Author Q&A: Stephen Camarata
Stephen Camarata is the author of The Intuitive Parent
What was your inspiration for writing the book?
One of the real tragedies in modern society is that misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and outright hucksterism are undermining parents’ self-confidence. Marketers and the media are creating needless anxiety, and stealing the fun and joy out of raising children. Worse, the national push to artificially accelerate learning and brain development is actually derailing healthy natural parenting that insures children will be confident, happy–and intelligent. I wrote this book to provide parents with accurate, up-to-date, scientifically grounded information that supports their own intuition and common sense of how best to raise their child. My hope is that the book will empower parents to filter out all the noise, marketing, and latest fad so they can focus on their child, respond to them naturally, and become an effective nurturer and learning partner.
How did your own experience as a parent inform your writing?
My youngest son, Vincent, was slow to develop spoken language skills. When he was in preschool, we were told by a special education team that he should be educated in a segregated classroom for children with intellectual disabilities. We were led to believe that because his third birthday had passed, we had missed the critical period for wiring his brain and that he was now doomed to be a slow learner across the board from here on out. Worse, we were told that he would never be able to go to college. Our intuition told us that this couldn’t be true.
We knew that his language skills lagged compared to other kids his age. On the other hand, his ability to do puzzles, comprehend numbers and draw were all far advanced compared to other children his age. He loved to explore the world beyond the boundaries of our fenced in yard and would often wait for one of his older siblings to open the door so that he could dart into the front yard and run up the street!
These precocious abilities did not square with what we were being told by the school. Thankfully, we listened to our inner voice and kept him in the regular classroom, and spent many hours tutoring him in reading at home.
By the time Vincent started middle school, he was above grade level in math and science. His reading ability did not catch up until he entered high school, but he is now an excellent—and avid reader.
We were sometimes told that we were “in denial” about Vincent’s abilities, and given questionable advice along the way. For example, a second grade recommended ADHD-medication because Vincent would not sit still during story time. I pointed out that he would sit still for hours when drawing pictures or working math problems and that the reason he was wiggly during reading time was because his ability to understand what the teacher was saying was below the other children in the classroom.
Despite the dire predictions from “experts,” my son graduated from college and is now an air traffic controller in the Air Force. Instead of listening to the so-called experts, we followed our intuition and nurtured his gifts in math, science and art—he won a city wide art contest while in high school—while patiently teaching him to read, which took nearly a decade. But what would’ve happened if we had taken the advice that was against our own common sense?
What message would you like the reader to take away after reading your book?
Every parent already has what it takes to raise a happy, confident, resilient and intelligent child. Be confident in your own ability as a parent. Don’t let any educational program, early intervention expert, or marketing scheme interfere with that special relationship. Pay attention to your child, read to them, talk to them, and play with them and be sure to heed your own ample store of common sense.
What was the toughest part of the writing process?
The toughest part of writing was actually choosing what would be included in the book. There have been so many wonderful adventures raising my own children, so many scientific discoveries on brain plasticity and neural development that support intuitive parenting, and a plethora of parenting fads and baby genius products pushed on parents so that integrating this information into a practical message was a bit daunting. On the other hand, writing brought back so many amazing experiences and memories!
What books have had the greatest influence on you?
Of Children by Guy Lefrancois was an excellent introduction to the wonder of child development, which I read even before I had any children. Of course, the work of Jean Piaget (The psychology of the child) and BF Skinner (science and human behavior) also had a profound influence. More recently, books by Steven Pinker (The language instinct and Words and rules) and Einstein Never used flash cards by Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek have been very influential. Finally, the neuroscience aspects of development were influenced by Neurons to Neighborhoods (by Jack Shonkoff) and by the Myth of the first three years (by John Bruer).
How do you balance fatherhood and writing?
The key is focusing on your child when you get home and leaving job worries and stress at the door. Even if you only have 15 or 20 minutes, you—and your baby can connect and enjoy one another’s company. I have found that being with my children is a nice counter weight to the stresses and pressure of the workplace. And is a whole lot of fun!