How Not to F*** Them Up - Oliver James

I was handed this book by my wife, and told 'read this'. It's about how to look after your children, it's by Oliver James, the Guardian readers' favourite psychoanalyst, and it's effectively a follow-up to his book 'They F** You Up'.

The book has two main strands - one is that under-threes really need consistent affection from a non-depressed carer. Sounds obvious, but means that day-care, depressed parents, too much emphasis on socialisation or education are all actually rather bad. Given the emphasis I see on day-care nowadays, I was a bit surprised. I was rather unaware of the research linking day-care to raised cortisol levels, and the effects that can have.

The other strand is about how to be a good carer, mostly in terms of understanding how you work and working with that. His framework is to categorise people as Organisers, Huggers and Fleximums. I think the framework is overly simplistic, and a lot of the content here is actually case studies of people who are supposed to fit in those categories, but like many simplifications it is useful. He emphasises that people shouldn't have to be defensive their style of parenting, as long as it's working for them and their child, despite a lot of artificial controversy in this area.

The book is clearly selling a viewpoint. Despite the numerous references (many of which are just to his previous books - nice!), I don't feel I've come away with a genuinely balanced and nuanced view of the subject. This is not to say he's not basically right. For example, he's down on CBT as a way of dealing with some of the problems parents have. As someone from the psychoanalyst end of things, this is not surprising... but it also makes sense, to avoid CBT and go for a 'tell me about your childhood' kind of psychologist, if your issues are to do with your childhood!

In summary, I will take my best pseudoscientific approach, and say that I believe the argument in this book because I agree with it anyway! Taking out the research and preaching, it's a solid reminder of what you need to focus on when you have a small child. If you're too sleep-deprived to think straight, you may need it.

Posted 2011-08-24.