Now that the school year is under way, parents can take time to do some reading of their own. Raising children is like a college-level class that you forgot to study for, just like those anxiety dreams where you find yourself faced with an exam you cannot decipher. You wish you could go back and prepare more.
Problems with children are at the top of the list for many people’s unhappiness. Not knowing how to handle a child is one of the most painful things a parent can go through. Things tend to get worse if you fly by the seat of your pants, expecting your child to respond as obediently as you remember yourself doing. Children in today’s culture are simply not going to respond with the same quick compliance that happened in past generations. Fortunately, there is a whole library of parenting books available.
For the new parent, you can’t beat the invaluable handbook, What To Expect The First Year by Eisenberg, Murkoff, and Hathaway. Babies go through many important developmental stages, so it is good to have this beefy manual to refer to. As your little one ages, there is also a series of friendly (short) field guides for each year of your child’s life, offered by Louise Bates Ames, from Your One-Year Old all the way up to Your Ten to Fourteen Year Old. These pithy little books instantly reassure you that much of children’s difficult behavior is normal and that the hard times will be outgrown. Ames also describes how all children enter periods of disequilibrium every six months or so, which explains why even the nicest child can seem cranky and poorly adjusted at times.
For issues of discipline, Thomas Phelan’s 1-2-3 Magic (in book and video) is a simple method for establishing parental authority within an atmosphere of cooperation rather than apprehension. It is a great way to teach children self-control, not just fear of punishment. It also helps parents be effective leaders without blowing their tops. For the more challenging child, there are helpful resources available, such as Stanley Turecki’s The Difficult Child, and Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. You will come away from these books with bundles of good ideas, plus the relieving sensation of knowing why your child is such a handful.
But no matter how old your child is, your relationship with that child is the single most powerful source of influence you have as a parent. When the relationship is rewarding between parent and child, the kid’s motivation for good behavior is strong. By the time kids get to be teenagers, the quality of that connection is often the only thing that will make them willing to listen to you.
My favorites for establishing and nurturing a strong parent-child bond include a small paperback by Ross Campbell, How to Really Love Your Child, in which he shows why eye contact is the single most important conduit of emotional nurturing for children. As for helping kids to deal with their feelings and communicating with them in difficult moments, nothing can beat Faber and Mazlich’s How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen & Listen So Your Kids Will Talk. I recommend it all the time. It has lots of cartoon illustrations that present the concepts in a fun, easily absorbed way.
Raising teens can be like walking a tightrope, and Ross Campbell’s companion guide, How to Really Love Your Teenager, is especially good for reminding us to meet the emotional needs of our teens, not just set limits. His anger ladder is a one-of-a-kind guide to understanding how children can learn to control and express anger. When you have really had it with your hormone-laden teen, have a laugh and get tons of information from “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!” by Michael Bradley.
For the children of any age who are just plain hard to handle, there is a clear, practical book, Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. If you have a child who gets out of control, The Explosive Child by Ross Greene gives parents innovative guidelines for avoiding and dealing with meltdowns.
If you have an ADD or different-drummer child who does not fit easily into traditional schooling, you can understand them in a positive way using the book, Dreamers, Discoverers, and Dynamos by Lucy Jo Palladino. Another positive take on ADD-ADHD symptoms is found in the fascinating book, The Edison Gene: ADD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thom Hartmann, in which the author argues that ADD is not a mental disorder, but a mind out of time, an ancient hunter spirit in a modern farmer’s world.
Fortunately, the real-life higher education of parenting does not have to be pass-fail. It is only pass and keep-on-trying. Turn to these books along the way, and pile up some extra credits!
Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist. For information, please call 757-490-7811.