Books and Articles That Are Making Me A Better Parent
Having kids has improved my patience and compassion by leaps and bounds, but I would still consider myself a parent who gets easily frustrated, yells more than I would like, and often feels worn out and overwhelmed. In fact it was a lot of these feelings that initially inspired me to start blogging. The other day I was marveling with a friend on the genuine enthusiasm and love shown by our kids’ preschool teacher. I envied the ease at which she managed a whole class while I struggled with just 2 (soon to be 3). I wondered out loud How can I be more like her? I wholeheartedly agreed and laughed when my friend commented that there must be a special teacher gene (that we were definitely not born with).
Still I kept wondering…what do teachers do differently from my parenting that allows them to wrangle 10-30 students, day after day, year after year? I mean everyone knows they are underpaid, so their patience can’t come from their paycheck. I began searching for teaching books, instead of parenting books, at my local library to discover the “secret” of how to be a more positive and effective parent.
What I found within the pages of the books and online articles I read was profound to me. I may have been doing a lot right, but I was absolutely missing and messing up a lot too. These reads left me inspired, motivated, and excited to make changes and improve. I couldn’t help but share my finds with my husband (shouting quotes and whole passages from the other room has become a norm in the past few weeks) and he’s matched my enthusiasm. The change in our home these past 3 weeks has been amazing as we’ve gained a deeper understanding of our children, our family, and our home. I’ve noticed so many changes in myself as well and feel relief and hope for continued positive improvements.
My favorite polite description of my oldest daughter is “intense” so when I saw this book title I immediately purchased it. I wasn’t entirely thrilled with how the book was written, falling short in some areas, but it did leave me with a greater understanding of people. The book is meant to cover Dabrowski’s work of the 5 overexcitabilities of gifted people: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional . However you don’t have to have any level of gifted children to appreciate the contents. Pretty much if your child has ever had an extreme response (temper tantrum anyone? or how about hyper moments?) then check out this book. Not only did this book teach me more about my children and other family members, but it also gave me a better insight of people, both in the large general population and in smaller groups that exhibit parts of the overexcitabilities. For me, insight fuels empathy and gives me comfort in the “wait, I’m not the only one who thought/felt/noticed this” kinda way.
Thanks to Facebook, I came across this amazing blog post filled with great parenting tips no matter if you have one child or ten. Some parts made me laugh, some parts I 100% related to, and other parts gave me new “survival” ideas. My kids are extremely affectionate, which I hate to admit can be a little TOO much at times, especially with a newborn who is pretty much glued to me all waking hours. So the tip that resonated most with me was #11:Don’t let go of a hug first. Instead of hurriedly accepting their 1000 hugs a day, I mindfully squeeze them until they’re ready to let go. Interestingly I enjoy these hugs much more, and I can feel the heightened sense of security and comfort that my children get from them as well. Now we have fewer, but more meaningful, hugs, and everyone feels better.
The only teaching books I could find at my local library (aside from homeschooling) were books about the Montessori Method. I had heard from people that Montessori schools were “amazing” but knew nothing about them to know why. If you like facts and statistics that are backed up by studies, then you will LOVE this book as I did (and then also end up loving Montessori). I learned SO MUCH about how children think, feel, learn, and motivate from this book and all the studies that Lillard interprets. I immediately began implementing Montessori ideas of more independence, choice, and freedom with my kids and even having a cleaner/similar house and throwing out our reward chart. My kids responded positively and my stress levels began to drop.
Charlotte Mason’s Education Key: Atmosphere
Montessori inspired me to research the many different methods of homeschool which introduced me to Charlotte Mason. Like Marie Montessori, she was a female pioneer for children’s education, bringing new ideas to the table. She felt that there were 3 main keys to education: Atmosphere, Discipline, and Life. I read through the book A Charlotte Mason companion: personal reflections on the gentle art of learning by Karen Andreola, (but if you don’t want to sort through all that, you can also just read the blog post, Education is an Atmosphere by SimplyCharlotteMason.com). In reading about Mason’s methods, the phrase “children are caught, not taught” really hit home. Charlotte Mason felt strongly that the atmosphere of your home makes up a third of education. This makes complete sense to me, even if you don’t homeschool, your kids learn from watching you, whether it’s sweeping the floor, or managing anger. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m a parent that yells more than I would like “Go to sleep! Clean up your toys! At least taste dinner! Don’t boss you sister!” Oh wait that last one you learned from me… In thinking about the “atmosphere” of my home, I realized mine was becoming toxic. I was reminded of this every time my children tried to resolve conflict between themselves with aggressive tones and body language. Being hyper aware of my modeled behavior, and thinking about the type of home atmosphere I wanted to live in, my home began to change. We’re still working on re-training our kids how to talk to each other but the increase in peace and love in the atmosphere of our home is noticeable.
This book had been recommended to me several times in the past but I never wanted to read it. The title made me defensive “are you implying I don’t already parent with love and logic?!?!” I finally decided it was time to get over myself. The book builds on the ideas of choice, independence, and freedom discussed in Montessori. Cline and Fay make the valid point that it’s far better for kids to mess up and learn life lessons on small scales when they are young, then to learn a much bigger lesson with potentially damaging consequences when they are older. They also talk about the word choices we use as parents with lots of “say this, not that” to get more positive feedback from kids. This built on the idea of an “atmosphere” that Mason advised. There’s even a chart in the back with common phrase examples/advice (which I took a picture of to save and look at often!).
This may seem like an odd book for the list, especially if you have zero intention of homeschooling. Even so, it’s worth a read because it calls for building a deeper understanding of your child and also working on your parenting technique. By deeper understanding I mean paying attention to how your child learns best, what are reasonable expectations for calmness and focus, and really getting to know your child as a person. Then parenting technique, Rivero feels that problems with homeschooling, are often really problems with parenting. Ouch, but a valid point when considering the previous mentions of “atmosphere” and “caught not taught”.
Love, love, LOVE this book. Well worth the purchase because it includes “practical steps” and a large appendix of resources that you can look back on again and again. I originally thought this book was going to be a how-to on taming the “intense” and “wild child” but quickly found it to be invaluable not only for ALL children but also ALL adults as well. The author, Dermond, has extensive experience with educating children, including with west-coast “Living Wisdom Schools” that prioritize teaching children to be calm, compassionate and kind at their foundation. The book covers topics like bonding with nature, rituals vs routine, benefits of music, positive thought, and being comfortable with silence. Dermond also offered a great change of perspective for me about playing games and doing activities with your kids; don’t look at it as you playing a kid’s game, but rather “an event meaningful to adults that children can join in…your presence–talking about the day…or just listening–is the most important element.”
I didn’t read this book but I did read the article by the author Chapman; Love Languages: The 5 Love Languages of Children. The idea is that there are 5 love languages-ways to feel loved: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service. For each child, one language stands out to them more than the others. So by knowing their primary love language you can help them to feel the most security and love from you. For example, for my oldest daughter it’s definitely physical touch (hugs and kisses) while my youngest daughter is acts of service (I know that she can dress and feed herself but she loves when I help her). Knowing this has really given me a different view and more compassion at times when I think they’re just being clingy or lazy. (PS-there’s a book for adults too!)
Blog Post: How to Respond to Your Child’s Negative Self Talk
A nice overlap of some of the reads above, this brief blog post How to Respond to Your Child’s Negative Self Talk touches on how to work on strengthening the core of a child (their self image and internal dialogue).