As anyone who’s ever raised a child will tell you, they don’t come with instructions. Well, that may be true, but this fresh new crop of parenting guides offers stellar advice to help you raise healthy, happy, creative and productive kids.
CREATIVITY FOR LIFE
Julia Cameron has sold millions of copies of The Artist’s Way, her seminal book on how to find and embrace your creativity. In The Artist’s Way for Parents, Cameron helps parents unleash their children’s creativity and sense of wonder.
The beauty of Cameron’s advice is that she offers very specific, undaunting exercises for the, shall we say, less artistically inclined among us. For example, she suggests spending an entire evening with no screens: no iPads, no TV, no movies. That’s it. Don’t force watercolors and canvases on your child. Just spend time together and see what happens. “This may cause a great deal of resistance and anxiety, but if you can power through, the connection you will ultimately make with yourself and your family members will be deeper for it,” she says.
There is definitely a spiritual bent to Cameron’s work—readers of her memoirs know she is a Christian. But hers is a gentle, ecumenical approach, and she is never off-putting. Rather, her interest is in supporting calm, loving environments where children are free to explore and express themselves.
WHAT DO YOU SAY?
I’ve been dreading certain questions since my first child was born nine years ago, so I was happy to find some guidance for navigating those tricky conversations. Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore by Sue Sanders offers funny and useful advice on how to answer everything from “Do you believe in God?” to “You and Dad do that?”
Sanders has a teenage daughter, which I’d say is pretty much the only expertise required of someone writing this kind of book. She takes on bullying, materialism and slang (which she calls “the lingua franca of adolescence”) with a firm, positive and loving approach. She unflinchingly examines her own foibles in the service of making a larger point (like the time her daughter, then 4 years old, skipped down the city street shouting, “Mommy loves wine!”).
Sanders, who is based in Portland, Oregon, clearly loves parenting and has her eye on the end goal: raising a daughter who will become a productive and independent adult. But not too quickly: “She will soon be pulling away, literally, down the driveway and seeing us and her childhood in the rearview mirror. I know that one day in the not too distant future, I’ll give her the keys and let go. Or maybe not. Our city does have a fine public transportation system, after all.”
REAP THE REWARDS
It’s hard to beat advice from the director of the Yale Parenting Center.
In The Everyday Parenting Toolkit, Alan E. Kazdin starts with the premise that “you have to know what behaviors you would like, and when you want them. . . . That also gets you out of the habit of just noticing what you don’t want, and unwittingly reinforcing it with your exasperated attention.”
Kazdin’s method begins with the use of “antecedents,” a fancy word for anything that prompts a specific behavior. It could be verbal instructions, a note on the refrigerator door or the demonstration of a certain skill, such as using a fork. When the antecedent brings about the behavior you want, give your child positive reinforcement. Eventually, when the desired behavior appears regularly, you can fade out your use of the antecedent.
Lest you get the impression that Kazdin equates parenting with training a puppy, rest assured that he does not suggest using biscuits as rewards. He clearly relishes his work and is intrigued and excited by child and family dynamics, using real examples from his work with families at Yale to demonstrate his advice. This toolkit is jam-packed with solid advice any parent can use.
Effective parenting knows no nationality, according to Christine Gross-Loh, who, in Parenting Without Borders, shares what we can learn from families worldwide. Gross-Loh knows whereof she writes—she and her husband moved to Japan when their sons were 5 and 3, and they subsequently had two daughters while living there. They quickly found that what they had assumed were universal traits of good parents were, in fact, cultural. Japanese moms were more lax about sweets, television and behavior, and yet, Gross-Loh found, their children were just as mature and well-adjusted as hers.
Christine Gross-Loh explores what good parenting looks like in cultures all over the world.
Intrigued, Gross-Loh dove into researching parenting practices around the world, and culled the most interesting and surprising examples of how parents are succeeding. For instance, despite the stereotype of rigid and robotic Japanese schools, recess is actually as much a part of their curriculum as math and reading. Kids go outside as frequently as every hour. She visits one of some 700 “forest kindergartens” in Germany, where preschool children spend hours outdoors singing, building, playing and—horror of horrors for American parents—whittling with knives, which they have been taught to use safely.
She also examines schools in other parts of the world that promote healthy eating, in contrast to our tater tot and pizza-heavy cafeteria fare. “In Korea, a child at school would be served spicy chicken, noodles, soup, seasoned vegetables, and persimmon,” she writes. Gross-Loh finds schools in America that have begun emulating the fresher and veggie-heavy meals of foreign countries, concluding, “We can help our kids be ‘good at eating’ just as we’d teach them any other life skill, so that they can share in a world of food as love, as nurturance, and health.”
Gross-Loh offers an inspiring argument that we can all learn a lot from each other when it comes to the toughest job there is.