Interesting Books Related to Parenting

Parenting, to me, is a complex and intriguing topic, even more so now that I have become an observer and am no longer a mother in the trenches. I still enjoy my grandchildren, but truthfully, it is not the same.  The daily battle for mothers can become overwhelming; grandparents get to just enjoy the fun without all the responsibility. As a grandparent, I can step back and be a little more theoretical about it all.   I read books, and I think, “Oh, that is what I should have done. Whoops!”

Over some time now, I have read several books relative to parenting.  I would like to share those in case any are interesting to the actual parents out there.  These are only a few of many, and I am only including these because they are the ones I have read recently.

 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother   by Amy Chua

This book is basically a memoir of an Asian American who raised her daughters very strictly as her parents had raised her.  While many might view this parenting style as too strict, there is a basic lesson to be learned from this story: parents’ expectations can help children succeed. Even if you don’t agree with the hard-line approach that Amy takes, you have to admire her commitment.

 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Daughter   by Diana Holquist

This book was written, basically, as a response against many of the concepts proposed by Amy Chua in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  In essence, it might be considered the American cultural ideology of child-rearing, if such concepts can be defined so categorically.  Diana’s story explores, with a little humor, a more relaxed way of parenting, along with some excerpts from her daughter interspersed throughout the book. Holquist puts forth a differing view as to what raising a successful child means.

I found this book interesting, but I think I appreciated it more after reading Amy Chua’s first.  If for no other reason than just gaining general perspectives, I recommend reading both.  Even if you favor one over the other, you will still glean good ideas from both.

 

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood               by Jennifer Senior

Differing somewhat from the former two, this book discusses more of the effect that raising children has on the parents, and how some of the modern society evolution has contributed to changes in how parents raise children and how they feel about that process. Jennifer Senior explores the challenges each phase of parenting brings to the parents, often different challenges for the mothers than for the fathers, discussing how modern roles influence these challenges. The object is not so much to give parenting advice, but to help parents understand what they are going through better. In the end, Senior attempts to help parents also see how the process transforms the parents, and how joy is embedded in the challenges.  Senior uses specific examples, and the book is very interesting and easy to read.

 

The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident Capable Kids                                 by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl

For real useful, down-to-earth parenting tips, I think this book is the best ever.  Not only do the authors lay out some excellent principles, they give numerous examples.  The book is organized using the word PARENT to create chapters for each letter: Play, Authenticity, Reframing, Empathy, No Ultimatums, Togetherness.  Every parent wants their children to be happy and successful.  This book nails it.  It also makes the parents feel as if they could also be happy.  It’s a winner!

 

The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success           by Walter Mischel

This book has some amazing data.  It is a follow up on the original marshmallow tests where young children were left alone with one marshmallow, with the promise of two if they waited until the tester returns.  The idea was to see if the child would wait and to see what strategies would be employed to help with that goal.  Surprisingly, many children did wait, but even more informative, as Mischel brought out in this book, were the results of the later studies as these same children were studied throughout their lives.  The bottom line was that those that could delay gratification when younger enjoyed higher rates of success in all fields of their lives.  While this book is quite repetitive, and it is easy to get bogged down in it, the information is very relevant to raising successful children.  Toward the end of the book, Mischel also goes into some of the strategies that parents can do to encourage children to learn delayed gratification and self-control.   I appreciated the information linked to a mere marshmallow.

 

Getting to Got It!            by Betty K. Garner

While this book was written for teachers to understand and help struggling students, I think every parent should read it.  It explains, in easy-to-understand language, the building blocks of cognitive structures that most children attain naturally, but many do not. Also, some children get most of them, but may be deficient in one.  These deficiencies can plague them throughout their life.  With a little bit of insight, parents and teachers can make a huge difference. Garner uses real-life stories to demonstrate the concepts.  It is an enjoyable and informative read: a definite must read!

 

I can’t say enough good about Malcolm Gladwell’s work.  I have yet to read a book of his that I did not like.  But I am going to include two here.

Outliers: The Story of Success                   by Malcolm Gladwell

In Outliers, Gladwell examines why some people are successful.  What makes them successful?  He looks into their background and upbringing to see what it was that cultured success.  This is not your general, run-of-the-mill explanations.  Gladwell looks deeper, makes connections that are super interesting.  I loved this book and think everyone in the world should read it.  Especially parents!

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants                    by Malcolm Gladwell

Another must read!  Gladwell explores how, what are often seen as disadvantages, can turn out to be contributors to success.  He does this using many stories.  The book is interesting and easy to read and to follow. Gladwell attempts to redefine how we think of advantages and disadvantages. He makes some counter-intuitive connections that will change the way you think, and hopefully, the way you parent.  While he did not write this as a parenting book, once again, I think every parent should read it.

 

As all parents know, children do not come with a manual.  However, it really helps to have some support along the way.  If your goal is to support your children in their journey, support yourself in achieving success.  If nothing else, reading books like these help us understand why parenting is so complex.  But they offer insights, too.  And hope!

 

 

Negotiation

As I promised, more to come.  “Negotiation?” you might ask, “How is that support?”  Well, as a teacher, we get formal training on cognitive skills that children must learn from early childhood through high school, hopefully, to make them life-long learners. Cognition is the art of thinking.  My definition. The more technical definition is the mental process of acquiring knowledge or understanding.  So, if you want to give your child some life-long support, help them learn how to think.  Negotiation is an excellent way to do that, and oh so much fun for the child.  They feel the power. The brain cogs begin to spin. Self-confidence, creativity, and intellect all begin to soar, not to mention the communication skills they are practicing.  It can also be fun for the parent, as soon as we let go of some traditioned thinking: parents are always right; parents are always smarter than children; parents should be obeyed without question.

So how does this actually happen? Johnny comes in the door, “I’m bored.”  Ah ha, time for some negotiation.  What Johnny is really saying is that he wants to play his Nintendo or go to his friend’s house or eat or get on the computer or simply just see what you will come up with to solve this problem and get him out of your hair. Nope! Let the games begin.

“So Johnny, I need the back porch organized and swept.  Could you do that for me?”  A test.  He might actually be bored. 

“No, I don’t want to work.  I want to do something fun.” Johnny is exasperated with you for being so dense.

“Like what?”  Now the truth comes out.

“I want $5 bucks to go get pizza with Sam.”  Or whatever.

“No problem.  What would you do in exchange for that? Something that makes a difference to me.”  Getting the thought processes started.  Don’t cave in easily.  Make Johnny think.

“I’ll take the garbage out.”  Right.

“So what would the pay rate be if I gave you $5 dollars.”  Even better–you’ll probably have to help him with the math:  (So how long do you think it will take?  Fifteen minutes (right). Okay then, so there are 4 15 minutes in an hour.  If we multiply $5 by 4, that would be the equivalent of paying you $20 an hour.  Or get out money and use it for a manipulative, or some other method—anything will do.  Remember, it is just an opportunity to engage Johnny in thinking and negotiation tactics).  Then…

“So do you think that $20 an hour is a fair rate? Who do you know that makes that much?  How can we decide what skills a person that makes that much should have? Etc.”  Now don’t forget to listen.  No fair calling rank on him.  If he reasons well, you have to respect his logic wherever it leads.

“But, Mom, I don’t want to earn it, I just want you to give it to me.  After all, you are my mom.”  Hmmm.  Don’t react.  Go with the flow.

“Good point.  So let’s talk about that.”  Grab a paper.  This needs to be in writing.  He is entering the ring of power, but you need evidence later to maintain your own power.  “What kinds of things do you think a parent should provide, and what should a child take responsibility for earning? And how should a rate be established, or raises given.”  Keep it generic; this is not a personal attack—just cognitive thinking, and negotiation.

And so it goes. Fun!  However, don’t forget the point: support.  We are not trying to win, prove we are smarter, establish that we have all the authority and that he is just an insignificant pawn in the grand scheme of things.  No!  We are trying to help him learn to navigate a complex life. Support.

But again, negotiation isn’t just about money.  Remember how important choices are, and how entwined they are to negotiation.  It is time for chores.  “Johnny, will you vacuum the living room?”

“Aw! I don’t want to vacuum the living room.”  Of course you don’t.  Nobody does.

“What job would you rather do?”

“None.” You knew the answer. But still… Negotiation time!

“Let’s talk about the jobs that need to be done.  What would be a good way to divide them up?” Notice that we are not letting him off the hook. Just letting him enter the circle of choices, decision making, posturing for position, in essence, negotiation just like real life.

Johnny may surprise you with an idea that you have not thought of.  Don’t jump to pulling rank—a natural for parents.  This is where you realize that even you, the parent, may need to practice the art of negotiation.  If you can pull rank, you are not playing fair.

“I hate doing jobs every day!  I would rather have a big job on the weekend and have my nights free.”  Or visa versa. Or whatever…

And so it goes.  With practice, you can get good at it, and even better, so can Johnny.  Glory in his proficiency.  Don’t take it personally.  You sacrifice a lot for your child.  Sacrifice a little authority.

One of the biggest traps in negotiating with your child is the feeling that you must be consistent.  You must.  But resist the temptation to be too rigid, too consistent.

“My friend’s family is going to the movies tonight.  Can I go.”  You know the rule.  Homework comes first after school no matter what. Resist.  Negotiate.

“When would you do your homework?”

“I will get up early in the morning and do it before school.”  Give him a chance.

If he breaks his word, you can bring that up next time this negotiation comes up.  But assume the best, and even if he breaks it, don’t be overly rigid next time either.  Just make sure to negotiate that eventuality, also.  (“What if you don’t get up?”)  But for the first time, take him at his word.  Soon enough, he will learn that part of his negotiating power is keeping the promises of the negotiation.  Good skills. Enjoy the journey.

Parenting is all about making parenting unnecessary.  And you will get the joy of realizing how smart your child is, and you will be surprised at how young they can exhibit their intelligence. Give them a chance.  Negotiate.  Question, listen, respond.  Help them discover their potential.

 

 

 

 

Turning Out

I have often had people ask me, “What did you do to make your kids turn out so good?”  My general response is “nothing.”  But all seriousness aside, let’s pause for a moment and analyze that phrase “turn out” not to mention “good.”  I think this is a pivotal issue in raising children.  Many parents feel that their job as a parent is to say, “No.”  They must prove their authority or the world would spiral out of kilter. They must mold their child into this “good” person.  While this is a noble ideal, it can get right square in the way of turning out good children. So, really, what did I do?  I cheated!  I simply defined “turning out” as becoming, and “good” as what the child becomes.  Needless to say, my kids all turned out good.

A parent’s job is to support the child into becoming who they are.  Preferably with love.    Don’t get me wrong.  There are many things a parent can do to support a child as they grow into themselves. But rethinking the premise helps the parent make it about the child, not about whether the child is making the parent look good.  Rethinking the process helps the parent approach the child in a positive, loving way, rather than a condemning, judging way.  If nothing else, this increases the nurture side of the equation, and most probably will also cause the nature side to flourish.

Grandpa Joe used to say, “Only those things that are done in love will endure through eternity.”  I took this to mean that the “what” a parent does is not so important as what the child feels.  Children are often innately wiser than their parents.  They get things at a deep, genuine level because they have not yet learned all the nuances of politics, social awareness, and hidden agendas.  They know when they are being squished to fit into a box. They also know when they are being guided to create a thriving space in which they can fail successfully or win without winning becoming an end-goal.  They know when they are loved.

In summation, I believe that the first step is to reframe the process of raising children.  Rather than viewing them as a job to do with an end result defined in advance, shift the concept just a twitch.  Children are on a growth journey.  Your job is to help them all you can.  Their job is to become.  Becoming “good” is a natural result when they feel your support and love.

 

Choices

Now that we, meaning I, have established that parenting is not molding your child, but rather supporting them as they become who they are, how do we support children?  If I had to pick my top three ways, now, realizing that tomorrow might bring a different three to mind, I would say, “Choices, negotiation, and participation.”  In some ways, they are inter-related.  It is hard to apply one without the other.  But if I had to choose one of these, it would be to provide ample opportunity for choices.

If a child is going to become an adult, which we all hope will be the case with our darling little baby, the expectation is that they will be a functioning adult.  Most parents do not want their child to stay in the home forever and be a dependent forever, even though they love them dearly.  In order for that young adult to thrive in the real world, as distinct from the sheltered world that we have previously been able to provide for them, that emerging adult needs to be able to make decisions, and along with those decisions, bear the responsibility of those choices—face the consequences.  This does not need to be the negative, fearful experience that it sounds like; however, if the child has never had any practice, the consequences may indeed be traumatic.  For instance, I am amazed at how many children I taught in the high school that did not have any real comprehension of money and how to manage it.  If the parent is the only one that fulfills this function in the household, how will the child ever learn this skill?

I propose that the parent provide as many opportunities as possible for the child to manage some money.  Manage!  Not just spend.  Give them some responsibility that allows them to make choices that have consequences.  These do not need to be dire, just implicit in the decision making.  In other words, if Johnny gets to decide how the family spends this week’s $50 (or $10) on entertainment, let him make the decision and live with it—barring danger, of course.  If Johnny has a $2 allowance, let him decide what to spend it on, even within certain parameters that you feel the need to set—no dangerous toys, no sugar food, no drugs, etc.  But within the pre-defined parameters, let Johnny decide. Mistakes can be learning opportunities also.  If you want Johnny to learn to save, help him set a goal, say a percentage, that he will commit to savings from his income flow, or even decide something that he wants to save for.  If he is forced to put all his money into savings, he may only learn that earning money is meaningless as the consequence may be a benefit too far into the future for a child—the immediate consequence being that the money is held prisoner.  Perhaps help your child with a visual in order to see the growth of the savings.  Perhaps introduce an interest component. Perhaps brainstorm ideas when it would be nice to have a savings account—emergencies, old age, etc. Make sure there is choice; let the consequence be as natural as possible.

Money is not the only area of choice.  Often, rather than issuing a demand, a choice can be issued.  “You may choose—you can go to bed now, or we could read a story first.”  “You can do your job before you go to school, after you get home, or after you take an hour break.”  “Would you rather vacuum the living room or clean the bathroom?”  “Would you rather have a bath at night before you go to bed, or get up a half hour earlier to have your bath in the morning before you go to school?” “What would you like for a vegetable for dinner?” Incorporating choices into a child’s life can become second nature just by re-thinking your approach. When a child practices making choices, becoming a thinking adult will be a natural step.

I remember back when I was younger, a friend said, “Yes, I have a choice. I can do it or pick myself up off the floor and then do it.”  That is not the choice I am talking about.  Choices need to be real, and the consequences need to be real.  If a child chooses salad for the dinner vegetable, salad should be the outcome.  That is a consequence—hopefully a positive one. If a child chooses to spend their flexible money on candy, then later wishes they could afford to go to the movie with their friend, they may have to live with the regret.  If a child chooses to study for an extra half hour because of test the next day, the consequence may be a super good grade.  Celebrate the positive consequences.  Notice the savings growth.  Notice that they have no cavities because they have been brushing. Notice that they came home as agreed so they have your confidence on the next consideration. Consequences can be positive or negative. Sometimes it is hard for a parent to allow the negative consequence.  We have an innate need to protect our children from harm.  Consequences are not harm!  If they are, the parent should certainly step in and be protective.  But if the outcome is merely sad or uncomfortable, allow the child to experience the result of their choices. You can even be sympathetic.  “I am sorry you didn’t have enough money saved to go to the movie with your friends.”  Often the consequence is obvious and does not need to be harped upon. That being said, sometimes you may need talk to your child about what could have caused a different outcome (at a different time than the moment of suffering), what could possibly be changed in a future decision, or what might increase the benefits of the outcome.  Try to make the experience as positive as possible.  Failing should not be seen as a negative, merely a tool for success. But it is more important to notice the positive consequences.  It is as important for the child that those, too, are analyzed and reflected upon. “When you chose to put your shoes where they belong, you were able to find them easier.”  “Because you did your homework right when you got home, you were free to go bowling with Dad when he got home.”  “Even though you only put a quarter in savings every time you earn a dollar, your savings has really grown this year.”  “You did a great job planning that meal purchase—you stayed within the budget.” Children that understand the cause/effect relationship of their choices will be more likely to think through the possible outcomes when they are faced with a choice.  That very habit of thinking is a life-long skill that will likely increase the chance of smarter choices.

I believe that the opportunity to practice making choices is the most important way of providing support to children. This is a life skill that will affect every facet of their future. If the focus is on the positive consequences, self-confidence will grow. The child is actively involved in molding their own life.  To me, no other support is more meaningful.

More about negotiation and participation to come…