173: Why we shouldn’t read the “Your X-Year-Old Child” books any more

Have you ever seen recommendations for the books called Your One Year Old, Your Two Year Old, and so on, by Louise Bates Ames?  Every few weeks I see parents posting in online communities asking about some aspect of their child’s behavior that is confusing or annoying to them, and somebody responds: “You should read the Louise Bates Ames books!”


This usually comes with the caveat that the reader will have to disregard all the ‘outdated gender stuff,’ but that the information on child development is still highly relevant.
In this episode I dig deep into the research on which these books are based. While the books were mostly published in the 1980s, they’re based on research done in the 1930s to 1950s.


I argue that far from just ‘stripping out the outdated gender stuff,’ we need to look much deeper at the cultural context that the information in these books fits within – because it turns out that not only were the researchers not measuring ‘normal,’ ‘average’ child development, but that they were training children to respond to situations in a certain way, based on ideas about a person’s role in society that may not fit with our views at all. And if this is the case, why should we use these books as a guide to our children’s development?

Other episodes


Science of RIE

Toilet learning

Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue



Jump to highlights

(02:41) An open invitation to check out the new book that will be released in August 2023.

(04:59) Why these child psych books from the 1980s are all over parenting Facebook groups today

(06:01) The Gesell philosophy of human behavior

(08:48) Who is Louise Bates

(10:32) Who is Arnold Gesell

(11:28) How the children were selected to participate in the experiment

(14:28) How our view of childhood had undergone a massive shift in the previous 100 years

(16:09) What’s it like to have a child involved in the study

(19:35) Some of the significant milestones provided by researchers

(20:50) Dr. Gesell is looking to study the natural development of children’s physical capabilities

(22:07) What normal seems to mean in the study

(23:11) Gesell fails to observe what the baby’s hands are actually doing

(24:18) The purpose of the ‘performance box’

(27:44) I add my own judgment of the research

(28:32) Gesell wrote that what he called ‘systematic cinematography’

(29:22) Another way that the situation was anything but natural was that the study took place within a dome

(30:59) Dr. Gesell observed the effect of the running commentary on him in the experimenter role

(31:54) Dr. Gesell makes contradictory statements about whether the behavior he observed in the lab was the same as the behavior the child displayed at home

(32:58) A baby’s behavior changes based on the environment it is in

(35:04) What the researchers say about children’s capabilities outside of the lab

(35:56) Even the view of maturation itself is inextricably linked to Euro-centric ideas about time, on both micro and macro scales.

(40:51) What are parents supposed to do with all this information

(45:19) One of the Dr. Bates Ames’ key ideas is that development doesn’t proceed in a linear fashion

(47:52) The similarity between reading the development book and reading a horoscope

(52:33) The idea that things aren’t linear in our children’s development is super helpful

(52:54) I found the most useful description of why this non-linear behavior happens in a book of essays by Dr. Myrtle McGraw

(54:14) Going back to the outdated ideas about gender

(57:11) The flow of authority

(01:00:55) When we use our power to get children to do what we want them to do we’re still promoting the values of a patriarchal culture

(01:02:58) The most common word uttered is ‘mine’

(01:05:04) Each of the decisions parents make is made in a cultural context

(01:07:36) An episode suggestion to listen to



About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

1 Comment

  1. Andy on December 7, 2022 at 6:20 AM

    I’ve never heard of these books, but I found the podcast fascinating to listen to. I very much appreciate the deep dive. the attention to detail is a breath of fresh air. Thanks for recording this 👍

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