Sunday, September 10, 2017

Two Parenting Books Saving My Sanity

I actively avoided parenting books when I was pregnant through when my son was a baby. I felt like there were too many "experts" and conflicting advice and I just didn't feel like it was necessary or even helpful to "study up" on how to take care of a baby. I figured that I would figure it out, one way or another. People have been taking care of babies for thousands of years, right? I am far from perfect and I don't have all the answers, but I felt common sense and instincts would serve me well -- and they did. Until toddlerhood. Oh boy!

Everyone talks about the "terrible twos," so I shouldn't have been so taken off guard. But it took me a little while to realize I really had no idea how to effectively handle the behaviors and challenges that come with raising a two year old. The transition from a dependent baby who legitimately needs an adult to respond to his every cry to a starting-to-gain-independence-toddler who needs boundaries set -- and will whine and cry when he doesn't get exactly what he wants -- was a big adjustment.

Let's just say I was feeling a little desperate. Assurances from relatives, other parents, our doctor, etc. that, "oh, it's all just normal for kids his age" were all well and good, but they didn't help me navigate the day-to-day challenges of raising a toddler. I spent so many days easily frustrated and just wanting to "survive" until naptime or until my husband got home. I was facing some of the same issues over and over again (diaper changes and carseat were two big ones) and I truly felt like I was at he mercy of an (adorable) little tyrant. Surely I was doing something wrong. Surely other parents know how to do this better than I do. Right?

I still didn't think a parenting book would hold all the answers for my specific child, but I reached a point when I knew I needed to learn more about the toddler stage. I wasn't interested in any gimmicky or "trendy" parenting approaches. I wanted reasonable, practical, well-researched advice. I definitely did not want an anecdotal "this worked for my family, so you should try it too!" sort of book. So after looking at summaries of a whole bunch of options, I gravitated toward the science-based book The Whole-Brain Child.

I started reading The Whole Brain Child and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. There were so many examples and scenarios that resonated with me and made me feel like I was not alone in my struggles. This book helped me understand the developing brain (and my own brain!) and helped me realize just how little I knew about child development. As I learned more about the brain and child development, my toddler (and his behavior) became much less of a mystery and I felt better equipped to handle things. The principles in this book are not age-specific, but more tailored advice and tips are broken down for ages 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12. I borrowed the copy I read from the library, but then ordered a copy to keep as a reference on our shelves. 

The other book I highly recommend is Positive Discipline The First Three Years. I only just finished this one yesterday, but I read it over the course of two weeks and was actually able to start trying some of the tips and ideas well before I finished. Some of it might seem to just be common sense, but all the advice is tied to child development stages, so they are not only suggesting what to do, but why. They explain why babies and toddlers do certain things that drive us crazy and just having that clearer understanding has really helped change my perspective on toddler behavior and how I approach solutions. It has helped clarify what exactly is age-appropriate in terms of my son's behavior and my own expectations and is helping me navigate those day-to-day challenges. Much of Positive Discipline's approach could be summed up as being both firm AND kind with our children. It's not about being punitive nor is it about being permissive or overindulgent. It offers such a well-balanced approach and articulates the reasoning and science behind why many things I've heard suggested before work -- and how to actually implement them.

I wish I could give a copy of these two books to all parents of babies and toddlers I know without being that know-it-all mom who hands out unwanted, unsolicited advice. But since I can't do that, I'll stick to sharing here what has helped me in the hope it might help someone else through the exhausting and exasperating (and exciting and endearing!) stage of toddlerhood.

* * * * *

The authors of The Whole Brain Child also wrote No Drama Discipline which is up next on my parenting TBR. And they have a new book The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child coming out in January that I'm really looking forward to.

And there are a whole series of Positive Discipline books focusing on preschoolers, teenagers, and children with special needs as well as books for single parents, teachers, and childcare providers. I imagine there will be a lot of overlap among the various titles, but I think it is great there are so many options tailored to different stages and situations. I will be picking up the preschool one for sure when my son is a little older.


  1. Oh, Christine this post is perfect timing for me! I was always someone who said they'd never read a parenting book... And now with an almost 4 year old, I've picked up my first one. Just today I started 'How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7'. I've only read the first chapter so far, as I did only get it today, but I already feel like it has helped me so much. Daily after preschool with have tantrums & battles (well all day really, but I read the first chapter whilst Alexander was at preschool) and so today I took on board the first chapter and literally... No meltdowns, no nothing! I feel like my sanity has been saved, just as these books have helped you.

    I'm so glad you found these books that have helped you on your parenthood path - and I definitely understand the relief of having done so.

    Off to look at The Whole Brain Child now as I think that could definitely be of some use too.

    1. How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen is another one I've heard about and may read at some point. It definitely sounds like it is in line with what I am looking for in a parenting book. I'm so glad you found it and that it is already helping! With little kids, I don't think any approach will work 100% of the time, but when you're stuck in a very difficult or frustrating pattern, it is such a relief to find something new to try and find that (at least most of the time) it works!

      Whole Brain Child is really great. I will just add that some of their "scripts" for how to address certain situations sounds very "textbook" at times -- but I figure I can speak more naturally as long as I understand the concepts and the key points.

  2. I'm planning to pick Positive Discipline the next time I visit the big branch of our library. We haven't reached the "terrible two" stage yet, but power struggles are happening occasionally, and I want to be prepared for when they really hit!

    1. Yes, reading it soon is a great idea! I so wish I read it at the stage you're at now. The power struggles are REAL with toddlers. And this book really helped me put in perspective the fact that starting to gain autonomy is normal and healthy, but also helped me figure out how to navigate the day-to-day struggles that go along with it.


I'd love to hear what you think :)