Have you ever read a parenting book and thought, "Crud, I've been doing it all wrong and my kids are irrevocably screwed up now." Or read a description of a kid and thought, "Oh no, this is a problem kid? That could be my kid!" I have, and all I can say about that is ugh. My favorites are the parenting books that tell me how I should do it, as if there is one size fits all and my instincts are all wrong.
I was a huge fan of the Dr. Sears books and attachment parenting, and while I still agree in principle with most of the theory, just yesterday I jokingly told a friend I sort of blamed Dr. Sears for slightly losing my mind when my kids were babies, and for the current level of mom guilt.
Still, I read them, these parenting books. I keep encountering these situations in which I feel helpless. Sibling constant bickering. Refusal to clean the room. Sassing. Plenty of books -- and other parents -- love to dispense advice, solicited or not, but it's usually something that ends up making me feel bad or doesn't give any helpful information or solutions.
Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky breaks that pattern.
It includes a lot of new science-based facts and information about the developing brain. That is so geeky cool, and I love it. For example, I was so glad to hear that one can learn a foreign language at any age -- and young brains have no distinct advantage over older kid brains.
Mostly, though, I appreciated the guilt-free direction of the book, and the practical, "I can do that" ideas.
The book is organized around the seven essential life skills: focus and self control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed, engaged learning. These are concepts I can get behind. They are, in fact, more tangible than a lot of the more esoteric parenting techniques.
When my kids were babies I was all about the baby techniques: I nurse, we cosleep, I use a sling, my babies get free time, and so on. One time, in my new mom group, the nurse leader said, "You know, if you watch a kindergarten class on the playground, you can't tell who was breastfed or formula fed, who coslept or had a crib, who ate at three months or six months..."
The things that seemed so Life or Death suddenly gained new perspective. That was her whole goal: to show the long-term and help us consider parenting across time. When I do that, it helps me find my patience and parenting creativity.
Mind In The Making adds tools to that creative parenting tool belt. Right after I started reading the book (still in chapter one) my five-year-old was working herself up into a hissy fit. She does this often and my husband and I, when our attempts to calm her or give her a break fail, end up losing our patience. "Why not," I thought, considering one of the self-control and focus exercises Galinsky described in the book.
"Hey," I said, "Want to play a game?"
To my surprise, she agreed, and we started the (what I call) My Head, Your Toes game. If I touch my head, my daughter is supposed to touch her toes. If I touch my toes, she is supposed to touch her head. The idea is to not imitate me but do the opposite, which I lay out as a "rule" upfront. Within a minute, we were giggling.
My mother was so impressed that I began reading portions aloud to her. By the end of the hour, she'd planned to buy the book for herself, and she'd already taken notes of ways to help her seventh graders focus better in class.
Yes, its that constructive: a mother and a teacher are using it.
I can't say which section is most useful because each is in its own way. I like the practical exercises -- things you can do in the car, even -- that are fun for parents and kids. I like the seven essential elements, which are my basic parenting principles already. I like the validation Galinsky includes. Flash cards won't magically make your kids geniuses, to paraphrase one point she made. Neither does it harm them, she added.
At no point did I feel guilt or as if I am a bad parent. In fact, as I read, I felt pretty good about myself. I felt like, "hey I'm doing all right, maybe even pretty good, and this is pretty cool to add on, I can do that."
Galinsky uses the very latest studies, with solid source citing if you want more information, to explain how brains develop from birth through older childhood. She dismisses myths and explains facts. She asks you to consider things, and then suggests ways you can work on your ideas with your kids. Galinsky made a point about the research she cites: "I think you will have seen how inspiring, insightful, and transformation the research is." I found the same of her book.
To quote Galinsky again, what I found most useful beyond the constructive and nonjudgmental tone of the book was that "[t]hese essential skills don't call for expensive programs, fancy materials, or elaborate equipment. They simply call for doing the everyday things you do with children in new ways...and finally, it should be very clear that it is never, ever too late....I hope this book has given you an understanding of what you can do to keep the fire of learning burning brightly in your children's eyes and the skills to help them be all that they can be. If so, then I will have achieved my most enduring dream."
For me, she has. If you have never bought a parenting book, or bought too many and swore them off, I hope you take a step and check out Ellen Galinsky's Mind in the Making.
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