Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Seven of My Favorite Parenting Books

Like many parents, I often read about parenting to find tips and methods to keep my sweet baby healthy, happy, and reasonably well-behaved. Since I'm a teacher as well, I frequently read these same books for ideas on how to manage my students. I have several books that I like, both because their methods worked for me and their advice is delivered in a non-judgmental, respectful way. So here's a few books I'd recommend for any new parent, or even parents of older children and adults.

1. The Happiest Baby on the Block

My pediatrician lent me the DVD of "The Happiest Baby on the Block," and it was one of the single most helpful things anyone could have done for my husband and me. If you are pregnant or have a newborn baby, the five "S" techniques described by Dr. Karp are essential. We were able to calm our infant daughter whenever she started crying, and that made her first few months sweet and cuddly, instead of the nightmare we'd been warned about (although we were still super sleep-deprived). I had so much success with The Happiest Baby on the Block that I bought Karp's follow-up book for toddlers, The Happiest Toddler on the Block. His techniques for building a loving, supportive relationship with your toddler help you to stop or avoid tantrums without harsh discipline. I cannot recommend these books enough! Seriously, if you are pregnant or have a baby, buy these books or add them to your baby registry. Bring them to your pregnant friends' baby showers. They're lifesavers.

2. Heading Home with Your Newborn

This is a good general guide to babies. It tells you what's normal, when to worry, and has great ideas for trouble-shooting. I used it as a reference book for my baby's first year, and it was definitely helpful. It has good practical advice on everything from feeding to changing to bathing your baby. What's more, it's very tolerant and open to different methods of parenting.

3. Parents Who Love Too Much

I picked this book up in a used bookstore, and I've been very impressed with its ideas. Now that my darling daughter is a bit older, I've been looking for books on working with older children. This one is a good reminder that children don't need us to do everything for them, and it's actually better for them in the long run to struggle sometimes. One of the things I liked about this book is it's a good corrective to the prevailing "helicopter" parent culture. In fact, the title is misleading--it's really about how to love and support your child in a healthy way, instead of veering back and forth between being overly strict and controlling, or far too lenient. The best way is to walk the middle ground--enforce boundaries and rules in a loving, sympathetic way. It's not kind or loving to do everything for your child--it can keep them from developing important skills and feeling competent and capable. 

4. Parenting with Love and Logic

I originally bought Teaching with Love and Logic, which I tried to use when I taught eighth grade language arts and ESL, and then again when I worked as a preschool teacher. Now that I have a daughter, I've bought the parenting versions. I like the methods in these books because they help children learn to be responsible for themselves, and help parents and teachers avoid power struggles. For example, I love how Love and Logic books emphasize that you don't have to come up with immediate consequences, but it's better to think it through. In fact, delaying consequences might make kids think more about what they've done, since the process drawn out. Meanwhile, it allows parents a cooling off period, so we can calmly decide how to react to a child's misbehavior, not lose control. So many parents think they need to immediately react when a kid does something wrong, but to me it's a relief to give myself time to cool down and think before I react.

5. How Children Succeed

This is a book that challenges much of what we think about success and how children attain it. In America, we tend to have a "cognitive" bias--in other words, we believe that intelligence is the key to success. However, there's plenty of evidence that intelligence on its own does little to improve children's outcomes. In fact, many emotional traits, such as self-discipline, curiosity, persistence, and grit, determine children's success as much or more than their intelligence. How Children Succeed is a wake up call for parents and teachers to pay more attention to children's character development. If books like The Happiest Toddler on the Block teach parents how to develop children's self-control and patience, this book tells us why it's vitally important that we help them develop these character traits. 

6. NurtureShock

When it comes to raising children, effective techniques can be counter-intuitive. In Nurture Shock, the authors explore some surprising research on childhood development. For example, the most brutal, hurtful person in a child's life might very well be their sibling--but playing make-believe together helps brothers and sisters build a strong bond that lasts into their adult life. The writers also discuss the terrible problems that come from a lack of sleep. In fact, there's evidence that the stereotypical surly teenager becomes a happier, kinder person when they get enough sleep. Overall, this book is a great read with lots of new and exciting ideas about childhood development based on science. (It also goes into great depth about the negative effects of praise).

7. Nurtured by Love

The author of this book, Shinichi Suzuki, was a beloved violin teacher who developed a method for teaching young children to play the violin. Yet, even if you're not interested in teaching a child music, Suzuki's book is full of beautiful ideas about how children learn and develop, as he put it, a beautiful character. Most important, Suzuki emphasizes how essential parents are to young children, and how they learn from our example. Nurtured by Love reminds me that children listen to everything we say, and how we say it, and one of the best things we can do for them is to behave well ourselves. If we don't show our children patience, courtesy, and respect, we can't expect them to learn it. 

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