Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview With Dr. Jenn Berman, Author of "SuperBaby"

I don't know how Dr. Jenn Berman does it.  She is a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show and is a regular on The Today Show, The Early Show, and CNN. She hosts a call-in advice show on Sirius/XM’s Cosmo Radio. Dr. Jenn writes an award winning “Dr. Jenn” parenting column for Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other magazines and is on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine. She also has an eco-friendly clothing line for adults and children called Retail Therapy. On top of all of this, she is also the married mom of twin girls! In 2007, in addition to everything else Dr. Jenn has on her plate, her book "The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids" was released. Now, just a few years later, she has a new book "SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years". Dr. Jenn was nice enough to send me an advance copy of the book and take some time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions.

I had only read through the first few chapters when I knew I really liked it! Visually, it looks great, with crisp graphics and highlighted sidebars from experts (tons of experts! More on that later). Chapters are broken down into the 12 concepts Dr. Jenn focuses on, which makes it possible to simply read a chapter about a particular topic you might be currently interested in; however, every one of the 12 chapters is so full of interesting information and ideas that you probably won't want to skip anything! 

The Twin Coach: Your first book, "The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids", was very successful and covered a great many areas one struggles with when raising children; I am very interested to know what inspired you to write this next book and what makes it different from the first.

Dr. Jenn: I love preschool through elementary age kids so writing "The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids" was very natural for me. By the time I wrote that book I had been writing my “Dr. Jenn” parenting column for Los Angeles Family Magazine for five years and had been a therapist, helping my clients raise their children for more years than I would like to admit. I love that age group. As a therapist and a person, I love being able to talk to kids and get into their heads. For me the first three years was much more mysterious. I had a lot of questions of my own.

I wrote "SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years" because I wasn’t able to find all the information I needed in one book. There are a lot of great books out there about infant development but there wasn’t one that covered all the aspects: the psychology of parenting, reducing toxins, nutrition, language development, sign language, baby massage, kangaroo care, scheduling, sleep, responding to cues, foreign language, television, child care, and picking a preschool; so I felt I had to write it myself. I looked at all the questions that my clients, readers, listeners and viewers have been asking me over the years. I also looked to address the questions I encountered as a mom and tried to answer all of them in this book.

You don’t have to be “Type A” to want your child to have a head start in life. Let’s face it, we all want that. I love doing research. For me, reading about the latest study on language development or talking to an expert in toxic chemicals, is fascinating. I learned so much while researching and writing "SuperBaby" that it really made me a better parent. I think any parent who reads the book will have the same experience.

TTC: In the not too distant past, parents felt that flash cards, "Baby Einstein" videos and educational toys would give children every advantage they didn't have growing up; I get the sense from your book that this is not what you had in mind when you chose the title: "SuperBaby".

DJ: You are right. I start the book by saying, “SuperBaby" is not a book about how to create an überbaby. It has not been written to burden you with new and expensive things that you have to do to raise the perfect genius-child.” To me raising a superbaby is not just about intelligence or admission into the right preschool or college; it is about raising a child who is empathic, resilient, and has what experts call emotional intelligence, the ability to regulate one’s emotions and read the cues of others. We know that early relationships and attachment experiences are central in shaping children’s social development. Following the suggestions in this book, especially those about parent-child communication, will help create the foundation for these important psychological strengths.

That said, we now know that children are born with an IQ range that can vary as much as thirty points, depending upon outside factors. While it is believed that “nature” is responsible for 50 percent of intellectual development, the other 50 percent is a result of “nurture.” Whether or not a child reaches her potential depends on her environment, experiences, and relationships. There are a lot of misconceptions about what helps children fulfill that thirty point potential. I think most parents will be surprised when they read the research in my book.

TTC: There is so much information from so-called experts on how to raise well-adjusted kids; how did you narrow down what was important to just 12 key ideas?

DJ: I started out with twenty but had to narrow it down. Maybe the next book will be about the other eight I didn’t get to write about. After all the research I did and looking at my own experience raising my own children, it became really clear to me what was most important.

My original background is in journalism and I had to rely on that training a lot to write this book. At first I was a little apprehensive about writing the last two chapters which are on reducing toxins in the home and nutrition but after what I learned I felt I would have been remiss if I did not include these chapters. Because of children’s developing brains, fast metabolisms, and immature immune systems, they are particularly vulnerable to harmful reactions to chemicals, hormones, and additives. While I am not a toxicologist or a dietician, I have relied on my journalistic skills, research, and interviews with top experts in the field, as well as my own judgment, to write this book. I hope this experience opens people’s eyes the way it has opened mine.

TTC: During your research to put together these 12 key factors in giving children the best start in life, I assume you were trying these methods out with your own children; did you find any of them challenging to adopt or were you surprised by the immediate effects of any of them?

DJ: I did everything I suggest in my book with my own children. Some I did better than others, which I talk about in more detail in the book. As a therapist, I often tell my clients that I would not ask them to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. As an author, I am no different. Some of my suggestions gave me instant gratification, like the scripts I recommend for tantrum reduction. Others, like learning baby sign language, took more time. I must admit I was doubtful myself that all the time I spent signing with my daughters would ever make a difference. But my doubts quickly disappeared the first time one of my daughters, who wasn’t even a year old, signed to me. Her new ability to ask for the “milk” that she wanted opened the door to communication for us and reduced her frustration tremendously. It also helped us get closer and have a better understanding of each other.

When I chose to expose my children to a foreign language, I had the same reservations I had about signing with them, but since I had done the research and believed what I read, I continued to read books and play and listen to music in other languages. I now have soon-to-be four year old daughters who speak and understand both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese—and there are no native speakers in the house.

TTC: You have been a therapist and parenting expert for many years; how has the birth of your own children (twins, Quincy and Mendez, age 4) changed your perspective on what you do?

DJ: I now find the first three years to be really fascinating. I don’t think being a parent has changed my perspective so much as it has made me more curious about the early years.

TTC: Like you and me, many of my readers are parents of multiples who sometimes feel that we can barely get ourselves out of the house in the morning! What do you say to the new, overwhelmed parents of twins who feel that they just can't find the time to incorporate any more expert suggestions into their lives?

DJ: This book is filled with suggestions to make your life easier. I share information about how to get your child on a schedule (with sample schedules), how to create a bedtime ritual, easy scripts to help parents avoid tantrums, simple tips to occupy your child so you don’t have to turn on the television, and so much more. I also have illustrations of baby massage and sign language so you can try samples of both without buying ten other books. Sure there are some suggestions that are more time consuming. But sometimes as parents we have to pay up front in time and energy to get the results we want for the future. The book is filled with hundreds of suggestions for parents to pick and choose from. Not every suggestion will be right for every family but I do believe there is something there for every parent.

TTC:  Tell me about your “From the Experts” sidebars. What made you decide to do them?

DJ: I was at an event at [L.A. eco-friendly children's boutique] The Little Seed with Christopher Gavigan, the CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, telling him about my book when he offered to write me a sidebar. I thought it was such a great idea. Because of my experience as a writer, I have access to some really amazing experts. I wanted to give my readers that same access within the book. As soon as I started reaching out to these professionals and organizations I got such great responses. The book has “From the Experts” side bars from: Dr. Harvey Karp, Dr. Bob Sears, Ruth Yaron of  Super Baby Foods, Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline, Jim and Charles Fay of Love & Logic, Sir Richard Bowlby, Jill Spivack & Jennifer Waldberger of The Sleepeasy Solution, Rachael Coleman of Signing Time!, Donna Holloran of BabyGroup, Corky Harvey & Wendy Haldeman of The Pump Station, Betsy Brown Braun of Parenting Pathways, Sue Darrision of Baby’s First Class, Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann of Mommy Calls, Dr. Scott Cohen of Eat, Sleep, Poop, Dr. Michelle Nitka of Coping with Preschool Panic, Dr. Bryan Vartabedian of Colic Solved, The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Alliance for Childhood, The Environmental Working Group, and many others. I was blown away by the willingness of these high level experts to make a contribution to my readers. It is such an honor.

TTC: This book seems to have been a real labor of love for you; what comes next?

DJ: Yes, it is a labor of love turned obsession! Once I started researching it was hard to stop. I have a children’s book coming out next spring called "Rockin’ Babies". It is an edgy children’s board book that I wrote with my mom while we were feeding Mendez and Quincy, which took hours because they had very severe reflux as infants. I just finished writing a second children’s book with a friend. My next adult book will probably be relationship oriented but I do have another parenting book that I am hoping to write, as well. My clothing company Retail Therapy will be launching a new website this month which will allow customers to buy our products on line now. All our products are eco-friendly and have really positive “feel good” messages on them. I am particularly excited about our new line of onesies we are launching this fall which includes a SuperBaby onesie. You can find the site at


Los Angeles speaking engagements:

Dr. Jenn Berman will be speaking at The West LA Parents of Multiples meeting on Tuesday, September 14th at 7:30 pm at a private home in Beverly Hills. If you are a member of WLAPOM the meeting simply requires an RSVP; check the WLAPOM calendar for details. All attendees will receive a gift, and each person who buys a SuperBaby book will be get one raffle ticket per book bought. Raffle tickets will be eligible for prizes such as: The SuperBaby Swag bag, Retail Therapy onesies and tee shirts, as well as "The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids".

Los Angeles Book Signings:

Monday, September 13th at 7pm at The Pump Station, Westlake 2879 Agoura Rd. Westlake Village, CA 91361
Wednesday, September 15th at 7 PM at The Little Seed 219 N. Larchmont Blvd. LA 90004
Thursday, September 16th at 7 PM at The Pump Station Santa Monica 2415 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90403

The first 50 people to buy two or more books at The Pump Station and The Little Seed will get eco-friendly swag bags filled with Dr. Jenn’s favorite products. For more info click here.

Thank you, Dr. Jenn, for the interview and the terrific book!
And thank you for reading!
The Twin Coach

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