Book Review: The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn.

I recently came across an article in The Washington Post quoting a blog post by Alfie Kohn. Intrigued by his thoughts, I decided to read his book The Myth of the Spoiled Child. And I have to say I’m in awe of his writing. He has managed to distill and summarize the vast amounts of research that I have been reading for the last ten years, in a very accessible and often humorous way. Perfect for anyone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to read all these studies for themselves.

The title of the book pretty much sums up what it’s about. And yet he covers a lot more ground than you might at first think. He has devised many useful phrases and acronyms to describe the concepts he introduces. These concepts are not so much “theories” in the way that we commonly think of that word, but more in the scientific meaning as in observable concepts that are backed up by empirical data and studies.

Some of these phrases include “working-with” vs “doing-to” parenting. The former being the kind of parenting I have naturally fallen into after doing my own research. He also has come up with the term BGUTI (rhymes with duty) for “Better Get Used To It”, which is where people say that the only way for children to deal with hardships in adulthood is to experience them during childhood. He quotes research that shows that this doesn’t work, and makes a case for simply informing children about hardships without subjecting them to them:

After all, to teach children how to handle a fire emergency, we talk to them about the dangers of smoke inhalation and advise them where to go when the alarm sounds. We don’t actually set them on fire.

He has chapters on Self-Esteem, Self-Discipline, and other subjects frequently discussed by parents and educators. He examines the studies, not just relying on sensationalist headlines in newspapers. Very similar to how I approach these subjects.

Much like Ross Greene’s The Explosive Child (another paradigm changing book), he challenges the “common sense” assumptions people make about children, about parenting, about humans in general. And like that book, this book is not an “autism book”. It is applicable to autistics, sure, but only insofar as it’s applicable to all humans. Though his views are often shared by autistic advocates when demonstrating the wrongs of ABA.

And because his views apply universally to all humans, I have no hesitation is recommending this book to all humans. Really, everyone should read it, even if you don’t have children of your own.

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