If there’s one truth I’ve learned as a parent, it’s that not all parenting books are created equal. I have read many in my time–E is for Ethics by Ian James Corlett, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and The Everything Guide to Raising Adolescent Boys by Robin Elise Weiss, to name only a few–and some have become my bibles, my go-to sources of wisdom when I feel like I’m falling short in that area, while others…not so much. Recently, I read Positive Discipline Parenting Tools by Jane Nelsen, Mary Nelson Tamborski, and Brad Ainge. Thankfully, it has become one of the former: an enlightening and realistic book that helps me see my children and their behaviors in a new light. It also gives me hope for the improvement of both mine and theirs.
The main premise of Positive Discipline is that all punishments and rewards should be eliminated as disciplinary methods, and that they should be replaced with a kindly and firmly administered system of encouragement that addresses the basic needs of children to belong and feel significant. When I first read that in the introduction, I was instantly skeptical, sure that eliminating all rewards would take away what motivation my kids have to help around the house and do their homework, and that eliminating all punishments would make them think that they could get away with anything. But I was intrigued; as a parent, I’m always trying to make sure that I’m doing the best I possibly can for my kids, which for me means, in part, keeping up on all the best parenting techniques, and using those that best apply to our circumstances. Unless my kids are perfect, which they won’t ever be, and I and my husband are, which (sadly) we won’t, I’m always on the lookout for better techniques. Those described in Positive Discipline, at least the ones we’ve implemented, have been effective in reducing misbehaviors and increasing family harmony.
My Criteria for a Good Parenting Book
Obviously, that is one of my criteria for the quality of a parenting book: that the techniques it recommends actually work. My other criteria are as follows:
- Are those techniques explained in enough detail that it’s easy to understand when and how they should be applied?
- Are real-life examples given?
- Does the author acknowledge the difficulty of consistently applying any disciplinary technique?
- Is the author qualified to speak on successful parenting techniques? If so, what is their background? Do they have kids of their own?
- Do any of the techniques described have elements in common with those recommended in other parenting books I’ve read?
The instructions provided about how to be kind and firm, given in chapter one, are a good illustration of how Positive Discipline passes my test. “Have you noticed how often two people with opposing philosophies about kindness and firmness get married?” the author asks.
“One has a tendency to be too lenient. The other has a tendency to be too strict. Then the lenient parent thinks he or she needs to be more lenient to make up for the stricter…parent. The strict parent thinks he or she needs to be stricter to make up for the more lenient…parent. So they get further and further apart and fight about who is right and who is wrong. In truth, they are both ineffective. The trick is to be kind and firm at the same time.”
That makes sense; I’ve seen that time and again in my own marriage and in others as well. A couple of in-depth examples are provided by Mary and Brad, two of the co-authors, about how that dichotomy looked in their family. Then, Mary acknowledges: “Many parents struggle with this concept.” But then she provides a solution for a “coming together,” if you will, of those two opposing approaches, in the form of a list of options that I thought was very helpful:
- Validate feelings: “I know you don’t want to stop playing, and it’s time for dinner.”
- Show understanding: “I know you would rather watch TV than do your homework, and homework needs to be done first.”
- Redirection: “You don’t want to brush your teeth, and I don’t want to pay dentist bills. I’ll race you to the bathroom.”
- Follow through on an earlier agreement: “I know you don’t want to unload the dishwasher now, and what was our agreement?
- Provide a choice: “You don’t want to go to bed, and it is bedtime. Is it your turn to pick a book or mine?”
- Validate feelings, give a choice, and then follow through by deciding what you will do: “I know you want to keep playing video games, and your time is up. You can turn it off now, or I will.”
Redirecting and providing choices are techniques that this book shares with Parenting the Ephraim’s Child: Characteristics, Capabilities, and Challenges of Children Who Are Intensely More by Jaime Theler and Deborah Talmadge, a book that has been especially helpful in raising my son with ADD.
But it’s not just because this book met my criteria that I liked it. Nor is it because the authors do indeed know what they’re talking about, possessing among them two advanced degrees in related fields, and being the parents of a combined twelve children. It’s also because it helped me realize some of the latent attitudes and beliefs I hold about myself when my children that very much influence how I parent.
So, yes, I highly recommend this book. It will be released November 15th, 2016 by Crown Publishing.
What parenting books have you found most helpful? What are your criteria?
Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley. All opinions contained herein are my own, honest-to-goodness feelings.