A Catholic Alternative to Dr. Spock

Saturday Book Pick: An experienced father takes a look at Ray Guarendi’s latest book, Raising Good Kids.

As a father of four children between the ages of 6 and 12, I need all the help I can get. But I don’t have time to read books on childrearing because I’m too busy actually doing it.

Before our first was born, I bought and tried to read Benjamin Spock’s 1946 tome Baby and Child Care, but I didn’t get too far before I was knee deep in diapers and rattles; so I checked Spock only when our baby showed signs of illness. Regardless of what you think of Spock’s philosophy, his book’s length discouraged me.

Another doctor, Dr. Ray Guarendi, a father of 10, radio-show host and clinical psychologist (and Register “Family Matters” columnist), has written a book a parent actually has time to read. Raising Good Kids: Back to Family Basics , is only 64 pages long, but it has taught me more than Spock’s book. Of course, Guarendi is not covering the diaper-rattle front or illness, but he does give a succinct overview of basics for childrearing when you get beyond those. And the basics are: “Time, communication, discipline, respect, morality.” That is, things we know already but often have trouble doing.

Discipline troubles me the most. Discipline, Guarendi writes, is love in action, “establishing limits and expectations backed by consequences.” I understand that, but I squirm in self-recognition when Guarendi says warning your child a bunch of times until you hit a high decibel level is not discipline, but “inaction.” The basics of discipline, he says, are the following: Use fewer words; if you say it, mean it; act early in the chain of misconduct; employ the three Cs: calm, consistency, consequences.

And this passage on listening struck home with me:

… ‘good talks’ can erupt at anytime, anywhere, about anything. And I’d better be ready to put down my book, mute the TV (turning it off might be asking a bit much), stay awake a little longer, and postpone for a few minutes, in my mind, that all-consuming event or chore. As I look back, I see how easy it was to let those times of spontaneous “Dad, did you ever …” or “Do you know what happened to me today?” skip by, as I was locked into my own thoughts or pursuits.

How many of us have thus missed what could have been a moment of grace? But, Guarendi contends, just because we fall short of our moral standards does not mean that we can teach only by example. The more we walk our talk, the more credibility and authority we will have. But we shouldn’t lower our standards. “In short,” he asks, “will you accept bad behavior from your children because you yourself do the same?”

Guarendi writes in a friendly but no-nonsense way that wins you over. The only thing that sometimes bothered me was when his sense of humor turned a bit too flippant and chatty.

But, overall, I highly recommend this book. I’ve always noticed that when I have effectively disciplined one of my children, a part of them seems reassured by running into the limit, even as they vociferously protest. I tell them, “If I didn’t love you, I’d let you do whatever you want.” Of course, the middle school son replies, “Stop loving me so much, Dad.”

In Raising Good Kids, Guarendi shows you how to never stop loving them so much.

Register correspondent Frank Freeman writes from Saco, Maine.



Back to Family Basics

By Dr. Ray Guarendi

Our Sunday Visitor, 2011

64 pages, $6.95

To order: osv.com

(800) 348-2440


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