Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Favorite Parenting Books

It's been suggested to me in the past that I share some of the titles I love with others, and today is just the day to do it. Joaquin's snoozing after a morning walk, so I've got a few minutes to tell you about some of the books I've found most helpful in my parenting/childcare path.

For those with Wee Ones, The Baby Book and Attachment Parenting by Dr. William Sears with Martha Sears is a must read. Even if you don't plan on practicing AP wholesale, this book inspires parents to do what parents have been doing before we had "baby experts", namely, trust your instincts and do what feels right. Sears and his wife Martha know from whence they speak; parents to a very full house of kids, they evolved as parents, and documented the process for everyone else's benefit. The Baby Book also has lots of practical advice for feeding, childhood illnesses, and gentle discipline techniques that are age-appropriate for your littlest family members and palatable to a variety of parenting styles. The Baby Book was written for a broader audience, while Attachment Parenting focuses more on finding balance with AP, and parts read like a troubleshooting manual with advice and suggestions for all sorts of situations, AP-style.

Margot Sunderland's The Science of Parenting opened my eyes to what's behind all those healthy instincts mothers have: the instincts to comfort and soothe our babies, to pick them up when they cry, and the desire we have to help our little ones grow up happy. Brain study now suggests that, far from spoiling a child by soothing them and showing our compassion for their sadness and fear, we are helping our children to have the best possible odds of growing into adults who are well-rounded, emotionally healthy and truly satisfied with their lives. Easy to read, Sunderland's text and presentation of this information makes for compelling reading that even the most "unscientific" (like myself) will find utterly fascinating. The study of how to best develop a child's brain never read so good.

A revelation in and of itself, teacher and behaviorist Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting: Raising Children Without Punishments or Rewards asks questions not often considered: Although we discipline our children because we love them, do our children actually feel loved and accepted in those times of discipline? Does positive reinforcement make for happier children who are more confident, more cooperative, or better learners, and does praise help our children develop a love of learning? Kohn's answer, substantiated by extensive data and research, is a definitive "no", however, without dismissing discipline in and of itself wholesale, Kohn instead shows us how to make our interactions with our children effective while leaving their their sense of self intact. It's a book that can't be skimmed but must be read cover to cover. At the beginning of this book, I was in relative disbelief of his concepts that children can be well and heathily raised without use of more popular "gentle" methods such as time-out, logical consequences, or incentive plans; by the end, however, my brain was rich in ideas which I've implemented since. This book is a revolutionary work that will leave it's stamp on generations to come, and has had a positive impact on my work as well as my parenting.

For some, Kohn's book will leave more questions than answers. Enter Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen...And How To Listen So Kids Will Talk . No matter what sort of parenting style you like, this book can only improve your relationships with the children in your life. Written as a workbook, HTT contains simple no-nonsense exercises that can be done with your co-parent as a couple, or with likeminded parents as a workshop. The authors emphasize that kids want their feelings respected, just as we adults do; kids want a say in the things that affect them and want cooperation from us, just as parents require cooperation from their children, and the whole time the parent, guiding and listening, problem-solving with their child, is still in charge. There is a way to find that balance in our exchanges with our kids, how to ask them for what we need without lecturing or threatening; how to listen to their feelings without needing to fix whatever is bothering them; and most importantly, how to let everyone be their authentic selves while respecting the people around them. This book focuses on techniques for listening without judging, letting children come to their own conclusions (and feel empowered in doing so!) as well as positive actions to take when rules are broken, feelings are hurt, or cooperation is needed. I could rave on and on about HTT, instead, I'll let you read it and see if it doesn't make your life with your own kids any better.

One last one, less about the tools of parenting and more about the nuance of choosing how we parent each of our children: Love in Two Languages:Lessons on Mothering in a Culture of Individualityby Bonnie Ohye PhD. I really loved this book. Intelligent non-fiction written truly from the heart. Ohye describes how her close-knit Japanese family encouraged an interdependency that often, as a parent to two girls, puts her in conflict with the popular notion of encouraging independence that is so prevalent today. How she finds balance, and what she shares with us in her work as a therapist for mothers, truly speaks to how complicated and unmapped the journey of mothering is. Caring, and with a true voice, Ohye's book is a large measure of empathy for those of us who do some of the world's most emotional and unsupported work there is to do: raising kids.

Speaking of kids, I'd best sign off. Mine's due to wake soon. Happy reading.

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