The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens is a refreshing take on parenting. Dr. John Duffy, family counselor, life coach and “top teen expert” (an honorific all the more remarkable for its near impossibility) proposes proven techniques to negotiate the ever-changing, seismic shifts of puberty and beyond. What is an available parent? One who encourages a kid to feel heard, understood, supported. Not as a “friend,” but as an effective parent. The author boils it down for us: “Our goal is to foster an environment that is most likely to provide a sense of competence and resilience.” And by focusing on our own behavior (which looks as crazy to our kids as our kids’ behavior looks to us) we can open the lines of communication, establish trust and try to balance fear with love and acceptance. Parental behaviors that don’t work make an all-too-familiar list, including lecturing, micromanaging, smothering, coddling, bribing, waiting and snooping. Luckily, the bulk of the book is all about what does work, along with insider tips and exercises to make us truly available.

WHEN TO CALL THE DOC
Good parenting skills include keeping kids well and safe. This means knowing whether to treat something at home or call in the experts. But sometimes, we need an expert just to get us that far. My Child Is Sick! Expert Advice for Managing Common Illnesses and Injuries, by pediatrician Barton D. Schmitt, helps parents and caregivers identify symptoms of everyday childhood maladies. The book makes searching easy, with sections organized for specific body areas—for example, Eye, Ear, Nose, Mouth/Throat, Chest/Breathing—or for urgent problems like Bites/Stings and Fever. Within these sections, chapters address specific symptoms and situations, beginning with “Definitions” and “When to Call Your Doctor.” The “when” part is divided into levels from “call 911 now” down to “call your doctor during weekday office hours.” Thankfully, all information—including the detailed Home Care Advice—is presented in clear checklist style. Such visual organization will be a blessing to parents, especially for those unavoidable moments of panic in the middle of the night.

TOP PICK FOR LIFESTYLES
Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, by Sandra Steingraber, is an acclaimed biologist’s look at the contamination of our planet and of our kids. It presents facts and evidence terrifying to contemplate. So what is a “thoughtful but overwhelmed” parent to do? Read this book, for a start. As grim as the evidence is, Steingraber seeks “to explore systemic solutions to the ongoing chemical contamination of our children and our biosphere.” She argues that our well-meant weeding of plastic sippy cups and chlorine toilet cleaners don’t really make a dent, and shows that the real solutions will call for larger-scale thinking and major political action, including regulatory frameworks and a global weaning from fossil fuels. The biggest revelation about Raising Elijah, however, is how enjoyable it is to read. A guilty pleasure in the truest sense, Steingraber’s lyrical descriptions of everyday family life and its connections to “urgent public health issues” are astonishing.

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