Random ramblings and TV-inspired activities

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

My parenting bookshelf

I know some parents dismiss parenting books out of hand - "I don't need books to tell me how to raise my kids!" - but I hope I wouldn't be so arrogant as to think there's nothing left to learn. (Arrogant, moi? Only when the mood takes me.) One thing I do know is that there's no one right way to parent: that's why there's so many different approaches and books on the market and not a single "Parenting Bible". Now, some may be more right than others but that's my personal opinion, of course...

So many of these books are just that though, opinion based. A book I really rate is 'Unconditional Parenting', by Alfie Kohn. It's one of the rare books that backs up what it asserts with proper research studies. Something that I think you will find lacking in many of the 'popular parenting programmes' on television today. Kohn takes a bit of a kicking from people who don't really understand his approach, and in part I believe that's because his book outlines the approach without really tooling you up on how to apply it. You have to think, quite a lot, about how it applies to you, your child, and the situation you're in. It's not a 'one-size-fits-all' naughty step for two minutes, forced apology and hug approach.

Being a parent is, to state the obvious, hard. I've always been either in education or employment and with the former you get grades to let you know how you're doing, and in the latter you have objectives against which you are appraised. Basically, there's always someone else there to sit you down and say "you're doing okay, good job!". With parenting, I miss that structure. I am Lisa Simpson, screaming "Grade me, grade me!" now school's shut down. (Which ironically is one of the points Alfie Kohn makes about how damaging reward-based discipline can be. You lose your ability to trust yourself, seeking praise and valuing only what others tell you is "right" or "good".)

With a few parenting years under my belt I am learning to trust myself more, particularly now I have a second child and know the world won't end if he accidentally eats dirt from the garden. I am learning to trust that I will make the right decisions for them, mostly - and if in fact I make the wrong decision sometimes, that's still a useful experience from which to learn and improve. But it's nice to be able to reach for a book at times when whatever's going on is foxing me a bit, or I get to the end of day like today when gritted teeth are the only thing that's got me to bedtime and I need some fresh resolve or ideas.

My general slant on parenting, the one I strive for, is a "working with" rather than a "doing to" approach. It's not always the one that comes easily, but it is the one that I aspire to. So, my parenting bookshelf includes:

Unconditional Parenting - Alfie Kohn
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen (And Listen So Kids Will Talk) - Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
When Kids Push Your Buttons (And What You Can Do About It) - Bonnie Harris

These are the ones I would recommend, and they all cover "toddlers to teens", so I expect to continue to get plenty of mileage out of them! I've read plenty of awful books too, but won't name and shame them here (who knows, maybe they work well for others). The Kohn book emphasises an approach, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen gives practical tips, and When Kids Push Your Buttons looks at how your own 'agenda' as a parent can create stress-points that cause showdowns between you and your child, and how adjusting your own attitudes and expectations can yield better outcomes.

I find the books helpful because they encourage me to think about things from different perspectives and consider what underlies the behaviour of my children, to try and deal with the cause and not the outward symptom. It also makes me think about how the effects of what I say and do as experienced by the person on the receiving end is not always the same as what I intend. For instance, when was the last time you were sent to your room to "think about what you've done" and actually thought about what you'd done as opposed to "this is SOOOO UNFAIR!"?! The toddler years are interesting in all sorts of ways, but boy, I'm glad I've got plenty of time to prepare myself for the teenage stage...


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