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by Kenneth N. Condrell
Prometheus Books, 2006
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Aug 14th 2007
The Unhappy Child is a vastly illumining guidebook targeted particularly to parents of unhappy children. The author, Kenneth N. Condrell, is a child psychologist with several decades of private practice experience. Condrell's overarching purpose in writing the book is to show parents how to discover the source of their child's unhappiness problem, and to elucidate an expansive multitude of practical strategies intended to help parents help an unhappy child regain happiness. In determined pursuit of this cardinal goal, Condrell assiduously builds the textual edifice with bricks made of straw derived from the anecdotal matter of Condrell's extensive professional experiences. In crafting the text, Condrell adroitly employs a plain English approach apt for lay readers. The edifying result of Condrell's intellectual toil is a book constructed well to helpfully explain what parents need to know about some of the possible causes of unhappiness in children, and, also, how parents in numerous practical ways may be able to respond effectually to a child's unhappiness problem.
The book's respective chapters are structured in a quite distinctive manner. Characteristically, Condrell commences a particular chapter's discourse with a pithy "introduction", engagingly identifying the core subject embodying that chapter. Following the exordium is a structural feature ("the problem") revealingly etching the lineaments of the problem tied knottily to a chapter's core subject, with regard particularly to the causing of unhappiness in children.
Further structural integrity is imparted to a chapter by a component ("the children speak"), importantly allowing the venting of the often powerful animating force flowing from real life. In absorbing and sobering fashion, Condrell recounts numerous fragments of actual comments made by children, and sometimes others, germane to a chapter's substantive focus. The artful sewing of real life comments into the text's fabric contributes to its instructiveness and adds considerably to its engrossing appeal.
The mainstay philosophical premise coursing through the arteries and veins of the textual body is that the parents of an unhappy child have major responsibility to ascertain the cause of their child's unhappiness, and, also, to "solve" that problem. There is a structural element ("solutions") tied tightly to that premise. In a chapter's solutions part, Condrell typically proposes a profusion of parent directed, practical suggestions, implanted deeply in the professional soil of his clinical experiences.
As a chapter ends, there is, additionally, a very brief "summary" (of its contents) as well as a chapter ending "resources" section, identifying a goodly number of books (and sometimes web sites) pertinent to its substantive emphasis. This last section may gladden readers in search of a conduit leading to further study.
The book's distinctive structural arrangement frames discussion of an eclectic array of subjects bound commonly to the problem of unhappiness in children. Among the specific subjects eyed perspicaciously through the discerning psychological lens of Condrell are: mismanaged divorces, parental depression, children who are "slow learners", children being rejected or else being treated cruelly by their peers, quarreling between parents, parental favoritism, permissive parenting, stepfamilies, sibling abuse, and angry parents. Expertly deploying the immense intellectual firepower of his massive professional experience, and showing very considerable erudition regarding real life psychological truths, Condrell shines luminous light on how these subjects are joined to the problem of unhappiness in children. Shifting directions, Condrell, in the concluding chapter, discourses thoughtfully on what makes a child happy. In that vein, Condrell compares and contrasts happy versus not happy families, and identifies an abundance of parenting guidelines possibly conducive to effective parenting.
Despite its notable excellence, this impressive book is not impervious to criticism. Some may react cautiously to Condrell's unyielding grip of the cornerstone philosophic premise charging parents with major responsibility for remedying a child's unhappiness problem. Valid concern may be expressed that the parent directed, practical suggestions offered by Condrell may unwittingly be misunderstood and misapplied by readers formally unschooled in the science of psychological related evaluation and treatment, and unskilled in the demanding art of adept, real life application of Condrell's "solutions". In consonance with such concerns, some may opine that it is wiser for parents to promptly seek expert professional counsel, rather than endeavoring to independently evaluate and treat an unhappiness problem affecting their child. For academically moored critics, it may further be disconcerting that the copious recommendations made by Condrell are anecdotally based in substantial part on Condrell's particular professional experiences. Academic leaning critics may be more at ease with recommendations fleshed out rigorously in the challenging medium of academic peer review.
At least in a generalized way, however, the rich wealth of information presented by Condrell should be highly informative to parents, with regard especially to enhancing understanding of unhappiness in children. The pensive musings of Condrell may further be of instructive interest to persons with a professional interest in the problem of unhappiness in children, including: child psychologists, family therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, family medicine doctors, and pediatricians.
© 2007 Leo Uzych
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare.