Child Discipline (A Cautionary Article)

Little Willie, with a curse
Threw the teapot at the nurse.
When it struck her on the nose,
His father cheered, “How straight he throws!”


Published in The Westminster Problems Book, 1908.

Naughty Kids “How do I keep my child from becoming spoiled?” In my line of work, parents of young children often ask me questions such as this. Of course, as child development is my specialty, I try my best to guide parents toward solutions and resources that will help them to effectively discipline their children. There is a tremendous wealth of information on child-rearing these days – enough to make one’s head spin. I will not bother to publish links to my favorite resources, except for this beautifully written article I recently read, by John Robbins, which addresses the ways in which we often spoil our children in today’s culture: What Really Spoils Our Children? Here is one of my favorite exerpts from the article (although I highly recommend that parents read the entire piece):

It’s not love that spoils our kids. They become spoiled when we ply them with too many toys, too much stimulation, and too much of the wrong kind of attention. They become spoiled when they learn, often from our example, to identify their self-worth with others’ approval, with how they look, with how much stuff they have, with how expensive their clothes are, or with how large their homes are.

I will not pretend to be a perfect parent. I, too, am guilty of overindulging my children, of not enforcing consistent discipline at times, and of not insisting often enough that they help out with housework (though my children will beg to differ). But I certainly try, as every good parent does, to teach my children how to become disciplined, kind, thoughtful, creative, productive adults. And, like every good parent, I occasionally seek child-rearing advice from other wise people, such as Hilaire Beloc. demon child spoiled teen

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Hilaire Beloc? Why, his Cautionary Tales for Children have been used by good parents to frighten their children into good behavior since 1907. Not only is the book filled with  sensible and practical moral instruction to prevent children from growing up to become spoiled brats, but the book is also filled with amusing and lighthearted bedtime stories, such as the story ofAugustus: Who would not have any Soup Today or George: Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions. Here is one of my absolute favorite anecdotes:

Muchas Gracias, Dr. Seuss (Reflections on Learning a Language)

Okay, I am really not sure if I am ready to do this – at least not well, but I am going to attempt it anyway. Today, I shall write a blog post almost entirely in Spanish. I welcome corrections from Spanish speakers, but please be kind, as I am still far from fluent.

(Se puede escuchar esta entrada aquí):

Bueno, no sé la razón por qué todavia pienso que estoy tan lejos de hablar con fluidez. La verdad es que ahora, yo puedo entender mucho, y soy capaz de expresarme en alguna manera, aunque a menudo cometo errores o digo algo de una forma sencilla aunque en ingles, lo hubiera dicho de una forma mas complicada. Quizá es que siempre me he encantado el lenguaje, y a las palabras. De mi propia idioma, tengo una gran maestría, y supongo que hasta el dia cuando mis habilidades con castellano son el igual de las con ingles, yo pensaré que mi castellano no es muy bien.

el conejito

Como yo escribí en una entrada anterior, he estado estudiando castellano desde niñez. En aquellos dias, todo lo que yo tenia para aprender el idioma fue un libro muy chistoso por Dr. Seuss que se llamó The Cat in the Hat Dictionary in Spanish and English. A causa de aquel libro, me enamoré de una idioma.

Estas dias, todavia estoy estudiando castellano. Pero ahora estoy aprendiendo por leer libros mas grandes (Isabel Allende, a este momento), leer y escuchar las noticias, mirar programas y deportes en la television, escuchando y cantando canciones (como La Araña Pequeñita. Sí, es verdad. Una canción muy profunda, ya sé. Violenta, tambien. ¡Pobrecita araña!).  Ademas, yo practico por leer y escribir poesía en castellano (algo que me cuesta hacer, porque poesía es casi una idioma por si solo).

¿Y cuando hablo con otras personas? Ayyy…pues, eso es un poco más difícil. Para empezar, estoy una persona muy timida. Aún cuando estoy rodeada por otra gente, yo apenas digo nada – ni siquiera en ingles. Sin embargo, tengo suerte de tener un trabajo en que tengo oportunidades una vez en cuando para hablar castellano con los niños pequeños y sus madres. Estoy aprendiendo mucho de ellos, y asimismo, ellos están aprendiendo ingles de mi. De hecho, recien yo tenia una conversación con una de las madres en mi programa, durante que ella me preguntó muchas preguntas sobre el desarollo de su bebe. Claro, es la naturaleza de mi trabajo para responder a tales preguntas, pero yo no sabia que yo podia hacerlo en castellano hasta que lo hice. ¡Qué sentimiento de éxito! Tal vez todavia no tengo una gran maestría del idioma, ni puedo hablar con fluidez (ni escribir buen poesia, tampoco), pero puedo hacerlo. Puedo hablar castellano, la lengua bella a que yo he amado ya desde niñez. Y tal vez un dia, yo llegaré a estar menos tímida y hablar más con otras personas hispanohablantes, y si estoy tan afortunada, yo llegaré a cumplir mi sueño de viajar a un otro pais para estudiar el idioma un rato por una escuela de lenguas. Pero por el momento, voy a seguir estudiando y practicando castellano, y cantando La Araña Pequenita, y me intentaré sentir contenta con todo lo que he logrado desde aquellos dias cuando yo era niña, estudiando español con Dr. Seuss. (Muchas gracias, Dr. Seuss!)

La Araña Pequenita Cat in the Hat Dictionary in Spanish

Just Can’t Get Enough Great Books

Some books are like a light meal.  Memoirs of a Geisha, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Joy Luck Club all come to mind. They are pleasant, enjoyable to read, and just filling enough to take off the edge. Other books are like a healthy snack — tasty, good while it lasts, but not at all filling, like many young adult novels, and nearly anything by Stephen King. Of course, there is also book candy — those delicious, melt-in-your mouth reads that are thrilling every now and then, but eat too much, and you get a stomach ache. Twilight, anyone? Better yet, how about 50 Shades of Gray? (Did I actually read this? I plead the fifth!).

But I am an avid reader with a voracious appetite. For readers such as I, only one thing can feed our never-ending hunger: Great Books. What are Great Books, you ask? Well, Wikipedia’s article has a very simple definition: “The great books are those books that are believed to constitute an essential foundation in the literature of Western culture.” Philosopher Mortimer Adler goes on to define great books by these three fundamental criteria:

  • the book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
  • the book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit
  • the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.

These definitions are all true, but I also believe that great books and great works of literature are the books that nourish our minds and raise within us the questions which we never dared to ask ourselves, the moral dilemmas that are common to all of humankind. Great books examine human nature, tear it open, and resurrect it in a believable and honest way. They reach beyond the superficial surface and grab our spirits until we are left shaken and stirred and inspired.

Too much? Sorry, I got a little carried away. I have been very busy lately devouring great books, both in English and Spanish. Here is a list of a few great books which I have read (or re-read) fairly recently. This is not necessarily a list of favorites, for it is very difficult to create such a list…it is far too long. But here are a few which are very much worth reading. Haven’t tried these books yet? Then grab one, and curl up in your favorite reading spot. Already read the entire list? Well then, that’s just…great.

10 Great Great Books

1. Brave New World     —    Aldous Huxley

2. Northanger Abbey  —  Jane Austen

3. A Tale of Two Cities  —  Charles Dickens

4. Animal Farm  —  George Orwell

5. The Odyssey  —  Homer 

6. Mansfield Park  —  Jane Austen

7. Twelfth Night  —  Williams Shakespeare

8. Moby Dick  —  Herman Melville

9. Atlas Shrugged  —  Ayn Rand

10. Cien Años de Soledad  —  Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Surrounded By Friends (No Kindles Allowed)

The Kindle is an impressive bit of technology. Really. I can see why so many people love it. Just download a few dozen books, and voila! An entire library in the palm of your hand. No need to surround yourself with cluttered shelves overflowing with books. Such speed! Such convenience! Such an improvement, right?

For some, yes. But not for me. You see, books are more than just clutter for me. During a lonely childhood, books were my faithful companions. Throughout a turbulent adolescence, they were a source of comfort. Whenever the world has grown too noisy, books have been there to soothe me with a gentle whisper of rustling pages and the faint smell of dust and ink.

Many people, I imagine, would prefer to sit in a stark, spotless room and read stories on the glowing screen of an e-reader. But in my daydreams, I am curled up in a soft, shabby chair, worn novel in hand, surrounded by shelves overflowing with my very best friends.

Favorite Books of All-Time

(Note: This list could change at any time, as I am always reading and discovering great new literature).

To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee

East of Eden — John Steinbeck

A Tale of Two Cities — Charles Dickens

David Copperfield — Charles Dickens

Harry Potter Series — J.K. Rowling

The Lottery (a short story) — Shirley Jackson

Brave New World — Aldous Huxley

About Love and Other Stories — Anton Chekov

Pride & Prejudice — Jane Austin

Jane Eyre — Charlotte Brontë

Inherit the Wind — Jerome Lawrence

Websites for Readers


1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die