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The Magic Years: Understanding & Handling the Problems of Early Childhood
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The Magic Years: Understanding & Handling the Problems of Early Childhood

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  448 ratings  ·  52 reviews
A pioneering work on early childhood development that is as relevant today as when it was first published 60 years ago.

To a small child, the world is an exciting but sometimes frightening and unstable place. In The Magic Years, Selma Fraiberg takes the reader into the mind of the child, showing how he confronts the world and learns to cope with it. With great warmth and pe
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 9th 1996 by Charles Scribner's Sons (NY) (first published 1959)
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4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  448 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Claudia Vieira
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this book again now that I am a grandparent after first reading it about 28 years ago when I was a pre-school teacher. I greatly enjoyed it and find that so many of Fraiberg's examples still ring true and her good sense approach is still very refreshing and valuable. But it is very dated in it's psychoanalytical perspective and it's language about sexual identity. I felt that her discussion of the challenges that boys face was still quite relevant, while her discussion of girls sexual ide ...more
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magnificent book!!! I finished "The Magic Years" several months ago for the second time. It was a required “text” in a course that I took at Manhattan College, many years ago. It’s message is just as fresh and enlightening now as I remember it being then!

To a small child, the world is an exciting but sometimes frightening and unstable place. The point of this book, Selma Fraiberg says, is that “A method of child-rearing is not – or should not be – a whim, a fashion or a shibboleth. It should d
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: parents
Recommended to Meg by: supervisor
One of my favorite books on early childhood. Not really a "how to" about handling problems so much as a philosophy and understanding of childhood development. A classic! First read in my child psych training.
Edna Nová
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Magické roky jsou fajn. Kniha byla napsána v 70. - 80. letech, nicméně stále aktuální. Hlavně teď, když se na nás valí hromada teorií o “vysvětlující” a “nezahanbující” výchově, která však má i své meze. Mnoho příkladů z praxe, které jasně ukazují mnohé vývojové problémy a jak s nimi naložit.
Někde je psychonalytický vliv až moc zřejmý.
Ale asi je to kniha, ke které se rodič bude vracet pro inspiraci.
Mar 12, 2009 rated it liked it
I thought this book was very helpful. The only thing that really bothered me was the first sentence of the introduction to the 50th Anniversary edition in which T. Berry Brazelton said that The Magic Years had been around for a half decade. Oops.
Yassin Salama
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The best passages to understand your childhood years.
This is the best book I have ever read about chikdren psychology indeed. I advise every father and mother to read it, and for those who wants to be parents also.
Sandra de koning-vd pol
Altijd fijn, een handleiding om je te kunnen inleven in de belevingswereld van je kind ;-))
Katie Katie
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
More academic and harder to read than most other parenting books, but The Magic Years offers an insightful look into the child's mind in the years of early childhood. At times the writing is unnecessarily wordy and not as user friendly as most other books geared towards childcare. However, it is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about child development. Understanding the child's mind and journey towards developing individuality and personality is useful information for re ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
A thorough, insightful and thought provoking guide to the changing psychology of the under sixes. It does become apparent later on though that the thinking in the book is very much that all children need two parents - a mother and a father. This seems odd but then a little research reveals that this book was written in the Fifties. Which makes it very progressive for its time but you are left wondering whether these views have since been challenged successfully?
Dec 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Good insight to the stages of child development, and how children view the world in these different stages. Helps give parents tools for accepting and working with problems that arise.

The main thread of the book is how to help children build a conscience, and I enjoyed the clear exposition on what types of punishment are effective in serving this end.

Some parts feel a bit over-psychoanalytic, but most of the ideas are useful food for thought.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: motherhood
Fascinating, well written though a little dated in places.
Stephen Hayes
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A good and useful book for parents.
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Crucial reading to understand children and the adults they become. I finished it a long time ago now, but the ideas open your eyes to what being a child is like better than anything besides memory.
Erik Graff
Mar 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: new parents
Recommended to Erik by: Dr. Bell
Shelves: psychology
I read this book for the Human Growth and Development class at Union Theological Seminary. At that time children were very distant from me, particularly the very small ones. I'd been away in school for seven years, living on campuses, and had virtually no contact with them. The idea of having a child myself was never considered nor do I recall any fellow students ever discussing the matter except for the married couple who lived next door my freshman year.

Since that time, since leaving academics
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: new parents, for sure
I started reading What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, but it was waaaaay too dense for the time I had to devote to it. And too long.

So I picked this up on the advice from... someone, and it was actually a wonderful read. It sits somewhere between academic analysis (a la the Eliot book) and psychotherapy manual. But the way the insight is presented, even when as anecdotes about patients, is digestible and useful in a relatable, non-clinical wa
Nancy Frishberg
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was an eye-opener 25 years ago when my child was young, despite my having read a bunch in child development. I remember it strongly, and it helped explain and handle interesting issues related to toilet training, falling asleep fears, and imaginary friends, among others. Fraiberg writes with authority and compassion: she likes kids, and writes for parents and families in a readable voice. The "magic" is about how children interpret the world - amazing things happen, and as they grow in ...more
May 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Overly pedantic. Maybe it was a landmark work in 1959, but other writers have been able to express the same ideas and observations in much more accessible ways.


Revised on 20 May 2012 from 1 to 3-stars. The writing unfortunately distracts from what are some very powerful stories and metaphors, which, IMO, are exactly what active new parents really need (rather than being told in academese what is supposedly going in your kid's skull). There is a priceless description of the young baby/toddler
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, parenting
This book was given to me by my mother-in-law and I completely wrote it off because it was published in 1959. I assumed it would be full of outdated information and ideas, but I could not have been more wrong. Throughout the book I was astonished at descriptions of parenting dilemmas that I assumed to be too modern to have been considered in 1959, particularly issues around discipline and exposure to TV/media. The only area where this book's age really showed was around gender issues. I highly r ...more
Jan 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: parenting, to-buy
This is a great book! I would have thought it would be terribly out of date since it is an older book, but most of it still holds true today and fits with what I have learned in child development and child psych classes recently. The great part about it is the easy to digest format and the way it conveys the "magic" of these early years. It is easy to forget how much children really have to learn in the beginning. It really makes you appreciate the learning process and some of their early milest ...more
May 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Myfanwy by: Ellen
Shelves: parenting
My friend Ellen gave me this book and I am so grateful for it. Every time I'm feeling anxious about my child's development or how I am doing in my parenting, I refer to this gem of a book. Told with compassion and insight, this book helps new parents understand what is going on in those developing minds as they wander through their child's first years. As my child goes, I will continue to reread this book.
Sarah Gordon
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful exploration of the early years of a baby/child's development. The author describes the child as a magician in the way s/he encounters the world, and offers ways to address problems by considering the perspective of the child, which is magical rather than rational. An enjoyable read that offered new ways to understand both my 3-month-old and my 4-year-old, who sadly is nearing the end of that magical time.
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I re-read this book this book this past summer and it has so much more meaning and application for me (now that I'm a parent myself). The writing style is somewhat academic (it was a required read for a Human Development course I took 12 years ago), but the knowledge is truly invaluable! I'm a better parent for having re-read this book.
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I wish I'd read this before E was born. I struggle more with the toddler phase than I did with the infant phase, and have been reading more books now. This one covers from infancy, so I was looking at parts in retrograde. I found a lot valuable. There were a couple of things I found dated or didn't agree with, but I can't remember them now.
Jan 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this early childhood book when our first-born was a wee soft one. In a sort of Erma Bombeck style, with many illustory anecdotes, Ms. Fraiberg imparts a wealth of information to help one understand what goes on in a child's head from infancy to about school age. Very helpful to first time parents, this book is a favorite to give as a baby shower gift, along with "Good Night, Moon"!
Apr 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Out of many childhood psychology books that I've read, I found this very insightful and helpful. Very relevant to the 2 1/2 year-old in my life right now! I look forward to reading the later sections in the coming months.
Dec 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I appreciated the very scientific/clinical approach of this book. It's full of many wonderful examples & explanations as to what's really going on inside your child's head during certain stages of their life as well as how to handle each situation in a way thats not above them. Very handy reading.
Jun 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
i read this for my dev psych class, should be mandatory for people who are making babies.

you need a licencese to get married, you need a licence to drive a car, you need a licence to cut hair.... but any idiot can have a child without the least knowledge on how to care for and raise him.
Feb 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Despite the fact that it was written 40 years ago, Magic Years feels pretty contemporary, and offers good insight into the cognitive and emotional development of young children. And Frailberg is a much better writer than Dr. Spock. :-)
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
wonderful book on child development. amazing to learn what's happening in those little heads during these first crucial years. makes you realize that there are no tricks to parenting, only listening, common sense and lots of loving.
Bojana Duke
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
Fun writing style and very insightful. Only wish the ideas would have been organized a bit more with sections to break things up. As it stands it's very hard to use as a reference for specific issues.
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Selma Fraiberg (1918–1981) was a child psychoanalyst, author and social worker. She studied infants with congenital blindness in the 1970s. She found that blind babies had three problems to overcome: learning to recognize parents from sound alone, learning about permanence of objects, acquiring a typical or healthy self image. She also found that vision acts as a way of pulling other sensory modal ...more
“A neurosis is a poor solution to conflict, or, more correctly, not a solution at all but a bad compromise. Underground, the conflict persists in a disguised form and, since the real conflict is not resolved, a neurosis perpetuates itself in a series of attempted compromises—neurotic symptoms. On the surface a neurosis resembles a cold war between two nations where strong demands are made by both sides and temporary compromises are achieved in order to avoid war. But since the basic issues are never dealt with, fresh grievances and demands are constantly in the making and more and more compromises and bad bargains are required to keep the conflict from breaking out into the open. The analogy of a cold war suggests another parallel. If each of the nations in conflict must be constantly prepared for the possibility of open warfare, it must expend larger and larger amounts of its wealth for defense purposes, leaving less and less of the national income for investment in other vital areas of national welfare. Eventually, so much of the national income and the energy of its people is tied up in defense that very little of either is available for the pursuit of healthy human goals. Here, a neurosis affords an exact parallel. For a neurosis engages a large amount of the energy of a human personality in order to prevent the outbreak of conflict. Energy which should be employed for the vital interests of the personality and the expansion of the personality must be diverted in large quantities for defense purposes. The result is impoverishment of the ego, a serious restriction of human functioning. Whenever the underground conflict within the personality threatens to break out in the open, anxiety is created by the anticipation of danger. Anxiety then sets the whole process of neurotic defense and compromise into action once again, in the self-perpetuating process we have described. It would be correct to say that anxiety generates the neurotic process, but we must not deduce from this that anxiety is in itself a pathological manifestation. Anxiety need not produce a neurosis. In fact, anxiety may serve the widest variety of useful and healthy adaptations in the human personality. WHAT” 0 likes
“Long before the child develops his inner resources for overcoming dangers he is dependent upon his parents to satisfy his needs, to relieve him of tension, to anticipate danger, and to remove the source of a disturbance. This is the situation of the infant. To the infant and very young child the parents are very powerful beings, magical creatures who divine secret wishes, satisfy the deepest longings, and perform miraculous feats. We cannot remember this time of life, and if we try to recapture the feelings of earliest childhood we can only find something analogous in fairy tales. The genies who are summoned in fairy tales and bring forth tables heaped with delicacies, the fairies who grant the most extravagant wishes, the magic beasts who transport a child to far-off lands, the companion lion who overcomes all enemies, the kings and queens who command power over life, give us imaginative reconstructions of the small child’s world. We” 0 likes
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