I remember laying my first-born child down on our bed when we brought him home from the hospital. My husband and I stood looking down at this unpredictable, demanding little life force in awe and wonder. We had just changed his diaper for the umpteenth time, and he was already wet again. Was this normal? Was changing him so often doing more harm than good? We laughed at ourselves. All our preparations the brightly painted nursery, the baby books we had absorbed, the bottles, blankets and toys we had accumulated all our preparations had not quite prepared us for the bundle of need and energy before us. We soon realized that parenting was a never-ending series of judgment calls, and that from diapers to diplomas we'd be struggling with decisions about what was best for our child.

Fortunately, new parents, and long-time parents faced with new problems, need not feel completely alone in finding the best path to follow. Many sources of advice are available, including a huge array of parenting books that address the social context in which kids and parents find themselves today. BookPage has sorted through this season's crop of parenting books and selected a few of the best.

A child psychologist and parent himself, James Garbarino delves beyond simple parenting predicaments and writes about the perplexing and even frightening dilemmas parents are confronted with in his new book, Parents Under Siege: Why You are the Solution, Not the Problem, in Your Child's Life. Written with child advocate Claire Bedard, this book offers a sober, realistic look at the challenges of raising children in the modern world. The authors assert that the world of American parenting changed forever after the events at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, when two students went on a shooting rampage that killed 12 of their fellow schoolmates and a teacher and then killed themselves. Garbarino recognizes that cookie-cutter strategies don't work, but offers 10 tools to help parents become more acutely aware, more mindful, and more effective in dealing with growing children and adolescents. These tools include a periscope for Seeing the World Through the Eyes of Each Child's Individual Temperament and a glue stick for Holding Together a Child's World in Difficult Times. And what is a child's world? Michael Thompson, Ph. D., and Catherine O'Neill Grace do a good job of depicting that venerable, vulnerable place in Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children. One of the most fascinating chapters is titled In the Jungle: The Power of the Group in the Lives of Children, which reveals the social hierarchies and underlying forces exerting pressure on children (and adults as well) in group situations. Without knowledge of these social forces, Thompson argues, we make the mistake of thinking that tragic events are driven solely by bad kids' or gangs.' He points out that human beings hunger for group identity and closeness, and that there are gangs of good kids in our schools too, driven to band together by the same needs and invisible yet powerful forces. Thompson is an ardent advocate of smaller schools and uses the last two chapters to outline what schools and parents can do to help ensure safe, nurturing environments where each child is acknowledged and affirmed on a daily basis. Interestingly, Thompson uses almost the same words to describe the values he would promote in teaching children good citizenship and good friendship empathy, responsibility, sharing, self-sacrifice, self-disclosure and faithfulness that Michele Bora, Ed. D., employs in her book, Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing. Her plan for raising good kids from ages 3 to 15 includes fostering the following list of values, each discussed in its own chapter: empathy, conscience, self-control, respect, kindness, tolerance and fairness. The slogan getting back to basics might well be dusted off and used to mean teaching the basic fundamentals of human decency instead of the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic! This theme is expanded on in Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age by Dan Kindlon, Ph. D. Kindlon praises baby boomers for being emotionally close to their children and for raising kids who confide in their parents more than earlier generations, but he also finds them too indulgent. We give our kids too much, he says, and we demand too little of them. Like the authors above, Kindlon believes that raising honest, charitable, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent children should be a top priority. He advocates setting reasonable limits with clear consequences for overstepping them and advises parents to choose three basic rules that they are unflinchingly consistent in enforcing. But he maintains that the foundation for stricter parenting must be built on love, time and caring, and points to research that finds families who eat dinner together and openly communicate ideas and concerns produce healthier children both physically and mentally.

Of course, even if you follow all these guidelines, like many parents, you may find that your emotionally intelligent, tolerant, respectful 15-year-old will walk out the door one day to go to soccer practice and return home having changed into some bizarre character with a wild look in his eye, strange hair and stranger clothes. If so, you'll need to read Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind, by Michael Bradley, Ed. D. Based on brain research which shows that teens do experience a temporary imbalance that causes some of their irrational behavior, this book will help you get through that maelstrom called adolescence. Still, there is no one book that can teach someone how to parent. Each child is different and brings individual challenges and joys to the task (and a few gray hairs to the head). But these books provide information, support and guidance that can help you build confidence in your parenting skills. The authors remind us of choices we can make and steps we can take to raise good, caring children (who will probably read parenting books so save them and pass them on!) and who will also become good, caring parents one day in their own right.

Linda Stankard is the mother of two she has the gray hairs to prove it and she is still honing her parenting skills after 22 years.


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