BOOK REVIEW
by Henry Meininger

 

 

The Power of Discord” is a new book by Dr. Ed Tronick and Dr. Claudia M. Gold.  It is about early infancy. A good introduction to the book is Dr. Tronick’s famous still-face experiment. You can view it on your computer by going to “Ed Tronick still-face” on Google.


You will see a baby less than one year of age wiggling and making sounds, typical baby behavior, seemingly meaningless. The baby is in a chair facing its mother. The baby wiggles and makes jerky, uncoordinated movements. While they seem meaningless, the book points out that they are not meaningless at all. They are attempts by the infant to communicate with that friendly face across from her.


Then the mother changes her expression from the friendly, smiling face to no expression at all. Hence the title still-face. The baby is visibly upset—she screeches and begins to wiggle uncomfortably. Only when the mother resumes her friendly smile does the baby calm down. It becomes quite clear to the viewer that the jerky movements of the infant are more than “that is typical baby behavior. It means nothing.”


It does mean something. When the baby points her fingers this way and that, she is trying to communicate with her mother. The mishaps and the messiness of such early attempts at communication are not ignored by the book. The messiness of the interaction becomes the subtitle, “When the ups and downs of relationships are the secret to building intimacy, resilience and trust.” In other words, the disappointments and the failures of early communication are not papered over, or ignored. They are the building blocks of a strong individual, ready to face the disappointments and hardships of life.


Another book, written by Dr. Gold a few years earlier, is “The Silenced Child.” Here we are not talking about newborns but children who can think. In “The Silenced Child,” Dr. Gold shows the tremendous power of listening in parent/child and doctor/patient relationships. Through vivid stories, perceptive insights and contemporary research, she shows the way children grow from these relationships and how being heard actually changes their brains.


On the cover of the book is a young girl, about six years old, looking up to an adult—perhaps her mother or father—with a distinctly quizzical expression, as though she were saying, “Oh Yeah!” It is obvious that she has her own ideas, probably different from the grownups. But that is not bad. In fact, it is good. Because in this confused world, with an unresolved pandemic and a dysfunctional government and our democracy challenged, our children and grandchildren need to be strong as they become adults.


Claudia is my daughter. She is a pediatrician and infant-family specialist. Ed Tronick, Ph.D., is a developmental neuroscientist and clinical psychologist.