How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children

by Gerald Newmark, PH.D.

Published by NMI Publishers

161 pages, 1999

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Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


You've heard it before: "Kids don't come with a manual." Which, when you think about it, is probably a good thing. Look how many people screw up repairing their washing machine or giving their car a tune up by following the instructions in a book. Even a good manual could not begin to cover the myriad mysteries of childrearing. How could it? Raising a child is a sacred undertaking. With that charge comes the responsibility for and direction of another life. I mean, go ahead: mess up fixing the dishwasher. Worst case scenario you'll end up tossing the machine and heading off to buy a new one. A pain, perhaps, but not tragedy. The risks -- and potential rewards -- of childrearing are much, much greater.

In his warm and genuine book, How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children, author Gerald Newmark addresses these concerns directly and frankly:

Being a parent is one of the greatest joys that one can experience in life, but also one of the most difficult and anxiety-provoking responsibilities any of us will ever have. It is among the most important, challenging and complex tasks a human being has in a lifetime, yet we come to it almost totally unprepared, with little or no training. It is also apparent that once one is a parent, one is a parent forever, and frequently it doesn't get easier over time.

Newmark's answer -- if we're to call it that -- is not to manualize this daunting task. Rather he breaks it down into the five needs he feels that children require for emotional growth and well-being. As he writes in the introduction:

My basic thesis is that all children have five critical needs that are essential to their emotional health. These are the need to feel respected, important, accepted, included, and secure. When parents understand these basic needs, recognize their importance, and treat childrearing as a professional responsibility, they can develop an overall strategy and a consistent approach to parenting.

Though that thesis is quickly explained, it takes a while longer to deal with all of the nuances that this simple paragraph implies and includes. Seven chapters help put the five critical needs in focus. Focusing also comes with the chapter titles and affirming subtitles. For instance, chapter one is called, "The Five Critical Needs of Children, (Parenting As Though Children Really Matter)." Chapter two is "Family Situations, (A Closer Look at Behavior That Helps and Behavior That Hurts)." Each subtitle helps to underline the thought and intention that applies to that particular chapter.

Dr. Newmark comes to this work with all the right stuff. As a behavioral scientist, he's worked with schools and youth for over two decades and was the recipient of a presidential citation for the work he's done in education. Earlier in his career, Newmark worked under a seven year Ford Foundation grant as co-director of a project to develop a model school in the Los Angeles area. The results of that project were described in an earlier book, This School Belongs to You and Me: Every Learner a Teacher, Every Teacher a Learner. It practically goes without saying that he is also a parent.

How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children feels like the culmination of a lifetime's work and learning. A slender volume that nonetheless manages to get straight to the heart of the matter. Which is, when you think about it, exactly the right place to approach this particular challenge. | February 2000


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, is published by St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books.