “constantly improvising” on child-raising.

To counteract that childrearing willy-nilliness, Conley says that he raised his kids with “parentology,” a method which “involves first and foremost reading and deciphering the scientific literature… and applying them to your kids.”

When he and his then-wife were expecting their firstborn, for instance, he says they carefully researched how birth weight affects a fetus – not just immediately, but in decades to come: their daughter E was born prematurely, which could have affected her likelihood of graduating high school. Maternal experiences also matter; pregnant mothers living near the epicenter of Chilean earthquakes birthed children who “suffered in their reading and math scores later on.”

A kid born in the fall does “best,” says Conley, and what you name that kid really does matter. Siblings (and space between them) might make a difference in a child’s future socioeconomic success, perhaps because they affect parental involvement. And talking to your kids as babies – even if it’s just narrating your day or reading aloud – can be a major key in development.

Know the statistics about schools and homework, and don’t worry about the former too much. Let your kids have “a healthy dose of germs” and be open to having pets; both might help boost immune systems. Insist that manners extend to people in all walks of life, and teach the difference between “front stage and backstage.” And don’t sweat it if you make a mistake: parental actions mean a lot, but so does your child’s DNA.

If you’re a parent, you may take away a lot of information in “Parentology.” Or, on the flip-side, you might also rear up in horror.

As for me, I liked this book. Author and social scientist Dalton Conley meshes parenting with science quite nicely but it’s important to note that, in the beginning, he says one of the hallmarks of Parentology is “drawing your own conclusions…” That might not include allowing your child to aim profanity at you (as Conley does) or co-sleeping well into childhood (ditto) but, as he indicates, it worked for his family. Go back and read that again: “drawing your own conclusions…”

In other words, like with most parenting books, use what you can here and throw out the rest. You might be happy with your own parenting style, but what you’ll find in “Parentology” may also make you pleased.

If you’re a parent, you know by now that a sense of humor is imperative – which is why you may also want to look at “How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane” by Johanna Stein. No, it won’t teach you how to put a baby down for a nap or how to lose those last 10 pounds of baby weight… but it will teach you how to laugh about both.