Let’s be real: Parenting fails happen, and meltdowns and mistakes are par for the course. This set of parenting books offers fresh solutions and insights into what makes your kids tick—and how to handle the most trying of situations.
We’ll start with the good news: Children are supposed to misbehave sometimes! And you’re supposed to let them! In The Good News About Bad Behavior, journalist and mom Katherine Reynolds Lewis dives into neuroscience research and interviews with dozens of families. She concludes that “[w]hen adults crack down on bad behavior they undermine the development of the very traits that children need to become self-disciplined and productive members of society.”
That’s not to say that Lewis advocates letting children run wild in the streets. But she argues that by undermining children’s ability to learn to regulate their own behavior, we are raising a generation of kids in chaos. We are so disengaged (how many times a day do you mindlessly pick up your phone?) and so tightly scheduled that we are forgetting to let children learn to control their own choices and make mistakes. Find ways to engage with your children, set firm limits and routines, and watch your children thrive as their perfectly imperfect selves.
PARENTING IN FEAR
It was an impulsive decision that would haunt her: Kim Brooks ran into a store to pick up one item, leaving her 4-year-old son Felix happily playing in the car. In the few minutes she was gone, a bystander filmed her unaccompanied son and called the police.
Small Animals is Brooks’ recollection of the months that followed when she was unsure what the consequences would be for her and her family. But Small Animals is more than a memoir: It is a call to action for all of us to quit the judgmental parenting Olympics.
Brooks talks to Lenore Skenazy, who rose to infamy in 2008 when she wrote a piece about letting her 9-year-old son take the New York subway by himself. Skenazy founded the “free-range kids” movement and fights against the belief that our kids are in constant danger. A certain amount of freedom is important to growing independent children, Brooks argues, but we are so mired in fear of failing—of kidnapping, of injury, of not raising the next president of the United States—that it’s hard to let go.
EMBRACING THE OFFBEAT
Many parents worry about their child not fitting in and being different from the pack. In Differently Wired, Deborah Reber tries to shift the paradigm of how we think about kids with neurodifferences such as ADHD and autism.
Reber and her husband found themselves at a loss when their son, Asher, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and disruptive behavioral disorder. He bounced from one elementary school to another because teachers didn’t know how to handle him. Reber finally chose to home-school, but it took several painful years of trial and error to get to that point.
“When we first realize something different is going on with our child, most if not all of us feel overwhelmed with one big question: What now?” Reber writes. “Many of us are relying on word-of-mouth referrals and hours-long Internet searches for things we don’t even have the language for. We’re pioneers without a map, let alone a destination. And this lack of clarity about how to move forward adds an incredibly stressful layer to our already tapped-out lives.”
With empathy and been-there-done-that confidence, Reber outlines 18 concrete and achievable changes (what she calls “tilts”) to transform the way you approach parenting. From letting go of what others think to practicing relentless self-care and identifying your child’s stress triggers, Reber offers rock-solid steps that will shift your family dynamic.
The Design of Childhood is a fascinating look at how our surroundings shape our childhoods, both today and in the past. Architecture historian Alexandra Lange traces how changing views on raising children has impacted the way we build schools and playgrounds, the toys we buy and the cities we build.
“Our built environment is making kids less healthy, less independent and less imaginative,” she writes. “What those hungry brains require is freedom.”
Consider the block. The universal, simple children’s toy has been reimagined endless times over the years: Think Legos, Duplo, Minecraft. “To understand what children can do,” Lange writes, “you need to give them tools and experiences that are open-ended, fungible: worlds of their own making.” Lange applies the same logic to other elements of a child’s life: Playgrounds should offer challenges and options. Planned communities should include communal spaces, access to mass transit and short commutes that support family time. This is a fascinating look at the world from a pint-size perspective.
THE RIGHT WORDS
When I picked up Now Say This by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, the subtitle seemed a little lofty: “The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma.” Really? This book will tell me the right thing to say to a petulant toddler or a tired fifth-grader? As it turns out, though, these women really know their stuff, and they offer priceless tools to work with your child without losing your mind.
Turgeon, a psychotherapist, and Wright, an early childhood expert, base their advice on this simple but effective model: prepare, attune, limit set, problem solve. For example, you need to leave the park, but your toddler is not on board. You prepare (let the child know these are the last few swings), attune (acknowledge the child doesn’t want to go because he’s having so much fun), limit set (explain it’s time to go because dinner is ready) and problem solve (offer to carry him or let him walk). This approach requires patience and practice, but then, isn’t that what parenting is all about?