A while ago I was doing little “book reports” for my school. Here are are some of them, if you are interested in kids and have time to read!
Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma (The 3 Step Approach to Effective Communication) by Heather Turgeon, MFT, and Julie Wright, MFT is fantastic. It came from realizing in their practice that parents wanted specific phrases that they could use right away with their children in challenging situations. In the introduction the authors explain: “These are loving moms and dads who want the best for their kids. They want the family to be close, but instead of fostering harmony and collaboration, they often feel like drill sergeants, issuing no’s, yelling and time-outing—or pleading, negotiating, and ultimately feeling like their kids run the show.” If that scenario sounds familiar and you would welcome a better way of winning cooperation, consult this book!
The first section of the book outlines the 3 step model of communication they promote, ALP (Attune to the feelings, Limit-set, and Problem-Solve). The second section is about how to head off difficult moments before they happen. The third is full of stories of how it all works, with specific examples of using these tools during traditional “bumpy” times for many parents of young ones (aggression, ignoring adults, sibling squabbles, bedtime, etc.). Visually, they use lots of charts, drawings and shaded areas to make the text seem less overwhelming even though there’s lots of juicy information there. This is the type of book that you don’t have to read straight through, you can read the intro and then keep it around and accessible for when you want help with a specific topic, or just need a little inspiration after a hard day.
The “Me Me Me” Epidemic
This book made me laugh, but it also paints an uncomfortable portrait of what kids can turn out like if we don’t intervene to actively teach children gratitude while they are young. With chapters entitled “Kids Rule. But Should They?” and “It’s Okay Not to Be Special,” author Amy McCready suggests that there is a way to “un-entitle” children, even if they are already headed down that path. She empathizes that of course parents want to smooth the way for their children, but there are real dangers in making life too easy for them. And it’s not like parents can never do something nice for their kids, or that parents always have to know just the right response to challenging behaviors, but she outlines many “Tips and Scripts” and includes sections called “Yes, But…” and “Put It To Use” that I found practical and relatable. She also touches upon dealing with sibling disputes, developing reasonable limits and practicing follow-through, identifying helplessness, even teaching about money. In today’s hurried, everything-at-our-fingertips world, how do we preserve the values that our parents tried to instill in us? Also, did I mention how funny she is?
Un-Selfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World
Michele Borba breaks down what it means to be truly empathetic, and how to plant those seeds in children, even when they are young and by nature egocentric. The book is divided into 3 parts: Developing Empathy, Practicing Empathy, and Living Empathy. It starts with helping young children to recognize feelings (also known as “emotional literacy”) and work on thinking of the needs of others, to managing stress as they grow and eventually developing a “moral identity” as a person and as a family. It even helps parents start thinking of involving their children in a “giving back to society” attitude as they get older, and empowering them to believe that they can make a difference in this world. This book takes the long view, but it is well worth the read.
Family Talk: How to Organize Family Meetings to Solve Problems and Strengthen Relationships by Christy Monson (a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) is a wonderful resource to have if building a closer family that gets along better is your goal! Whether you have one child or several or any number in between, finding time to examine the habits we fall into and don’t necessarily enjoy can be challenging but so worth it. This book is an easy read, less than 200 pages, but full of anecdotes and tips. Some of you have heard us talk about the helpfulness of family meetings to make transitions smoother, or to address long-standing conflicts between kids (or between parents and kids), but this book breaks down the what, the how and the why in a way teachers can’t quite get to in a quick conversation!
The author talks about exactly what the meetings ideally should and shouldn’t consist of, but then she goes into all the fun ways they can be used, not only to discuss problems but also to work on deepening relationships in general with children of all ages. She has a section on examining more fully the adult role in these family “councils” as she calls them, and on the kinds of positive messages your children will be getting from these gatherings. There is a slight Christian perspective now and then (clearly, she and her children are involved in their church) but it shouldn’t be an obstacle to getting this important information even if your faith or belief system is not aligned with hers.
The Yes Brain: How To Cultivate Courage, Curiosity and Resilience in Your Child by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson, is the latest book from the same authors of The Whole Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline, both of which are also worth a read. Dan Siegel also wrote Mindsight, which discusses that all-important ability to be able to see things from another person’s point of view, to truly understand another’s mind.
What I liked about this book (and the others they’ve written) is that it has several practical suggestions, rather than just explaining why having a resilient kid is a good thing. I think we all understand why it would make life smoother if we could teach children to have a positive attitude and just roll with life’s punches, but how do we facilitate that if a child doesn’t naturally have an easygoing temperament?
A “yes brain” is a well organized and integrated brain. Ideally, we can all learn to be more receptive rather than reactive to life’s ups and downs. We can all best do this when we are in a “green zone” of being calm and able to think (rather than in the emotionally flooded “uh-oh” red zone!). We have talked about the Zones of Regulation at school, and what we want for kids is that they can spend more and more of their time in the green. We want to give them tools to be able to adapt to emotional experiences, so that they can get back in the green quickly after an upset, and expand the green window of tolerance in general.
The book explores specific strategies for how to create a balanced day-to-day life so that the brain is rested and rejuvenated enough to take on all that it needs to. It also talks about how to figure out when your child might need extra support from an adult in a hard situation, and when a child might need a bit of a push instead to endure discomfort and get to the other side. It even has lessons we can all use about the importance of a pause between an upset feeling and a reaction (learn to be a “spectator” rather than a “player” when things get heated). And it explains that empathy is a skill that can be learned! There are ways that you can teach kids to be in the habit of caring about others, even those not in their inner circle.
Preschoolers are emotional and egocentric by nature, but now is not too soon for the adults in their lives to become well-versed in the language of feelings and how to cope with them!
Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes For Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela J. Hanscom came to my attention because of an article online that suggested that children get a minimum of 3 hours outside every day, and it referenced this book. As ideal as that sounds, I thought, how in the world could that happen, especially with city kids? It turns out that this book is really about the difference between real “free” play and adult-directed and adult-managed activity time, and how restricted movement differs from the kind of unfettered movement that children are inspired to spend time doing, if allowed. It talks about the rise of sensory integration disorders, even among otherwise typically developing children (having sensory sensitivities and challenges is more and more common these days), and about how time in nature helps to organize and calm these sensory systems. This book answers the question, “What are the ‘extra’ senses that people mention now, beyond the 5 senses we grew up learning about, and why are they important?” Balanced and Barefoot even touches upon the difference between indoor playgrounds and time spent outdoors, and makes suggestions for how to get the family out there when kids seem reluctant. Creating a habit of going outside is what it takes. Even if your child doesn’t ask for it, it’s what kids (and all people) need!