Don’t Talk to Strangers…Well, Sometimes Talk To Strangers

Don’t Talk to Strangers…Well, Sometimes Talk To Strangers

Editable vector illustration of children reading and clambering over piles of books

 

By B.J. Hollars

It was a weekend we’d always remember—that’s how I billed it at least. Henry, my four-year-old, was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. This was to be our first father-son getaway, and since I’d been invited to give a couple of readings at a local book festival, we had our destination picked out for us: Appleton, Wisconsin—the Las Vegas of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Prior to our journey, Henry had spent much of the week prepping to serve as my dutiful bookseller, and while that scenario provided us no shortage of valuable math lessons, unfortunately for him, my books did not sell at a cost of three apples take away two.

Eventually I broke the news that someone else would be selling the books—someone with a calculator, not a fruit basket—which, judging by the look on Henry’s face, was a betrayal of Judas proportions.

“But hey, you can help me work the crowd,” I’d been quick to reply. “Help me talk to strangers.”

To a well-trained, oft-lectured four-year-old, my encouragement to “talk to strangers” had seemed like a trap.

“But…what if the strangers are bad guys?”

“Well, what I meant is…”

What followed was a 25-minute lecture outlining the many “do’s” and “don’ts” of stranger-talking, a conversation that surely obfuscated the issue beyond repair.

“You should talk to nice strangers,” I found myself saying mid-lecture, though when he called me out (“How do you know a nice stranger from a not-nice one?”) I frantically backpedaled: “Ok, let’s just go with never talk to strangers.”

But that afternoon we did. Following the first reading, Henry and I drove to the nearby city of Neenah where we stumbled upon a lighthouse on the shores of Lake Winnebago. There, we waved to strangers, smiled to strangers, struck up conversations with every nice stranger we passed. After all, it was a beautiful day and we had to tell somebody; who better than a stranger?

Later, we found ourselves in a glass museum, and since admission was free (and I wanted to keep the docent on his toes), I unleashed my four-year-old amid the exhibitions, a bold move that served as the impetus for further conversations with strangers. “Does he have a history of breaking glass?” the docent inquired. “Nah,” I replied, thinking: but maybe a future.

Much to the delight of the docent, we left that museum just as we found it, then burned off as many of the wiggles as we could in the playground across the street. We’d only been there for a few minutes before a six-year-old stranger pushed Henry on a swing, followed up soon after by a ten-year-old stranger committed to helping him climb the slide. To Henry, these strangers were hardly strangers—just kids like him lost in the throes of play.

From my place on a nearby bench, I began revising my stranger lecture. And then, once I figured I had it cracked, I revised it yet again.

How, I wondered, do you keep your kids safe without making them fear the world?

That afternoon I came to two conclusions: first, my guidelines for strangers was severely flawed (after all, isn’t everyone a stranger at the start?); and second, that’s okay. As a parent, I needn’t be a paragon of clarity, or an answer-filled oracle. Mostly, all I need to be is a guy willing to wade into the hard conversations, to go chest-deep into the muck of confusion and eventually find my way out.

Better still if we find our way out together.

That night in Appleton—long after the pizza and the root beer and the three swims in the pool—Henry and I venture into our hotel hallway with an ice bucket in tow. We look left, look right, but find no signs of the ice machine.

Midway through our search, we come across a middle-aged man wielding his own ice bucket.

“Any luck?” I ask the man.

“Nothing yet,” he says.

We split the territory, promising to find one another if our reconnaissance yields results.

Five minutes later our reconnaissance does, and after filling the bucket, Henry and I shift our mission to finding the middle-aged man.

We crisscross hallways, walk a few flights of stairs, shout into the echoing stairwells. Had I had them handy, I might’ve sent up signal flares but alas, on that night, we were flareless.

Since we never leave a man behind we don’t, and within ten minutes or so, we find our ice bucket brethren. I’m touched, I admit, that he hasn’t left us behind, either.

“It’s on the second floor,” I report to the man.

“Yup,” he nods simply.

After our extensive search we’d managed to find one another, though we’d paid our price in melted ice.

Henry and I reenter our room, at which point he immediately resumes jumping on the bed.

“We found our stranger!” he calls. “Yes!”

“That’s no stranger,” I say, dunking a cup into our bucket of water. “That’s our friend.”

B.J. Hollars is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. He the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For more, visit: http://www.bjhollars.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Art of Self-Care

The Art of Self-Care

Hands cupped holding a big heart. My original hand painted illustration.

By Julie Burton

As a survivor of an eating disorder, I thought my newly strengthened and enlightened self-care voice was infallible. I was certain that with a strong marriage, a good job, a network of friends, and a healthy lifestyle, I had this self-care thing down. And I did—at least, at a time when I felt that I had control over my life, my decisions, and my relationships, and that I could manage what was on my plate. But at the age of twenty-seven, I could never have predicted how much more I would need to learn about self-care, and how challenging it would be to hold on to my sense of self, the moment I locked eyes with my newborn daughter’s wanting and needing eyes. With goose bumps on my arms and my heart exploding with love for this child, I felt the “commitment for life” concept sink heavily and purposefully into the depths of my being. As I held her tightly in my arms, and took in the sight, smell, and feel of her, I promised her, and myself, that I would always protect her, love her, and care for her—that I would become a “baby whisperer,” able to anticipate and accommodate her every need

I basked in the euphoria of my newfound sense of purpose and of the endless supply of powerful, all- consuming unconditional love that I didn’t even know existed within me. I fell almost desperately, addictively in love with the feeling of being needed, revered, and loved by my daughter, and by my three subsequent children. And yet I didn’t know that my motherhood journey would be twofold. Underneath this incredible, illuminating euphoria, there was something deeper—a residual, nagging anxiety that emerged from the scars within my heart, scars that had lain dormant since my recovery. Not until much later in my motherhood journey would I come to understand that the unresolved feelings that gnawed at me, wrestling with the joyous feelings of motherhood, were intricately connected to self-care; and that, as amazingly wonderful as motherhood often is, it is also really, really hard— and that sometimes I was in way over my head.
It would be years until I fully grasped how my almost obsessive desire to protect my daughter and subsequent children was more than just a mama bear’s “I want to keep you safe from harm” sort of quest. It definitely was that. But it also included an unspoken promise to protect them from the pain, the loneliness, and the despair that I had experienced as a child. And despite the fact that I put a lot of pressure on myself to “be there” for my children, in doing so, I continued to heal myself.

When my oldest daughter hit that ever-so-uncomfortable stage known as puberty, she began expressing some negativity toward the changes happening in her body. Initially, I was overcome with a sense of panic and dread. But quickly, I propelled my fear into a plan of action. The buck would stop here! I would take the lessons I had learned through my experience, through healing the wounds I’d endured while intently watching my mother fight her own food and body-image battles as I grew up. I would acknowledge my overwhelming responsibility to teach my daughter about all things related to body image, food, exercise, and nutrition. And after every discussion (and there were hundreds), I made sure she understood that all of the above-mentioned subjects are directly tied to self-love, self- respect, and self-compassion. I made a concerted effort to be a good role model for her in my approach to food and exercise, and kept the lines of communication open, checking in with her regularly to see how she felt about herself as she transitioned from girl to young woman.

I approached this issue with seriousness and intensity, practicing what I came to think of as a kind of double mothering, in which I cared for my daughter by reaching back deeply into my own childhood, providing love and compassion for both my daughter and my younger self. I held her when she cried as hormones surged through her confused preteen mind and body, and I gave her heavy doses of love, acceptance, guidance, and understanding during these trying years. I compassionately and gently helped her establish her foundation for healthy eating habits and body image in the way that I would have wanted to learn them myself. And thankfully, at the age of twenty, she has one of the healthiest attitudes toward food and body image of anyone I know.

All three of my older children hit rough patches in middle school, difficulties that most kids cannot avoid as they are trying to figure out who they are, how they fit in, and who their real friends are, at the same time as they are pulling away from their parents. My kids experienced bullying, academic challenges, and self- esteem issues. As I write this book, in the fall of 2015, I am bracing myself for my youngest daughter’s entry into middle school.

I worried tremendously about my kids during these trying years, as some of the pain of my own adolescence resurfaced. I did my best to give them as much love and attention as I could when they were struggling. But I also was very aware of the points at which I knew I needed to bring in outside support. Whether it was a school counselor, a tutor, a rabbi, a coach, a teacher, or a therapist, I did for them what I did not do for myself when I struggled: I asked for help. I knew I could not handle all of their challenges on my own, and I wanted them to feel that they were not alone in them—and that I wasn’t either.

In mothering all four of my children through their various challenges, I have been able to mother different parts of the wounded child within me. My kids always know that I have their backs. They always know that they are not alone, and that I am able and willing to go down into the deep trenches of their lives and their psyches with them, in order to help them navigate life’s inevitable twists and turns, as well as to help them develop a reflective, connected understanding and acceptance of themselves. They have learned that it is okay to ask for help, to trust in others, and to believe that there is a wide and strong net of people who care about them and who will catch them when they fall. And in doing that for them, I continued to trust that I could rely on the same reinforcements for myself. However, because of my tendency toward extremes, and my deeply rooted “die on the sword” mentality, my “double mothering” would propel me in both positive and negative directions. It served as a constant push for me to become the best mother I could possibly be for my children and for the child within me, but it also provided a breeding ground of opportunities for me to be brutally hard on myself. While it was easy to feel good when the things I did to help my children worked out well, oftentimes my efforts did not yield the results I thought they would or should, or my children’s behavior did not change at the speed at which I expected—as it goes with parenting. The old tapes containing messages of failure and disappointment played back in my head, sometimes even prompting me to look for “evidence” that I was indeed a failure as a mother. If my son got in trouble at school, well, guess whose fault that was? If my daughter didn’t do well on a test, I should have helped her study more.

Needless to say, this critical self-care challenge caused me a great deal of angst and confusion before I understood that self-care lies far below the surface, in the place where our most wounded self resides. I realize now that my first decade of mothering provided me with a new platform for my embedded feelings of guilt and self-doubt, and my striving for unattainable perfection, to reappear. Slowly, subconsciously, and unintentionally, as my pattern would go, I began to slip away from who I was. I let go of many of my personal and professional goals, as many moms do (at least for a period of time), and I convinced myself that my only real purpose was to give to my family—until, years later, these feelings finally knocked me down and left me in a heap on my sister’s living room floor.

Although I had worked diligently on solidifying my self- care voice throughout the process of my eating-disorder recovery, and was very grateful that I was even able to bear children (given the damage I had done to my body in my teens), I frequently felt alone, drained, unhappy, and unable to find solid ground. I did not yet realize that mothering them, obsessing about every little detail of their lives, would not bring me the fulfillment I needed to feel whole, nor would the idea that sacrificing my need to care for myself for “their sake” could be a healthy guiding principle for me, or for any mother.

The past two decades of being a mother and studying motherhood have taught me that I am most certainly not alone in this conundrum. Most mothers, while they nobly attempt to care for their children, struggle with defining their boundaries—which often leads mothers to neglect themselves. In a blog post on the website PsychCentral, journalist Margarita Tartakovsky explains why the mother-child relationship can feel so complicated. “Your relationship with your child isn’t just symbiotic,” she writes; “it’s parasitic because it isn’t a mutual relationship.” She illustrates this point further by quoting psychotherapist Ashley Eder, LPC, who says, “Your children are—adorable [and] beloved— parasites, and you are the host, and that’s normal and healthy.” But in the spirit of self-care, the most important aspect of Eder’s mother-child, host-parasite analogy is this: “The survival of a parasite is dependent upon the health of the host.”

When a woman makes the transition to being a mother, and she feels the nurturing cells multiply by the second (or for some mothers who suffer from postpartum depression, it can be fear or even some resentment that kicks in), she is less inclined to be thinking about how to keep herself, “the host,” healthy, and more likely to spend her energy on figuring out how to take care of her new “parasite.

Almost every mom I interviewed could connect with the feelings of frustration that often arise when talking about motherhood and self-care. In fact, if you pull a chair up to any table at Starbucks, an exercise class, park bench, set of bleachers, or office water cooler where a group of mothers are gathered and the topic of self-care comes up, you will hear many moans: “UGH, I just do not know how to do that anymore. Who’s got the time?” “I have been trying to get to this exercise class for two weeks but my kids have been sick, my husband is out of town, and I am beyond exhausted. It is a miracle I am here!” There will be a unanimous consensus that finding ways to care for themselves while mothering children is one of the trickiest things they have ever done. They will compare notes on how much time and attention children demand, and then throw in their partners, work, friends, and other family members as other forces that tug at their energy.

For most moms, the idea of “self-care” can feel like just one more item to add to their already overflowing to-do list. And to some, like those quoted above, it can feel unattainable. For other moms, self-care practices will go in fits and starts. They will try. They will have intentions of taking good care of themselves, but will often get swept up in the needs of others and allow their own needs to fall by the wayside. They will express frustration, and sometimes even resentment: “I wish I had more time for myself but something/someone usually gets in the way. I was planning to go meet my girlfriends last night for dinner but Billy wanted me to stay home and help him with his homework. He didn’t want his dad to help him, and even though I was angry about it, I stayed home to work with him. I feel so trapped.”

In 2012, I attended a workshop for yoga teachers. One teacher, Megan, asked the workshop leader, Matt, a father of three children, including three-year-old twins and an eight- month-old, what we should do if we believe one of our students is battling depression. Megan went on to talk about one of her students who is a mom and is taking care of her young kids and her aging parents as well. The woman confided in Megan that she often felt resentful, anxious, and depressed because she was pulled in so many directions and felt completely tapped out.

Matt paused for a moment and replied, “It’s like this.” He grabbed a marker by one end and handed it to Megan, who took hold of the other end. But Matt did not let go of the marker. As Matt held on to one end of the marker and Megan the other, you could see the push-pull effect between them as they both grappled for the marker.

Then Matt said to Megan, “Maybe I don’t really want to give you this marker and I would rather keep it for myself, but I am not sure how to do this because now you want and expect the marker that I offered you and I can’t really take it back. But I realize I really need it.” He explained how sometimes we give things (or parts of ourselves) to others even though we don’t want to, and truly need to keep these pieces of ourselves intact. So we keep hanging on but feel like we “should” give it away. This can certainly provoke anxiety, and is a reality for many mothers who give of themselves to those who need them (children, partners, parents, bosses), but struggle to hold on to important pieces of themselves.

The fact is that it doesn’t work to give away something that you desperately need for yourself. Mothers’ limbs, hearts, and brains are constantly being pulled in various directions; think of Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book The Giving Tree, which can be read as a parable of the self-destruction that comes to those who offer too much to others, while keeping nothing for themselves. But your trunk needs to remain steady and strong. You learn about your strengths and weaknesses as your children coerce, push, and challenge you. The only thing you are truly in control of is yourself. By taking care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, you are more likely to be able to be strong for yourself and your kids and to be able to withstand the storms that come through your life and their lives.

Excerpted from The Self-Care Solution, now available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Julie Burton is an experienced writer specializing in self-care, parenting, and relationships. She has written for many local and national websites and publications. She blogs at juliebburton.com, is the co-founder of the Twin Cities Writing Studio, and teaches writing and wellness workshops to adults and teens. Julie lives in Minnetonka, MN, with her husband and four children. Connect with Julie on her website, on Facebook /unscriptedmom or twitter @juliebburton.

Illustration © Andreus

 

 

 

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Top 10 Audiobook Titles for Family Listening

Top 10 Audiobook Titles for Family Listening

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By Robin Whitten and Sharon Grover

Whether you are taking a 5-hour road trip this weekend to see fireworks or driving a few miles to partake in a neighborhood BBQ, why not entertain the family with an audiobook? As the editor of AudioFile magazine, I’m excited to share our picks for middle-grade kids below—there are madcap adventures, familiar classics, and challenges facing friends and family. We can pretty much guarantee that the adult listeners will have just as much fun as the kids.

Coraline

Written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio, 2002

A lonely, doleful girl discovers an alternative world in the apartment next door, complete with “other,” button-eyed parents who promise love and attention, not to mention better food than the girl’s preoccupied parents provide. When the malevolent “other” parents reveal themselves as evil, our unhappy heroine must sort things back to their rightful places. An intensely creepy story with eerie musical interludes by the Gothic Archies, makes this perfect fare for middle school listeners.

The Crossover

Written by Kwame Alexander

Narrated by Corey Allen

Recorded Books, 2014

Basketball teams with poetry in this 2015 Newbery winner that begs to be read aloud. Corey Allen is more than up to the task of taking twins Josh and Jordan Bell rushing down the court or dealing with family tragedy.

Diary of a Mad Brownie

The Enchanted Files

Written by Bruce Coville

Narrated by Euan Morton with Nancy O’Connor and a Full Cast

Listening Library, 2015

A 150-year-old brownie in Connecticut?! Bound to a very messy 11-year-old girl? Join the fun as a full cast explores the enchanted hijinks in Coville’s (My Teacher Is an Alien) latest supernatural journey linking magical Scottish creatures and an American family in an attempt to break a curse as old as time.

Masters of Disaster

Written by Gary Paulsen

Narrated by Nick Podehl

Brilliance Audio, 2010

What happens when three 12-year-old boys have too much time on their hands? Disaster, that’s what! Nick Podehl shines as he narrates these delightfully ridiculous escapades from the pen of Paulsen — a master raconteur specializing in the dare, the challenge, and the resulting chaos (think dumpsters and methane gas) in which boys excel.

Mutiny in Time

Infinity Ring, Book One
Written by James Dashner
Narrated by Dion Graham

Scholastic Audiobooks, 2012

Is The 39 Clues your cup of tea? Then listen to this series and play the game online. In a future where history is broken, three young friends must band together, travel in time, and save the world. The series has several authors, with narrator Graham providing the glue that binds them together in an exciting, roller coaster adventure.

Pax

Written by Sara Pennypacker

Narrated by Michael Curran-Dorsano

Harper Audio, 2016

A boy and a fox are the central characters in this heart-rending story of loss, friendship, and war, narrated with appropriate nuance by Curran-Dorsano. When his father enlists in an un-named war, Peter is sent to live with his grandfather and must leave his pet fox behind. Desolate at the loss of his companion, Peter sets out to find Pax, who is struggling to live in the wilderness. The emotional resonance of the story makes this an ideal choice for family listening.

Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes

Written by Rick Riordan

Narrated by Jesse Bernstein

Listening Library, 2015

Percy Jackson made Greek mythology cool and this long introduction to the heroes of old will be perfect for those rides to school or to sports — just enough time to dip in an out of a very tongue-in-cheek exploration of the likes of Hercules, Perseus, Jason, and Atalanta, with all of their extraordinary exploits.

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book: The Mowgli Stories

Written by Rudyard Kipling

Narrated by Bill Bailey, Richard E. Grant, Colin Salmon, Tim McInnerny, Bernard Cribbins, Celia Imrie, Martin Shaw

Audible Digital Download, 2015

The real story of the man-child Mowgli, raised by wolves and hunted by a relentlessly evil tiger, unfolds in this full-cast aural delight. The lightweight Disney animated feature pales in comparison to this battle for jungle supremacy, complete with the sounds of the tropical rainforest and the frightful roaring of Shere Kahn.

Treasure Island

Written by Robert Louis Stevenson

Narrated by Alfred Molina

Listening Library, 2007

This swashbuckling exploits of a young boy, a foolish squire, an adventuresome doctor, a menacing pirate, and a search for buried treasure is truly the stuff of classic literature. Molina’s (Doctor Octopus in Spider Man 2) rich vocal characterizations brings this old-fashioned adventure to life for modern families.

Who Could That Be at This Hour?

All the Wrong Questions Series

Written by Lemony Snicket

Narrated by Liam Aiken

Hachette, 2012

A teenaged Lemony Snicket shares his (ahem) autobiographical story of how he became a famous sleuth in this hysterically morose first installment of a series sure to be as popular with his fans as were his adventures with the Baudelaire children. Cliffhangers abound, so be sure to sign up for all installments to get your burning questions answered!

Robin Whitten is the editor and founder of AudioFile magazine. AudioFile publishes a print magazine 6x a year, maintains an active web site, www.audiofilemagazine.com, featuring the curated booklist Audiobooks for Kids & Teens, and runs the popular program SYNC that gives free audiobooks to teens every week during the summer. She has seen audiobooks evolve over 25 years of writing about and reviewing them.

Sharon Grover is a Youth Services and Audiobook Literacy Consultant. She chaired the American Library Association’s Printz (2013) and Odyssey (2010) Committees. Her book, co-authored with Lizette Hannegan, LISTENING TO LEARN: Audiobooks Supporting Literacy was published in 2011.

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Why I Took A Sharpie To My Favorite Kids’ Book

Why I Took A Sharpie To My Favorite Kids’ Book

Litlle girl reading lot of books, sitting above the pile of books. **** All inside the page of the book had been altered/changed. *****

By Emily Grosvenor

When I found out my sister and her Chinese-American husband were going to have their first child, I began scouring my personal library and then my favorite online booksellers looking for books with Asian children in them. Specifically, I was looking for those snuggle-in, mother-baby bonding board books capturing what it is like to fall in love with your child as he grows.

I found nothing.

Tough times for diversity demand subversive measures. Like a Sharpie to your favorite children’s book. So I grabbed my nearest black marker, and colored in the hair of the spiky-haired blond kid on one of my own family favorite, I Love You Through And Through, by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak. I took a special, subversive pleasure on the page “I love your hair and eyes. Your giggles and cries.”

Parents and caregivers with children who have mixed ethnicity face a special challenge when looking for books. The goal shouldn’t be to give them all books that look like them. But rapidly changing demographics of our country have not corresponded to an equally fast change within publishing. It is still difficult to find books with characters of mixed heritage.

Now that I’m writing my own picture book I know how dire the situation is for diversity in the genre. Half of all children reading picture books in America today are non-white, according to a 2013 study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. And yet, only 10.48% of children’s books featuring non-white characters. Latino children make up 25% of kids in public school, but only 3% of human characters in children’s books.

Many books featuring Asian-Americans, while wonderful unto themselves, deal specifically with the theme of having parents from two cultures. That’s great, but there just aren’t a lot of books where the characters just are an ethnicity.

It’s not difficult to see how this happens. Traditionally, publishers pick the illustrators for picture books, not the author. They have power to craft a character based on who they think is the largest possible audience for that book. It’s not surprising, really, that a book about a little girl who hides in the patterns of nature would end up being a little brown-haired girl, or, heaven forefend, a little boy.

My forthcoming children’s book about falling love with tessellations (repeating tile patterns) features a “Chinese-American girl.”

Now a white writer who chooses to make her characters non-white faces special challenges and must do her due diligence to create a story that is culturally sensitive and true to experience. Who am I to write a Chinese-American child into any story?

The organization We Need Diverse Books, launched first as #weneeddiversebooks in 2014 by a group of motivated industry leaders, writers, illustrators and diversity advocates, provides excellent resources for writers looking to incorporate diverse characters in their books. The information flies in the face of every edict to new writers – write what you know – and challenges them to do the research to find out what they don’t know. That means, avoiding stereotypes and making sure they are inadvertently attaching ethnicity to villainy, for example.

In my case, my character’s ethnicity served a personal purpose. I wanted my niece, Piper, to always have a book that looked like her, and I wanted it to be a book that didn’t deal specifically with the issues of having parents from two cultural or ethnic heritages. I also wanted my own sons to read books that looked like their cousins. The message I want to send them is not “appreciate the differences,” but “we are the same.”

But that doesn’t mean I won’t be testing my book with an audience of Asian-American moms, dads and kids from various family constellations before my book goes to print. I want to know what is working and what I may not have thought of, the subtle ways the existence of ethnicity shapes even the simplest children’s story.

As for the kid testers, I haven’t found a single one that looks at my character, Tessa, and thinks: She’s half-Asian! My favorite response to date came from our friend’s four-year-old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter, Lennon.

She said: “I’m Tessa, too. Because she’s smart and I’m smart.”

Emily Grosvenor is an Oregon-based writer. Follow her @emilygrosvenor. Her children’s book Tessalation! is available for pre-order. Follow her @emilygrosvenor.

Photo: @OtnaYdur

Ten Picture Books that Will Always Stay on my Shelf

Ten Picture Books that Will Always Stay on my Shelf

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By Marcelle Soviero

I began collecting picture books well before I had children, not board books, but the odd-sized hardcover books with beautiful illustrations and stories that enthralled me. There are ten I have listed here that has moved me before I was a mother and long after I was a mother. Many were introduced to me by my best friend, Susan, and together we introduced them to our children, often combining a read-aloud with an associated “story” craft. My five children are past picture book stage, but these books, ever-so-worn from rereading, will never leave my shelves.

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Michael Wimmer (1994)

On the day that Eli is born, his grandmother holds him up to the window to see the beauty of the land around him, and his grandfather cries and carves his new grandson’s name into the barn rafters alongside other family names. As Eli grows older, he discovers that each member of the family has a special place that he or she loves best, a place that “makes all the difference” in the world. In sharing these places, they celebrate their connections to each other and to the land that sustains them.

Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera B. Williams (1986)

Young Bidemmi draws a sequence of pictures all involving people “eating cherries and spitting out the pits.” She tells captivating tales as she draws– a large man in the subway is “so strong… he could carry a piano on his head.” And of course he is holding a little white bag with cherries in it. My children loved to repeat the words “eating cherries and spitting out the pits,” I think yours will too.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock (2002)

Meet young Charlotte, mud cake maker, tree climber and wagon racer. One morning she gets a package from Aunt Edme. Inside she finds a doll. A frilly doll. Charlotte immediately warns the doll that “we like digging in the dirt and climbing trees. No tea parties. No being pushed around in frilly prams, you’ll just have to get used to the way we do things.” To Charlotte’s surprise, she and Dahlia the doll become fast friends. Although outings with Charlotte have changed Dahlia’s appearance, Aunt Edme is pleased to see Charlotte has given Dahlia plenty of fresh air, excitement and love. A good lesson learned for girls and boys alike.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982)

As a child, Miss Rumphius promises her grandfather that one day she will do something to make the world more beautiful. Never forgetting her words, as an adult she finds a special way to add beauty to the earth. “All that summer Miss Rumphius, her pockets full of seeds, wandered over fields and headlands, sewing lupines. She scattered seeds along the highways and down the country lanes. She tossed them into hollows and along stonewalls.” Be sure to have a handful of seeds ready as you read this one as your child may be inspired to sow flowers in every crack and crevice of your neighborhood.

Mudpies & Other Recipes for Dolls by Marjorie Winslow, Illustrated by Erik Blegvad (1961/1986)

You won’t cozy up and read this one cover to cover, but you will take it outside often with your little one. Just holding this cute little book in your hands will help you recall the outdoor adventures of childhood. Enjoy the wonderful mix of recipes ranging from “Daisy Dip” to “Crabgrass Gumbo.” All of which use only the finest ingredients from outside. This book always inspired my children to make up new recipes to “bake in the sun for the fairies.”

My Mama Had A Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray, Illustrated by Raul Colon (1995).

In this story about nature and life, a ballet dancer recalls how she and her mother would welcome each new season with an outdoor dance. “And we’d go into the eye-blinking blue air, with mama leading in a leaf-kicking, leg-lifting, handclapping, hello autumn ballet.” The gentle spirit of the mother and the love this child, now a woman, has for her are palpable. I gave this book to a friend who lost her mother and had recently become a new mother and she said, “I didn’t know a picture book could be this powerful.” Indeed.

Sophie’s Masterpiece: A Spider’s Tale by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Jane Dyer (2001)

Sophie is not an ordinary spider. She is an artist. When she ventures into the world and into Beekman’s boarding house, she weaves wondrous webs that go unappreciated. At Beekman’s she tolerates being swatted and called names but is determined to spin webs as her gifts to strangers. She grows older and her last masterpiece, a spun blanket for a baby, is one that readers of all ages will not forget. This book meant so much to my daughter Sophia when she was young that she came home with her pictures from school all month and said “Mommy these are my masterpieces.”

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brombeau, Illustarted by Gail Demarcken (2001)

A feast for the eyes and the heart, The Quiltmaker’s Gift celebrates the spirit of giving through a fable-like story about an old quiltmaker who transforms a greedy unhappy king with her quilts. “Some said there were magic in her fingers. Some whispered her needles and cloth were gifts from the bewitched. And still others said the quilts really fell to the earth from the shoulders of angels…” The subtle message – it is better to give than to receive – is told in a vivid patchwork of pictures.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)

Young Peter one day wakes to the wonders of a new world. The first snow has fallen and in it Peter finds magic and limitless possibilities. The day of snowmen and sledding leaves such an impression that when Peter wakes up the next morning and the snow still blankets the city, he wants to “do the whole day over again.” Read this one with your brood when you’re stuck inside on a snowy day.

When Lightning Comes in a Jar by Patricia Polacco (2002)

An annual backyard reunion becomes the backdrop for family traditions (Aunt Bertha’s meatloaf with hard boiled egg in the middle) and stories (Aunt Ivah and Aunt Adah compete for who can tell the best tale). The narrator, Trisha, now grown, remembers the year a new tradition was started. “A small burst of starlight puffed out into the grass. Then more and more drifted out of the carpet beneath our feet, ‘fireflies’ we called out. We grabbed the jars and the dash was on to capture lightning and put it in a jar.” Share this one with your little person on a summer night.

Marcelle Soviero is the Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child, and the author of An Iridescent life: Essays on Motherhood. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 10 Great Sanity-Saving Books for Moms

Top 10 Great Sanity-Saving Books for Moms

The Big RumpusBy Beth Eakman

For all of its blessings, motherhood can make you feel like you’ve got a leak in your beanbag. How’s a mom to maintain sanity in the face of isolation, exhaustion, straight up absurdity, and mental health obstacles, especially when you might be facing gatherings that involve extended family? You need commiseration, you need a laugh, you need advice—but not from some overachiever with sparkling bathrooms and abs of steel. Just in time for the holidays, Brain, Child‘s got you covered, from morning sickness to toddler anarchy to eye rolling teens. Grab one of these books, some new and some classic, and take some deep breaths. Not surprisingly, you will find some overlap here with a previous Brain, Child Top 10, on humor.

  1. Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (Anchor)

I read Lamott’s chronicle of her son Sam’s first year when I was pregnant with my first child and increasingly overwhelmed by the general weirdness of the experience. Lamott wrote Operating Instructions when she was in her mid-thirties, broke, pregnant, and single. Her son’s father had bailed out pretty quickly after she decided to have the baby. While her survival strategy of creating the proverbial village to help her raise her child is inspiring, the true sanity lifelines are the moments when she reflects on her own mental state. She frets about “the increasingly familiar sense that I am losing my grip on reality” and wonders if she is “well enough to be a mother.” This book is a modern parenting classic for a reason. She manages to confront the “mind-boggling questions” with humor, quite a bit of it (the laugh-til-you shake the bed, cry, and pee a little bit because your bladder is wrecked and that’s your life now) and if Anne Lamott can laugh about it, so can you.

  1. The Hip Mama Survival Guide by Ariel Gore (Hachette)

Alongside the standard-issue, sunny advice books about what we should expect and do and buy, with their assumptions that all mothers are married, middle-class, and settled, Gore’s memoir/advice is a refreshing reminder that real life doesn’t look like a catalog shoot. Based on her late nineties ‘zine Hip Mama, this survival guide isn’t using the term survival ironically. While the proper care of genital piercings during pregnancy and childbirth or dealing with custody issues may not be priority topics for all readers, Gore’s wit and honesty make them universally compelling. Her treatment of the hard stuff, the isolation, sleep deprivation, and postpartum depression is among the most grounded you’ll find. She’s warm and funny and pulls no punches. Motherhood has beautiful moments, she says, but who needs help with those? The Hip Mama Survival Guide is like your smartest, funniest friend for the tough moments.

  1. The Big Rumpus by Ayun Halliday (Seal Press)

By some miracle, Brain, Child Magazine sent me an invitation to subscribe to their brand new magazine when my daughter was about one-year old and among the treasures therein, I discovered Halliday’s essays. The Big Rumpus (another book to spring from an author’s ‘zine, The East Village Inky) follows Halliday’s adventures raising her toddler daughter Inky and her new baby brother in New York City. Early in the book she describes herself as Io of Greek mythology, a woman who’d run afoul of the gods and been turned into  a cow cursed with a cloud of biting flies. The flies, she says, want breakfast and tv and candy vitamins. They do not understand coffee or NPR. My son was born just before The Big Rumpus hit the stores and I was floored with gratitude to discover that the time in the afternoons between nap time and dinner time were torturous for someone besides me: “fucking grueling, mate,” Halliday writes. You’ll be relieved to know that you are not alone.

  1. Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting by Bunmi Laditan (Scribner)

In much the same way that moms used ‘zines in the 1990s and early 2000s, social media set the stage for a twenty-first century revolution in virtual community building and group-sourced sanity salvation for moms. Often called “the Mommy Bloggers,” (a bit condescendingly if you ask me) authors like Honest Toddler’s Bunmi Laditan found that the short form required for Facebook posts and tweets was perfect for both authors and readers: people with kids who don’t have time to read but need regular mental health boluses. Honest Toddler, first the social media posts and then the book, is written in the voice of the little despot inside every toddler. “In bed,” writes HT, “just noticed the color of my socks. They’re not going to work. Not tonight.” Hooray! You are not paranoid. The little stinkers ARE plotting against you. “Crushed the contents of an entire box of Ritz crackers. Hungry for Ritz crackers. Not these ones. They’re broken.” The short essays in which the toddler holds forth on Halloween and not being at all sorry for hitting another child are treasures.

  1. People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann (Ballantine)

Here’s another brilliantly hilarious book of essays that started as a blog. Mann’s People I Want to Punch in the Throat takes on those people you’ve been secretly wishing harm from your front window. When my kids were little, the scrapbooking craze was peaking and so many moms in my neighborhood were selling pricey scrapbooking gear that I had to question the concept of supply and demand economics. I saw them walking down the street carting their special scrapbooking supply tackle boxes on wheels to a “party,” really a thinly disguised excuse for commerce and day drinking. I don’t drink and I might have scrapbooked if my kids ever wore pants between the ages of two and ten. Mann gives appropriately snarky voice to my lowest and least generous feelings toward “overachieving moms,” “douchey dads,” and other suburban scourges, and reading this book can provide a catharsis that is probably better and certainly more legal than doing the actual punching.

  1. The Lunchbox Chronicles by Marion Winik (Vintage)

Winik’s best-selling and now classic 1999 memoir of raising two young sons on her own is loosely structured around the hours of the day, which is appropriate for motherhood’s middle years. The kids are no longer babies, so you’ve got something resembling a regular schedule. On the other hand, getting through the day can still feel like a series of minor miracles. Winik shares her worst mommy moments—and heaven knows we all need to hear that we aren’t the only ones whose best intentions have gone the way of our dieting resolutions, often before lunch. Her epic treatment of the battle against the pestilence of head lice had me in stitches and her claim that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of effort you put into food and how much your kids like it is some sort of parenting law. Each short chapter can be read as a stand-alone essay, which works well for the waits in dentists’ offices, carpool lineups, and soccer practices that are the hallmarks of elementary-school.

  1. The Science of Parenthood by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel. and Jessica Zeigler (She Writes Press)

You’ll want to start this brightly illustrated collection of meme-style cartoons, infographics, and very short comic essays before your kids are old enough to need to do science fair projects. The entertaining entries will not only make you laugh, they’ll remind you that you once took science classes and might remember some vague concepts, which you will need when you, I mean YOUR KIDS, have to participate in the science fair. A good deal of the unscientific science deals with chaos theory, entropy, and random variables… Beautifully produced. Funny. This is hot off the presses and will make a perfect gift for mom friends.

  1. Queen Bees and Wannabes and Masterminds and Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman (Harmony)

Wow, some of these kids in middle school are real creeps. Not *your* kid, of course, but the other ones. These two books will explain why they are horrible and provide you with the perspective that hellish middle school experiences may help produce successful adults. Because I have a daughter and a son, I read both of these books. An unexpected mental health challenge of reading these books is that they can plunge you back into that strange place. Wiseman’s books will remind you that you are a grownup now. Thank goodness, and it wasn’t just you, middle school is tough.

  1. The Angst of Adolescence by Sara Villanueva (Bibliomotion)

When you have to make the HOLYCRAP! trip to the bookstore when your child hits his or her teen years, his is the one you’ll need to buy when it turns out that your very own teenager, your precious baby who was never ever going to be a horrible teenager because you read all the right books and did all the right things, is in fact a horrible teenager. In addition to being a PhD professor of psychology, Villanueva’ is the parent of teenagers and at this point that’s pretty much a requirement for anyone doling out advice. She manages to interweave scientific insights (bizarro sleep schedules are developmentally appropriate!), gentle explanations (assholish behavior is developmentally appropriate), and confessions that even research scientists with a scholar’s understanding of teenage brain development sometimes lose their minds with their own kids.

  1. What Diamonds Can Do by Claire Keyes (WordTech Communications)

Just as the monsters who’ve taken over your previously adorable kids are beginning to show signs of civilization, your teens get ready to launch. Now you are ready to use the tiny bit of brain space that has been cleared out by your kids’ burgeoning maturity, but not yet destroyed by the shocking decrepitude that has snuck up on you for the past couple of decades while you were distracted by other concerns. Whatever ragged remains of mental stability you still possess may yet survive. Diamonds is the perfect combination of the kind of high art that soothes the soul and reflections on the trip of parenthood that you need in order to start getting your head around the looming empty nest. Her poems are not sentimental but will remind you here and there that these increasingly delightful adults were just a few short months ago the wonderful horribly frustrating, clever, complicated, and messy people that they really have been all along.

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Mindful Discipline ARTBy Hilary Levey Friedman

Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist and author of the forthcoming Discipline without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up [LifeTree Media], writes, “Of all the workshop requests I receive, discipline is by far the most popular topic. Big people everywhere want to know how to discipline. By ‘big people’ I mean parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, aunties, uncles, caregivers, and any other adult who plays a significant role in the nurturing and growing up of a child.”

Various philosophies, versions, names, and age-targeted suggestions abound when it comes to discipline, especially for toddlers and teens. But one thing pretty much every book about discipline agrees upon is that discipline is not about punishment and is instead about teaching. Most also agree that a style of parenting that experts call “authoritative parenting” appears to work best for many families. The fourth book on this list, 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, defines authoritative parents as those who, “Set high expectations and help children live up to those standards; they enforce high moral standards with loving acceptance. They promote self-control with social responsiveness; they teach children to make responsible choices within firmly established limits.”

This group of books about discipline starts with those targeted at the broadest age range, like 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, then narrows in on the youngest kids, tweens, and teens. At the end a few books focus on targeted populations and how guidance learned in those arenas can help all parents.

The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance—From Toddlers to Teens by Kim John Payne

Kim John Payne is well-known for his 2010 book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Earlier this year he released The Soul of Discipline to help parents establish a strong foundation in early childhood that will help kids. Payne claims that in 30 years he has never met a truly disobedient child or teen, but he has met a lot of disoriented ones who react by being difficult. He details three phases of parental involvement that build upon one another: the Governor oversees the early years, the Gardener cultivates flowering of teen years, and the Guide oversees the teen years. He also contextualizes everything, like in Chapter 9 where he details the history of discipline, “Avoiding Discipline Fads.” In addition Payne offers concrete advice to parents (I especially loved the tips on pages 83-86 about how to handle serial interrupters!).

Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits & Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Shauna Shapiro and Chris White

Unlike many other books on “discipline,” Mindful Discipline focuses not just on parents and what they can do, but also on what children can do. Shapiro and White emphasize the ways in which self-discipline enables children to learn to guide their own lives, what they call the five essential elements of Mindful Discipline: 1) unconditional love, 2) space, 3) mentorship, 4) healthy boundaries, and 5) mis-takes (this is not a typo, but their term for “missed takes instead of mistakes”). While discipline can help kids learn to be free, Shapiro and White remind is that, “Nature has intended for the parent-child relationship to be a loving hierarchy.” Each chapter ends with a mindfulness awareness practice that will help everyone in a family practice being more mindful.

Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents by Stephen Greenspan

This short, but dense, book written by a Clinical Professor of Psychology near the end of his career is directed at all adult caregivers, so not just kin caregivers but also teachers. One of the strengths of this volume is its clear explanation of the history of discipline philosophies and its description of the three major psychological approaches when it comes to discipline—affective, behavioral, and cognitive. Greenspan places a lot of emphasis on socioemotional development and social competence, so it is no surprise that he thinks the three long-term outcomes of effective discipline include happiness, boldness, and niceness. This can be accomplished through warmth, tolerance, and influence, good advice for other pursuits throughout our lifetimes and not just while parenting growing youngsters.

8 Keys to Old School Parenting: For Modern-Day Families by Michael Mascolo

Mascolo focuses on “old school parenting,” but what exactly is that? To him it’s parenting techniques that have stood the test of time. One thing that has definitely been dropped is violence, but the sense of authority remains. Mascolo, also a psychology professor, begins 9 Keys to Old School Parenting by articulating the parenting attitude that informs the whole book: “I am your parent. I’m not your friend, your playmate, your maid, or your chauffeur. You are not my equal. I am responsible for your safety and development. I am here to teach you how to be successful in the world.” Not surprisingly the first key is to value your parental authority, but others include “cultivate your child’s character,” “solve problems,” and “foster emotional development,” and you definitely can’t go wrong there.

Discipline with Love & Limits: Calm, Practical Solutions to the 43 Most Common Childhood Behavior Problems by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara Unell

About 30 years ago Wyckoff and Unell published a book called Discipline without Shouting or Spanking. In the intervening years the book’s title and content have gone the way of more positive discipline, so now we focus on love and limits and do not even mention spanking. The authors position the book as one you will pick up when a problem arises, much like many books out there for health issues like rashes or sore throats. You can read the first 30 pages or so to set the scene, but then turn to the “problems” as they arise, like “plane travel stress” or “sibling rivalry.” Each problem section briefly defines the problem, gives advice to try to prevent the problem, and what to do (and what not to do) to solve the problem. The sections close with a case history, which are not always helpful. Overall this is a good little resource to keep on your shelf.

Nelsen, Jane, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy. Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, From Infant to Toddler—Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy

Back in the Winter 2015 print issue of Brain, Child I wrote about this book in a round-up of how to deal with the emotional storm of toddlerhood. Earlier editions or Nelsen et al’s work helped establish the positive discipline mentioned above that we know today. Different “positive discipline” books exist for different age groups and scenarios, but it’s always good to start at the beginning. Some of my favorite parenting advice that I have found to be so true is in this book: “No parenting tool works all the time. Be sure to have more than just time-out in your toolbox… There is never one tool—or three, or even ten—that is effective for every situation for every child.”

How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents by Richard Bromfield

In this short book with lots of punchy advice, Bromfield lays out a 7-day plan to unspoil children aged 2-12. While not a discipline book in name, it is about discipline because spoiled children often do not listen or respect their parents. Bromfield focuses on natural consequences and less on concrete activities parents can do themselves or with children to change their behavior. Each chapter starts with an interesting quote that will speak to parents, making the book an easy one to digest in small doses. The advice is more general, but it is worthwhile, like suggesting parents study actions of those who have more control over your child that you do, like teachers.

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan

Now in its 6th edition with over 1.6 million copies sold, 1-2-3 Magic is certainly doing something right! In February 2016 the newest edition will be released, which continues to focus on what clinical psychologist Phelan denotes are the three jobs of parenthood: controlling obnoxious behavior, encouraging good behavior, and strengthening relationships with children. Previous edition have focused on start and stop behaviors and utilizing timers when raising kids, and presumably the newest edition will suggest using cell phone timers and not just egg timers. Phelan also provides simple, but effective, suggestions to parents, such as: agree to keep your child’s bedroom door closed so you won’t see the mess inside and nag, but in exchange your child has to pick it up once per week. Seems like everyone ends up happier when following advice in 1-2-3 Magic.

10 Days to a Less Defiant Child: The Breakthrough Program for Overcoming Your Child’s Difficult Behavior by Jeffrey Bernstein

Bernstein says that in the past 25 years he has worked with over 2000 families who have defiant children. What is a defiant child? It is one who is quick to anger, overly dramatic, and almost constantly resistant to doing what is asked. A defiant child is different from a disobedient child, but s/he is also different from a child who has conduct disorder, destroying property or physically attacking animals or people (which would require being seen in person by a specialist). Targeted at ages 4-18, Bernstein suggests reading a chapter per day over the ten-day period. First published in 2006 and now in its second edition the book advises parents to think you are on a reality show, someone is always watching, so be careful of what you say and how you say it to model good behavior and emotional processing.

Parenting Children with Health Issues and Special Needs by Foster Cline and Lisa Greene

The first book on this year’s Top Ten Books for Parenting Children with Disabilities, this slim volume provides needed advice for all parents, regardless of their children’s needs. It reminds parents that to effectively communicate and influence their children they should strive to be consultants and not drill sergeants. And the best piece of advice for all of these situations, as Cline and Greene so succinctly state, “I love you too much to argue.”

Hilary Levey Friedman is Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor.

 

 

 

Excerpt: Unlocking Parental Intelligence

Excerpt: Unlocking Parental Intelligence

Unlocking Parental IntelligenceIntroduction

By Dr. Laurie Hollman

Do you ever wonder why your child behaves the way she does? How many times in a single day do you ask yourself, “Why did she do that?” Even little things can throw you. Your three-year-old lies about brushing his teeth. He lied? At age three? Sometimes it’s subtle. For example, your teenage daughter tells you about her day, something she rarely does. Why now? Is she just feeling chatty or did something happen that she’s not quite ready to tell you yet? Sitting in a parent-teacher conference, or even a principal’s office, you may ask yourself, “Why did my child behave that way? How am I supposed to handle this?”

We’ve all experienced that awful feeling of fear, surprise, or incomprehension when our kids do something unusual, unimaginable, or outright distressing. And when nothing changes, despite our best efforts to address the behavior, all we can do is wonder, “Why?”

It’s common to have moments of despair, when you feel that parenting is beyond you; when you believe that the job requires a special kind of intelligence that wasn’t encrypted on your brain and you’re waiting for the time when you can sustain—for just one day—that important parent-child bond psychologists say is necessary for a healthy family life.

In this book, I am going to give you a new perspective on behaviors that may confound you and cause you powerful inner pressure or even panic. I’m going to lead you up a path that enlightens, uplifts, and relieves you as you learn how to unmask the meanings behind your child’s behavior. As you continue to practice this process, you will become a meaning-maker, empowered to read your child’s actions like an open book. Using the tools I provide, I will help you experience the heightened energy and deep satisfaction that come with unlocking your Parental Intelligence.

Parenting offers many humorous, precious situations—like the time you invited fifty people to your daughter’s first birthday party and she pressed her chubby fingers into the center of the chocolate cake you baked, swirled them around, and then happily put them into your mouth like there was no distance between the two of you. If only it could stay that way; if only that instant could last forever, like a memento that reminds you of the cow that jumped over the moon. You hoped she could have a dreamy childhood and never stop believing that family life is all chocolate cake. We all wish it could stay simple—all good humor and pure joy.

But parenting can have a difficult side, too—like the time your eight-year-old fled the house yelling, “I’m running away! Why do you ruin everything? You never get it.” He came back, exhausted after fifteen tortuous minutes speeding around the front yard like a freight train that had gone off its track and landed in a deep ditch. You stood by the window, watching him, heart pounding, worried and scared. You felt winded, as if you were the locomotive spinning off the track. Tears pushed out from your tired eyes. And your son came in defeated and spent. Even though he returned, you knew there was some deeper meaning behind what he did. But what do you do when you’re afraid that whatever is wrong will shadow you and your child everywhere? The stakes are high.

The circumstances and backgrounds of the parents I’ve worked with as a psychoanalyst vary greatly—yet, I discovered that they had some crucial things in common. They were conscientious, thinking parents. And most importantly, they all wanted to understand their kids. This was key.

They were all searching for that special intelligence needed for respectful parenting, even if they didn’t quite know how to ask for it. What they were searching for is what I call Parental Intelligence. I coined this term because I believe parenting requires the persistence and rigor of an intelligence that can be honed with the right tools and life experience.

I believe parents should never be underestimated—even when they doubt themselves. With a clearly designed pathway, you can unlock your Parental Intelligence, access and harness your parenting capacities, and solve the most important problems your children are facing.

With Parental Intelligence, you will figure out the whys behind your child’s behavior. Knowing why your child behaves a certain way will allow you to find the best approach to dealing with the behavior. Understanding why your child acts out, disobeys, or behaves in disruptive and disturbing ways is the key to preventing the recurrence of the behavior. Parental Intelligence provides that understanding.

I have narrowed down and systemized the learning process into five steps that will unlock your Parental Intelligence. And I will illustrate—through examples of many difficult scenarios of compelling family situations—how to use these positive parenting steps in order to achieve the outcomes you desire.

With Parental Intelligence, you enter the inner world of your child and understand where he or she is coming from. You will no longer focus initially on stopping misbehavior, but you will first try to understand the meaning behind the misbehavior, and even consider it a useful communication. This approach not only prevents undesired behavior more effectively, it also strengthens parent-child relationships. You and your child grow together.

Three basic interrelated tenets lie behind Parental Intelligence: (1) behaviors have underlying meanings; (2) once parents understand how their own minds are working, they are liberated to understand their child—how their child’s mind is working; (3) once meanings are clear, options surface by which to change unwanted behaviors. When the three core concepts come into play, the ambiance of family life fundamentally changes.

This means that parents no longer focus on the child’s specific misbehavior as the overarching troubles and problems emerge. When those problems are addressed, the original misbehavior loses importance and usually stops.

The book is divided into three parts. “Part One: Developing Your Parental Intelligence” describes the theory behind Parental Intelligence and the five steps toward creating it: Stepping Back, Self-Reflecting, Understanding Your Child’s Mind, Understanding Your Child’s

Development, and Problem Solving. The five steps are geared to parents who look to support their children’s growth, and happiness. In today’s society, there is a broad array of roles that mothers and fathers take on as they participate in parenting. These varied roles are readily adapted to family life as parents use their Parental Intelligence.

“Part Two: Stories of Parental Intelligence in Practice” offers eight short stories about parents using Parental Intelligence with their children. Each family portrait reveals that as parents understand themselves, they can better understand their children. With these understandings, misbehaviors become a catalyst to change. As open dialogue evolves, parents discover and clarify the meanings behind the behaviors. In turn, parents and children grapple with the underlying struggles that, though not apparent at first, were hidden behind the behaviors. Once brought to light, problems can be solved.

These stories about infants, children, and adolescents—including three with special needs: ADHD, a pervasive developmental disorder, and depression—demonstrate the broad spectrum to which the five steps of Parental Intelligence apply. The eight stories focus on the pivotal roles fathers and mothers can have in their child’s behavior and development.

“Part Three: The Future with Parental Intelligence” describes a world where Parental Intelligence has become commonplace. This philosophy of parenting has ramifications at familial and societal levels. I discuss how this parenting approach provides a meeting ground where parents and children get to know each other in profound ways as they solve present

problems that affect their future values and directions. Children of such families will have the skills to work through conflicts in their daily lives and future relationships.

This book doesn’t have an ending. Many mothers and fathers raising their children with Parental Intelligence have told me that using these principles as a guide have led to a new way of being together—a new parenting life.

Chapter One

The New Parenting Mindset

 The voices of empathetic parents become the inner voices of self-assured, secure children.

The major premise behind Parental Intelligence is that a child’s behavior or misbehavior has meaning—and often more than one. Once the treasure trove of meanings emerges, we realize that there are many possible reactions to misbehavior. If these ideas are new and even challenging to you, the following journey will take you to a positive and satisfying stage in your parenting life.

This important parenting mindset is founded on the belief that external behavior has internal causes. Parents and children alike behave based on what they think and feel. Using my approach, parents begin to learn how to hold in mind their own thoughts and feelings as well as their child’s thoughts and feelings simultaneously.

Let’s fast forward to two of the parents and children you will meet in this book: Clive and his father, and Olivia and her mother. Let’s assume that Clive’s father and Olivia’s mother have completed this book and have acquired a secure parenting mindset.

One morning, when Clive’s father told him to put on his shoes to get ready for school, the six-year-old threw them across the room. Clive’s father learned a great deal about parenting by following a series of steps about effective parenting (which will soon become apparent as we get to know him later). Therefore, he was able to experience Clive’s impulsive reaction and his own annoyance with Clive’s behavior simultaneously. He learned that holding both his and Clive’s feelings in mind was a requisite for understanding what may be going on when they are working at cross purposes.

He wanted Clive to get ready for school, but he didn’t know yet that Clive didn’t even want to go to school, something that had never happened before. Clive’s father knew he had to look for meaning behind his son’s behavior. He understood that if he jumped in and insisted that Clive put the shoes on immediately, he might miss an important opportunity at real and true communication. He held back from giving an immediate consequence to Clive’s action. He held his breath and forced himself to wait for Clive to calm down.

Because he and Clive had worked on this approach for months, Clive’s father was able to ask Clive if something was upsetting him about putting on his shoes to get ready for school. Eventually, Clive was able to explain what was bothering him. Clive told his dad that during an arithmetic lesson in his kindergarten class, he gave a wrong answer to a simple addition problem and a classmate laughed. In response, Clive poked the boy with the eraser end of his pencil. The boy cried out and the teacher, who is generally quite sensitive to kindhearted Clive, took a most unusual but spontaneous action—she yelled at him. Clive didn’t know that was the reason he threw the shoes, but his father was able to make the connection in his mind.

The father’s awareness that his child’s impulsive behavior must have a reason enabled him to take a step back and create space for Clive to explain what happened at school the day before. The parenting mindset that asks the parent to hold both himself and his child in mind creates a sense of safety for both child and parent. An atmosphere of safety allows children to communicate feelings and events that are most distressing, exciting, and important to them without embarrassment or self-consciousness. Using Parental Intelligence, misbehavior becomes a catalyst for communication.

On the way to the kitchen, thirteen-year-old Olivia said to her mother, who was not yet in sight, “Mommy, I have something to tell you, but I don’t want you to be mad.” Implementing the principles of Parental Intelligence, her mother immediately adopted the nonjudgmental, empathic mindset needed to help Olivia feel safe enough to talk to her. “Whatever it is,” her mother said, “we can work it out.”

Olivia, head down, walked into the kitchen where she raised her face to show her mother a golden ring piercing her lower lip. Her mother was shocked, but she worked hard at reserving her feelings, holding Olivia’s worry in mind as well. It was important to Olivia’s mother that Olivia could tell her about this without fearing her reaction. Olivia started to cry and explained that her best friend convinced her to go to the mall where they each got a lip ring. At first, they thought it would be fun to have a new look, but as soon as it was done, they knew it was a big mistake.

“How big a mistake could this be?” Olivia’s mother asked. “If you don’t want to leave it in, take it out, and the hole will close up in a few days.”

Even though Olivia already knew this, her mother’s response allowed her to experience her mother as a safe parent, someone she could approach with her problems. She and her mother discussed as openly as they could why Olivia experimented with the lip piercing, learning together that there may be several reasons. Olivia wanted to feel prettier: her self-image was uncertain, and she wanted to experiment with a new look that she thought was more mature. She also wanted to do something independently from her mother. The conversation with her

mother allowed her to feel her mother’s acceptance, which, in turn, supported her attempt at independence, even though it didn’t turn out well. Keeping her shock to herself, Olivia’s mother reaped tremendous rewards. She learned much more about Olivia than she had imagined was possible, and she suffered along with her daughter as Olivia poured out her lack of confidence and desire to be independent.

Olivia’s mother knew that keeping both herself and her daughter in mind would provide the safe environment her daughter needed to truthfully explain what had happened. This led to greater understanding, not only of this experience, but also of their relationship as a whole. The sense of safety between Olivia and her mother didn’t come with this one incident, but with hundreds of such encounters in everyday life.

These examples show that a parent is not only responding to physical, but also to psychological reality. Throwing the shoes or getting the lip ring constituted physical reality. Clive’s desire to be liked by his teacher, to be a good child, to not be embarrassed at school, and for his father to take his side constituted Clive’s psychological reality. Olivia’s psychological reality included her fear of making her mother angry, her worry over her self-image, and her wish to do something independently.

This parenting mindset can and will affect your daily life and give you and your child a greater sense of well-being. Olivia and her mother felt safe and comfortable enough to be discussing Olivia’s problems. This reinforced their relationship, giving them a feeling of strength and comfort within themselves and a feeling of being grounded and secure. Olivia’s mother’s self-image as an effective parent grew, and Olivia’s self-image as a daughter who can safely experiment and trust her mother despite a mistake was affirmed. Clive and his father felt a strong connection because Clive’s empathic father recognized and understood Clive’s conflicts. Both children felt accepted by their parents as they worked out their troubles together.

Parental Intelligence allows a hopeful outlook. You are ready to learn the steps that are necessary to evolve as effective and loving parents who listen to their children through words and actions. This orientation, once established, stays inside of you.

Read Brain, Child’s exclusive interview with author Dr. Laurie Hollman

Unlocking Parental Intelligence, published by Familius, is available now.

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Author Q&A: Stephen Camarata

Author Q&A: Stephen Camarata

Stephen C. PhotoStephen Camarata is the author of The Intuitive Parent

What was your inspiration for writing the book?

One of the real tragedies in modern society is that misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and outright hucksterism are undermining parents’ self-confidence. Marketers and the media are creating needless anxiety, and stealing the fun and joy out of raising children.  Worse, the national push to artificially accelerate learning and brain development is actually derailing healthy natural parenting that insures children will be confident, happy–and intelligent. I wrote this book to provide parents with accurate, up-to-date, scientifically grounded information that supports their own intuition and common sense of how best to raise their child. My hope is that the book will empower parents to filter out all the noise, marketing, and latest fad so they can focus on their child, respond to them naturally, and become an effective nurturer and learning partner.

How did your own experience as a parent inform your writing?

My youngest son, Vincent, was slow to develop spoken language skills. When he was in preschool, we were told by a special education team that he should be educated in a segregated classroom for children with intellectual disabilities. We were led to believe that because his third birthday had passed, we had missed the critical period for wiring his brain and that he was now doomed to be a slow learner across the board from here on out. Worse, we were told that he would never be able to go to college. Our intuition told us that this couldn’t be true.

We knew that his language skills lagged compared to other kids his age. On the other hand, his ability to do puzzles, comprehend numbers and draw were all far advanced compared to other children his age. He loved to explore the world beyond the boundaries of our fenced in yard and would often wait for one of his older siblings to open the door so that he could dart into the front yard and run up the street!

These precocious abilities did not square with what we were being told by the school. Thankfully, we listened to our inner voice and kept him in the regular classroom, and spent many hours tutoring him in reading at home.

By the time Vincent started middle school, he was above grade level in math and science. His reading ability did not catch up until he entered high school, but he is now an excellent—and avid reader.

We were sometimes told that we were “in denial” about Vincent’s abilities, and given questionable advice along the way. For example, a second grade recommended ADHD-medication because Vincent would not sit still during story time. I pointed out that he would sit still for hours when drawing pictures or working math problems and that the reason he was wiggly during reading time was because his ability to understand what the teacher was saying was below the other children in the classroom.

Despite the dire predictions from “experts,” my son graduated from college and is now an air traffic controller in the Air Force. Instead of listening to the so-called experts, we followed our intuition and nurtured his gifts in math, science and art—he won a city wide art contest while in high school—while patiently teaching him to read, which took nearly a decade. But what would’ve happened if we had taken the advice that was against our own common sense?

What message would you like the reader to take away after reading your book?

Every parent already has what it takes to raise a happy, confident, resilient and intelligent child. Be confident in your own ability as a parent. Don’t let any educational program, early intervention expert, or marketing scheme interfere with that special relationship. Pay attention to your child, read to them, talk to them, and play with them and be sure to heed your own ample store of common sense.

What was the toughest part of the writing process?

The toughest part of writing was actually choosing what would be included in the book. There have been so many wonderful adventures raising my own children, so many scientific discoveries on brain plasticity and neural development that support intuitive parenting, and a plethora of parenting fads and baby genius products pushed on parents so that integrating this information into a practical message was a bit daunting. On the other hand, writing brought back so many amazing experiences and memories!

What books have had the greatest influence on you?

Of Children by Guy Lefrancois was an excellent introduction to the wonder of child development, which I read even before I had any children. Of course, the work of Jean Piaget (The psychology of the child) and BF Skinner (science and human behavior) also had a profound influence. More recently, books by Steven Pinker (The language instinct and Words and rules) and Einstein Never used flash cards by Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek have been very influential. Finally, the neuroscience aspects of development were influenced by Neurons to Neighborhoods (by Jack Shonkoff) and by the Myth of the first three years (by John Bruer).

How do you balance fatherhood and writing?

The key is focusing on your child when you get home and leaving job worries and stress at the door. Even if you only have 15 or 20 minutes, you—and your baby can connect and enjoy one another’s company. I have found that being with my children is a nice counter weight to the stresses and pressure of the workplace. And is a whole lot of fun!

 

 

Fiction: High Stakes Gaming

Fiction: High Stakes Gaming

images-1By Susan McDonough

“Get your nose out of that book and come play a game,” said her mother. “You won’t learn anything sitting there by yourself!”

Reluctantly she put down her book and followed her mother’s tugging hand into the game room.

“Play with your brother and your cousins. You need to socialize and develop your problem solving skills.” Her mother handed her a game controller and sat down next to her. “Pick an avatar. You can be anyone you want to be!”

She picked her first option: a plain-faced boy who looked as uninterested in the game as she felt.

“Don’t be so passive aggressive,” said her mother. “You’re supposed to add traits. How about antlers?” She added antlers. “And a superpower?” Mom prompted.

She gave herself the ability to jump to another realm (which came with rabbit feet).
“That’s better,” said her mother. “Now isn’t this fun? You can attack your brother and then hop away!”

Yes… she could see advantages to that. She tried to gore her brother, but she was too slow. Her younger cousin came up behind her and killed her avatar. Her cousin snorted, “You look like a rabbit with a deer head! A dead bunny!”

“You need to sharpen your prediction skills,” said her mother. “Play more often and you’ll get faster.”

Her brother guffawed. “She could play 24/7 and she’d never get faster. She doesn’t know how to do anything but turn pages.”

Her mother’s lips pursed. “Then you need to help her. She needs to take the GAE this spring.”

Her brother and her cousins nearly rolled off the couch laughing. “Sorry, Auntie,” said her older cousin. “There’s no way she’ll pass the Gamer Assessment Exam and get a real job. She’ll have to be a lawyer.”

The next morning she went to the library. She read The Dummy’s Guide to Game Controllers: “Tap A while flicking the left stick in a safe direction. Slip the side of your thumb off the stick to flick faster.” There were a lot of other techniques, and she memorized them and practiced them when her brother wasn’t home.

Then she read The Beginner’s Guide to Reprogramming: “The player known as xXBatman365Xx manipulated the game’s X coordinate table while playing.” She found a lot of information about the programming glitches of the game her brother liked best.

Finally, she read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.”

The next time she and her brother were home alone, she suggested, “Let’s play your game.”

“I don’t wanna play with you, duncewad. It’s boring to kill somebody in the first two minutes.”

“Let’s use the headsets.”

“YOU want to go virtual reality? You’ll be a dead bunny in ONE minute!”

“Mom says I need to practice,” she sighed.

“All right, but don’t whine when I kill you.”

He drew blood on her avatar in the first two minutes. He was laughing, barely paying attention. “You should have made a new avatar,” he chuckled. “I’ve had mine for nine months. He’s unstoppable!”

He shot an arrow which should have skewered her, but she hopped to another realm, reprogrammed her avatar (it took on the appearance of a full grown elk and gained energy), hopped back to her brother and gored him through.

Her brother staggered around the room, crashed into the end table and knocked over their mother’s favorite lamp before he managed to get his helmet off. “Duncewad!” he shrieked. “You totally destroyed my avatar! How did you do that?”

“Research.” She smiled. “I don’t plan on being a lawyer. I plan on being a librarian.”

Susan McDonough has been writing since grade school. She has tried her hand at children’s stories, short stories, romances, historicals, essays, fantasies, mysteries, science fiction, numerous letters to the editor and a blog called Renaissance Woman. Susan has been a burger tosser, customer service rep, ad taker, curriculum developer, parent, teacher, reader and gardener. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with two cats and one husband.

Evolution of a Reader

Evolution of a Reader

evolutionofareader

You start when he is two months old, you know it is important. All the experts say so, all the articles. Read to them, read to them incessantly. Do it early, the earlier the better. He seems like an alert baby, this one, wide-eyed and curious. The way he bats at his toys, the way he tracks your movements with a searching, soulful expression. Maybe all babies are like this, you aren’t sure. He is your first. You project onto him constantly—thoughts, feelings, skills—as if projecting will make it so.

Your mother sat with him when he was one week old, just home from the hospital, a sliver of a thing, and read him Pat the Bunny in that special sing-song voice you remember well from your own childhood. “Judy can pat the bunny,” she said, as your son stared into the middle distance, head lolling. “Now YOU pat the bunny.” She took the baby’s starfish hand, the nails still peeling from the wetness of the womb, and rubbed it purposefully against the fluffy bunny. And you couldn’t tell if it was ridiculous or adorable to be reading to a baby so new.

All the same, a couple of months later, you decide it is time to begin. Every night, every night without fail. Your husband gives the baby a bath, and then you coo at him, a steady stream of chatter as you stuff limbs into a sleepsuit covered with teddybears or rockets or stripes. You prop him up against you on the bed and read two books. Always two. Sometimes Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Sometimes Here Are My Hands. Sometimes you channel your mother and read Pat the Bunny with just the right intonations. You take it for granted that your son sits still at this age, that he tolerates the books without crying, when what he really wants is his milk. None of your other children will be so patient.

By the time he is one, he can pat the bunny on his own. He seems to understand you now, he has words himself, a bevy of animal sounds and an assortment of other babbles that mean something, finally. The floodgates of communication have opened; reading has become blissfully interactive. Your son loves books. You tell your family, your friends, anybody who will listen: “He loves books!” This makes you proud, as if it is evidence of an impressive feat of parenting or genetics. But of course he loves books, the shelves are lined with them, the house is strewn with them. Reading is your go-to childcare activity.

Over the next couple of years, your son becomes oddly interested in history. Or maybe it’s not so odd because you and your husband are both academics with a flair for the past. The chunky board books give way to early readers, to thinner pages telling tales of the Romans, the Greeks. But the Egyptians are his favorite. He loves the concept of mummies, he traces the Sphinxes with his still-dimpled finger. He becomes obsessed with Darth Vader, how Anakin Skywalker changed from good to evil. You read him endless books about it. He becomes obsessed with Jesus, even though you are Jewish, and you read him endless books about that too.

At some point, it is clear he is ready to read himself, but you don’t want to push it. Your instinct is that this process, this magical process, should happen organically. You talk about the alphabet with a concerted nonchalance, calling the letters by their phonetic names, because you are in the UK and this is how it’s done. M is not “em,” it is “mmmm,” as if the letter itself is edible, is utterly delicious. Your son is getting the gist of it, it’s a game to him. You, however, are newly overwhelmed by the mischievousness of the English language. Its absurd rules feel, all of a sudden, like inhospitable guests. So many exceptions, so many outliers. He can read “hat,” but how do you explain “hate”?

You breathe a sigh of relief when he starts school, that children go to school earlier where you live, and that you can pass off the task of explicating the idiosyncrasies of language to a trained professional. Your son comes home excited about the magic E, the way it makes the sound of the preceding vowel change, poof, just like that, and you think to yourself: thank god. He reads to you happily now, always out loud, in that halting, robotic voice most kids have at the beginning. When punctuation is optional, when the concept of “reading with expression” is a peak in the distance.

And then it happens. He starts to read fluidly and in his head to boot. It opens up a new world for him, an inner world. But it closes a door for you. His reading is a personal thing now, a private thing, he wants it that way. He is somewhere between six and seven, you can’t quite remember. You remember, though, that he read the whole series of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in quick succession, which left you considering what exactly he understood of the middle school dynamics. He is at that awkward age where his technical skill surpasses his emotional maturity and you are not quite sure what books to choose for him.

He likes to read, but he likes other things too. You can’t tell yet if he loves it, if he drinks in the words like you do, if reading is going to be that balm for what ails him, though you recall you weren’t a particularly keen reader at this stage either. He doesn’t seem to read to get tangled in the story, to step outside of himself. His penchant is for nonfiction still, for facts, for science. He pores over statistics in his football magazines. He studies up on Minecraft.

Just when you wonder if he will ever get the taste for fiction, he discovers The Hunger Games. He returns from the bookstore, clutching the first in the series, and he can barely stop to say hello as he marches up the stairs to crack into it. He becomes, almost overnight, what people call an “avid” reader. He devours young adult sci-fi, the more dystopian the better, while you fleetingly deliberate if the subject matter is too old for him. He asks to read The Fault in Our Stars. You hold him off. He asks to read It by Stephen King. You hold him off again. He picks up the books on your night table and inspects the blurbs; Station Eleven catches his eye. For the first time, you borrow one of his books and you actually enjoy it.

Your son is nine, closer to ten. You lie on your bed together, it is late afternoon. He stretches out on one side, and you are on the other side, the only sound between you is the pages turning. You reach across and take his hand. He squeezes back, not meeting your eyes, so engrossed is he in the story. You watch him for a second, resting your own book on your lap. He is long limbs and angular features, but just for a moment you get a flash of the baby he used to be, and it is Pat the Bunny in his pudgy hands all over again.

On Siblings

On Siblings

WO On Siblings ARTBy Hilary Levey Friedman

I drove straight to the bookstore after leaving the ultrasound appointment where I learned I was having my second son. Being a book person, my first instinct is to look for a book for any new life experience, always.

I was surprised that the siblings section of the parenting nook was pretty slim pickings. At the checkout I realized I bought more children’s books about welcoming a sibling than books for me. In fact it was children’s literature that turned out to be the most helpful in fostering a good relationship between my two boys.

One of the books I bought that day was Big Brothers are the Best by Fran Manushkin. This sweetly illustrated book was perfect for us because it was about two brothers (she has another version for sisters). I found that it helped us to refer to the baby by masculine pronouns, and it was challenging when a book had a baby sister. My older son, Carston, learned this book thoroughly, though I must warn you that his favorite line, “Big brothers can yell, and kick balls,” always led to an active demonstration of both! My only complaint is that we read this book so often it actually came apart at the seams.

Another book that was very helpful is a personalized book offered by both Pottery Barn Kids and I See Me! (neither option is cheap, but the latter is slightly more affordable than the former). Offered for both brothers and sisters, The Super Incredible Big Brother by Jennifer Dowling, is great because you can put in both children’s names and sex—it is unfortunate it doesn’t accommodate names of multiple older siblings though. We used this book for the “gift” at the hospital (again, books are a central part of every family occasion) from Quenton to Big Brother Carston. I have a particular affinity for children’s books that rhyme, which this one does. Also, it comes with a medal that Carston still occasionally wears, over a year later.

I recently read When Mommy Has Our Baby by Rachel A. Cedar, which I know would have helped our family as well. While this book does have a Big Brother/Little Sister theme, it offers something the others don’t, which is a discussion question every other page to help the older child develop language to talk about new feelings and concerns. It is clearly written by a mom who has been there before. Even if an older child doesn’t want to read this story every night, the prompts will help parents know what to talk about with their kids for times when the book is not open.

I’m not the only one to think that reading books with your older child(ren) to help prepare them for the transition a new sibling will bring is one of the best ways to connect. In her new book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, which will be reviewed here this Friday, Dr. Laura Markham suggests reading books with older children, and continuing to do so in the first few months, will help get the sibling relationship off to a good start. More proof that reading really is a miraculous activity for kids, in so many ways!

What books helped ease a sibling transition for your child, either a birth or other later life event?

Hilary Levey Friedman is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.

Raising Readers

Raising Readers

DEPT_REVIEWBOOKS-ICON_FinalTalking about books with Brain, Child Book Review Editor, Hilary Levey Friedman.

I’m a professional reader. Long before I earned a living by reading and writing about books, I read like it was my job. I loved reading so much that when I turned 16 the main reason I wanted to get my license was so I could drive myself to the library.

So it’s no surprise that one of the things I most looked forward to about motherhood was reading to my children. But as my eldest son, Carston, hit toddlerhood I realized that while I like reading to my sons, what I really want to do is read with them. A persistent daydream I have is sitting next to one another on the couch, cuddled up in front of a fire, each of us reading our respective books.

I suspect this is the case for many Brain, Child readers. As parents who love to read and think, modeling our love for the written word is likely second nature. We’re doing something right, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recently decreed that reading early and often to children is so important it is basically prescribed.

After reading “alphabet” books to Carston (from Boynton to Seuss) what seemed like hundreds of times, he seemed to magically pick up his letters and start spelling everything he saw from street signs to labels on food. “Well,” I thought smugly to myself, “soon we shall be sitting by the fire reading together.”

One of my closest friends, a speech language-pathologist, gently disabused me of this notion by suggesting I pick up a copy of I’m Ready! How to Prepare Your Child for Reading Success by Janice Greenberg and Elaine Weitzman. I’m Ready is less than 70 pages, but it is chock-full of useful advice including suggestions, exercises, and a list of suggested children’s books to develop preliteracy skills. Published by The Hanen Centre, a Canadian non-profit focused on helping children communicate in all forms, I have started recommending this book to all parents I know with preschoolers and pre-kindergartners.

Sometimes as a parent, and even as a reader, I focus on the nuts and bolts of things, like how many pages there are in a book or how long it takes me to read (Or, in all honesty, how many pages I can squeeze in before dinner or after the kids’ bedtime!). When I read for myself I often do so with too much of a laser focus, thinking in terms of summaries and take-aways. But reading I’m Ready! reminded me that there are many components to literacy: conversation, vocabulary, story comprehension, print knowledge, and sound awareness. These are the building blocks, skills kids to learn before they can learn to read or write. Like so many things in life, as much as we would like them to, these skills don’t develop sequentially or on a time table but often in a haphazard way and then all at once.

After reading I’m Ready! and implementing some of Greenberg and Weitzman’s suggestions with Carston each time we read—like asking open-ended questions about the story and not those that produce one-word answers—I began to notice the ways in which my own reading has changed. I’ve started thinking more about characters and what problems they have to overcome. I have begun to once again notice and think about marks of punctuation, which I had been taking for granted.

I’m Ready! doesn’t teach you how to teach your child to read, it teaches you how to teach your child to be a reader. As the authors write, “The important task right now is to get your child into the habit of always looking for meaning every time you open a book together.”

As Brain, Child’s new Book Review Editor that is what I hope we can do together as well—to look for meaning as readers and as parents. To think about the characters, the settings, and the questions and exclamation points in our lives. I know I’m ready to, “Show that the words being read match the words on the page, with spaces in between.”

I hope you say, “I’m Ready!”, curl up by that metaphorical fire, and open up a few books with me as we identify and explore the spaces in between our words.