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Famous baby doctor to dispense advice

T. Berry Brazelton, a child development expert, will talk with bay area parents this week.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 9, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- He is the country's most renowned baby doctor. His testimony is sought by Congress, and his many books are read by parents around the world.

But T. Berry Brazelton's central advice to parents is simple. Hugs and family dinners are what kids need most these days.

When this child development expert and family advocate talks with parents Wednesday night at Bayfront Center's Mahaffey Theater, he will tell them love is the most important tool for raising children, but discipline is close on its heels. His talk, titled "Stresses and Supports for Today's Families," is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. and costs $25 a person.

"When you come home at the end of each day, make sure you sit right down with the kids. Don't go to the kitchen or the bathroom or whatever," he said. "Sit down and hug them and get close again. Then ask them to help you fix dinner and do it together."

Even if one or both parents spend most of their time working outside the home, their energy can still be focused more on their families than their jobs.

"Right now, after this nightmare in New York, kids are so worried, that structure is absolutely critical," Brazelton said in a telephone interview. "Breakfast and dinner ought to be with the whole family and everybody talking and airing questions and concerns with each other."

But it's not all about quality time and love. Brazelton, a sharp critic of spanking, thinks we need much more discipline in our kids' lives, too.

"Discipline is teaching, not punishing. With all the violence we have to live with, I don't think we should pass along the idea that violence is how we stop things," he said. He advocates doing anything that stops the cycle when children act up.

"Hold them, talk to them, give them timeout. Then go in and get close again and say: "I love you, and I'm going to stop you every time until you can stop yourself,' " he said. Parents need to be consistent and patient. They need to think in terms of long-term goals and not expect their children's problem behavior to be corrected right away.

Brazelton is considered this generation's Dr. Spock. But with his children grown, he admits he doesn't have hands-on experience raising children in today's environment. Still, he works hard to relate.

"I'm talking with my four grown children and learning a lot from them," he said. "And I'm going around the country talking with parents, like I will be doing in St. Petersburg, every month."

He has also started writing with a new associate who is a child psychiatrist raising his own teenagers.

Brazelton, who lives in Boston, is known for his "touchpoints," predictable times of child development when children enter new territory and really need their parents helping them along. He will be discussing touchpoints during his talk Wednesday night as well as taking questions from the audience.

Call (727) 895-5018 for information.

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