3 Parenting Books that Changed Our Lives
This post is all about some parenting books that really helped us to adjust our approach with parenting our children.
To start, I was not one of those people that dreamed about having children and never read a single parenting or baby book while I was pregnant. I thought yeah, I can do this when the time comes. The universe laughed at me and sent me Declan. He is his perfectly gorgeous child, with dark brown curly hair and bright brown eyes, smart as he could be, and charisma for days…he also has a wild temper, a firecracker tongue, and will turn on you in an instant. He really is wonderful though!
1. The Highly Sensitive Child
Let’s kick this list of parenting books off with The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron Ph.D. If you have one of these children, then you know. If you don’t, you have no idea! The author herself indicates that she has a highly sensitive child. Highly sensitive children can be very emotional, reactive, sensitive, irritated by noises or socks or tags, notices small details, notices when things change. I had heard about this book through a Facebook mom group. I thought yeah, this sounds like our first. He has been highly sensitive since birth! I remember taking him on walks when he was a baby and he’d cry and cry and cry when we got home because he would get hot in his stroller. He has never responded well to us directing him to do something or saying no. Even when we are very gentle and delicate he can still get overly sensitive about the redirect. Back in the day, before Covid-19, when he went to daycare the teachers said he never spoke and that he was ‘shy’, which baffled me because the child doesn’t stop speaking at home. He was a very early talker, saying his first word at 10 months and 2-3 word phrases and sentences around 16 months. That said, he presented as a shy child at daycare because he is a highly sensitive child, taking in his environment and thinking about his responses. When he’d get home he’d release and cry from about 4:30 pm until bedtime about every.little.thing! OY! It was so extra. After the Covid-19 shut down this highly emotional state really decreased and I had the realization that daycare was too much for him and he doesn’t yet have the coping skills to navigate a whole day of interactions with different people outside of his family.
I decided to take the highly sensitive child quiz that she mentions in her book to see if your child is highly sensitive and our son scored right at 13 for me and 15 for my husband–yep, we knew he was a sensitive soul. By the way, most highly sensitive children come from highly sensitive parents so I took the quiz for adults scoring around 20. Heaaaayyy! Clearly, this was not a shock for me.
What were my biggest takeaways from the book:
- Learning that my son and I are both highly sensitive people. Giving it a name is actually comforting as I can access specific resources and communities to assist my child.
- Some highly sensitive children do not do well in social situations. We haven’t noticed that with our child, but he does get overstimulated. Holidays are a wreck, birthdays can be too much, and also we noticed school was hard on Declan. What has been helpful for us is walking through different situations before they happen and talking about how to handle interactions and events. I have also taught him so coping strategies such as removing himself to a quiet space with or without an adult as he prefers (it is important to note that this is not a time out), taking deep breaths, or doing something creative for a short time like watercolors, building with magnatiles or playing with water beads. I also tell him to listen to his body–are you feeling tired? thirsty? hungry?
- Super Gentle Discipline. We haven’t ever used spanking as a discipline method, but we have used time-outs. This really doesn’t work for Declan. He just gets super upset and screams and cries and carries on forEVER! Let me tell you that we are not perfect and are still working on what we say to him in different situations, such as badgering his sister or taking something from her, or playing roughly with a toy. Even the quietest redirect can set him off. In this way, we are a work in progress because I don’t have answers. We know we have room to grow here for sure. Time-ins with a trusted adult instead of time-outs has been very beneficial for his growth.
The next book that I adore is Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl. This book rocked my world. I read it last June and I still remind myself of the guiding principles presented in the book.
Let me describe the setting for you: It was June 2020, we were three months into quarantine with a 2 year old and an 8 month old. They had always gone to a daycare school that taught them many amazing things and did lots of cool activities. My husband and I were working full-time jobs during this lovely time while they were home with zero help from anyone because quarantine. They basically watched a lot of tv, went outside when we had a break from work, and didn’t go anywhere or see anyone. Good times (100% sarcasm here). I work in schools so I was off for the summer. June brought me a lot of stress because I felt like I needed to be their full-time educator now. Meanwhile, I was getting no sleep due to the baby and trying to organize activities for different age groups was miserable for me. Kudos to stay-at-home moms and home educators who deal with multiple ages because I could not!
Enter the Danish Way of Parenting, which told me to let the kids decide what they want to do and go with the flow. Spend time in nature, let them get dirty and don’t follow a rigid schedule. Promote family time–If the authors only knew we had a lot of that! But that family time should be fun and cozy and warm. The name they use is Hygge. I talked about this before in another blog post, but I added twinkle lights to our dining room to give it more warmth. They also talked about reframing negative situations and using humor to get through tough moments.
YOOOO! I’m reading this book and thinking well shoot, yes I can do that! When I started living by what the book said, we were all less stressed and much happier. It also talked about how competitive American culture is–I agree and that when we start taking out the competitiveness from things our kids and we can be much happier people. I had a very competitive upbringing and while I loved sports I cannot say that competitiveness brought me a lot of joy aside from when I was winning. I was stressed and anxious and needed to perform well all the time. I don’t really want this for my children. Personally, I don’t feel like this is a good way to be.
Some of my favorite portions of this book:
- “Being aware of yourself and choosing your behavior is the first step towards powerful life change. This is how we become better people. This is how we become better parents.” Yes, we have to be aware of what we say, how we say it, and be present with our children. I so struggle with this! I realize I am the model and I need to perfect my language when speaking around them. As I said earlier, my son is sensitive. Sometimes no words or the most gentle words are what is required. I’m building awareness of my thoughts and language daily. Reflection on this practice has been very important for me to make a change. I am sassy and smart-assy–not great for little children.
- “We sometimes think we are helping kids by pushing them to perform or learn faster, but leading them in the right moment of their development will yield much better results—not only because of the learning itself, which will surely be more pleasurable, but because the children will be more assured of the mastery of their skills, since they feel more in charge of acquiring them.” When I stopped pushing counting, alphabet, writing, activities and let my kids decide what we did next, they were so much more engaged and at ease. For example, we went on many family walks and our son had a balance bike. At the start of our quarantine life he didn’t really know how to ride it, but he was interested and we never pushed him. What do you know, he figured it out and he is just so amazing at it. People pass us and ooh and aah at how well he rides his bike and he’s so proud.
- “Praise is closely connected to how kids view their intelligence. If they are constantly praised for being naturally smart, talented, or gifted (sound familiar?), they develop what is called a “fixed” mind-set (their intelligence is fixed and they have it).” We talk about this in schools all the time. A growth mindset is so important. You are learning and you may not know something…yet! We have been working on our praise with our children. It’s so easy and automatic to say ‘good job’ or ‘you are so ‘smart’, but instead, I’ve shifted things to say you have been working on those jumps and you keep getting farther or those muscles are getting stronger every day and I can tell because you can ride your bike longer. I’ve noticed a difference in the immediate reaction and the long-term output of the effort. I do still say good job sometimes–you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…overnight!
The last book that I listened to, yes listened, instead of read, was ‘How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen’. This is an excellent book and recommended by so many people! By the way, I completely recommend this book on audiobook. I got mine through my library system and they used different voices to facilitate the parent group conversations and also had the two different authors. I really enjoyed that aspect. I have also recently purchased a hard copy because the content is (chef’s kiss!).
There’s literally so much good stuff in this book that I need to bullet point them and then I’m going to suggest on you (this phrase is a family joke not evidence of my poor use of phrasing) to buy this masterpiece:
- Acknowledging a child’s feelings, don’t deny them
- Example: My son got hurt and bumped himself rather lightly. Our previous thought process might be to say, “oh you aren’t that hurt, let’s get up”, but now I recognize his hurt and say wow that must have hurt and been frustrating to fall, did it hurt right here? And then I sit with him. Guess what, the boo boo lasts for like a second!
- Listening with full attention–hello smartphone. I’m guilty–I need to look up this recipe and oh I need to text Grandma and let me check my email for work…meanwhile, my kid is talking and I’m not giving full attention. I’ve been leaving my phone in the other room now or if we go outside, it’s inside. Yeah sometimes I miss a picture that I want to take, but I can have my phone with me another time. I can only listen to my son discuss information about gigantic Jupiter once (I mean 100 times! ha).
- Using a single word. Instead of nagging, I have tried this trick. It actually works. My son is an early bird and I am too so we hang out in the morning and watch some YouTube Kids together on the couch before everyone else gets up. Every morning he wants a breakfast bar while he watches his show. First, let me rewind because him eating this instead of breakfast used to drive me nuts, but I cannot fight with him anymore so there’s that story in a nutshell–don’t judge me. Back to the single word…he leaves his stinkin’ wrapper on the couch every day. I started saying wrapper. He said OH! And runs and throws that thing away (my mouth is agape!)
- Punishment: As I said before, we don’t spank and time-outs have never worked. We have scolded him before and it just ends up in shouts. It’s unproductive and loud and I despise it! Anyway, instead of shouting or offering time-outs, I sit with my son. We go to a quiet place and sit and I hold him or read to him (he’s 3.5 so this tactic works at this age). Whatever he needs to calm down and be ready to talk. I also model coping strategies such as deep breathing and lighten the mood with silly faces. We then talk about how the situation could be made better and then apologize or make amends in whatever way is appropriate. The book goes into deep detail about punishment. For me, this chapter alone was the most valuable.
Ok, so I need to know…do you have a book that has changed your life for the better? Parenting book or other. Let’s share!
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