Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book review: Brain-based parenting

Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) tries to do something truly amazing – to explain the chemical and emotional brain mechanisms that interact to create and sustain the loving bond parents feel for our children. That magical bond that makes us love every inch of them, that makes us prioritise our children’s needs over our own and keeps their wellbeing central to our thoughts and fears. And that stops us throwing them out the window when they are at their most annoying and antagonistic. This is magical territory indeed.

This book covers some really crucial topics – like the importance of parents’ emotional self-regulation in parenting effectively and the negative impact of stress on parents’ ability to tune into their children empathetically (and remain the ‘adult in the room’). There are some fascinating insights into the roles of oxytocin and dopamine in building the parent-child relationship and ensuring the parent gets pleasure from it (and therefore wants to engage even more). And a truly wonderful “caregiving formula” comprising playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy to optimise a reciprocal and nurturing parent-child relationship. Continue reading

Time vs. Money: the modern family dilemma

Time and money are the two major currencies in modern life. Balancing our need to earn money to support our lives with our need for time to live our lives is our holy grail.

Once you have children, that can become even harder. Expenses go up (more people to house, clothe and feed) but we also want more time to be able to enjoy our families and nurture our children’s development.

So it’s not really surprising that according to the Modern Families Index 2017 only one in five UK parents say they have got the balance right between time and money for their families to thrive.

Supporting working parents (both in and outside the workplace), I witness daily the heavy demands work makes and how hard parents strive to carve out and protect family time. But attending the Westminster launch of new research by Working Families last week, even I was surprised by the stats on how far work now encroaches.

Heavy workloads mean that nearly three-quarters of parents say they take work home in the evenings and at weekends, with 41% of them saying this happens ‘often or all of the time’. Only a third of parents leave work on time every day. 3 in 10 fathers regularly work over 48 hours a week. And that is not to mention the long commutes for parents who are priced out of living in the place they work. Continue reading

Book Review: The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood (by Kirsten Toyne)

As mothers, we constantly measure ourselves against our own elusive (and often contradictory) ideals of perfect motherhood. We know those ideals aren’t real but their power over us can be so strong that we are left either feeling like a failure or warping ourselves out of shape in a doomed attempt to conform to those ideals.

The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood by Kirsten Toyne is a great antidote to that futile search for perfection. It is also a wonderful exploration of the troubling feelings that can come with adjusting to being a new mother. It is a book grounded in real women’s lived experiences of pregnancy, birth and the baby years that aims to showcase just how diverse and OK our different feelings and experiences of motherhood actually are. Continue reading

Put a book in his stocking this Christmas (books for fathers and sons)

I know it is not just me who finds men and boys so much harder to buy gifts for. Having been outnumbered by the males in my family for so long, I find myself increasingly desperate each Christmas to come up with new ideas to put in their stockings. My husband’s solution is to opt for joke presents but I can’t help striving for something that might actually do the kids some good and not end up in the bin by the end of the day.

Books are, of course the ideal solution. Educational and pocket-sized they are ideal stocking fillers. But choosing a book that will actually be read and won’t just gather dust isn’t so easy. I know there are boys who love reading but there are also lots who will only pick up a book if forced…

So, whether you are buying for dads, sons, uncles, nephews, brothers or friends, here are my top recommendations for books to put in their stockings that they will love and that you will feel good about. Continue reading

Books for raising confident girls

Little girls often have a bit of a thing about princesses. Which can be a problem if your aim is to raise your daughter to believe she can be anything she wants to be (rather than encouraging her to sit around looking pretty and helpless until rescued by a handsome prince). But fairy tale princesses don’t have to be pathetic, it all depends on the story.

Here is my selection of books for 2-6 year olds that feature sassy princesses, with attitude and intelligence, perfect for empowering your little girls.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Science Inside the Child (Sara Meadows)

When it comes to children, I am a bit of a brain geek. Working out how children think and what wires their brains together is what fires me up in the morning. So The Science Inside the Child: the story of what happens when we’re growing up (Sara Meadows) ought to have been my ideal gift.

And it is a truly admirable book. Sara Meadows sets out to summarise everything that science currently tells us about how children develop. Encyclopaedic in scope, each chapter examines the science of children from a different angle – from genetics to psychoneuroendocrinology to epidemiology and beyond. A commitment to scientific method runs throughout this book and Meadows’ rigorous examination of the evidence base is welcome in a field where so many so-called ‘parenting experts’ base theories of bringing up children on anecdote and subjective experience. Continue reading

The magic of storytelling without books

These days we place a lot of emphasis on reading with our children, and rightly so. But I can’t help feeling that the art of telling stories to our children (as opposed to reading stories to them) has been a little bit pushed aside. Making up stories – whether we are reworking an old classic or inventing a quirky tale of our own – is a wonderful way to help our children experience the magic and immediacy of imagination in action. It also gives parents the chance to adapt stories to the themes and issues most relevant to our own children.

When we read a story to children, our eyes are on the book and we are bound to the words on the page. When we tell a story to children, we can make eye contact with them, our hands and faces are free to be much more expressive and there is a wonderful sense of suspense: “Where will this story go? How will it end?” Usually nobody knows! As a result, children who might squirm and get distracted when you read a book to them often listen with rapt attention to an unknown unfolding story. Continue reading

Book review: The Psychology of Babies (Lynne Murray)

Give me a baby and I can’t help experimenting on her. Sticking out my tongue to see if she will copy, striking up a ‘making-faces’ conversation, looking at an object to see if she will follow my gaze, playing peekaboo. Now that my children are older, I don’t get much baby time but The Psychology of Babies by Lynne Murray makes a great substitute.

This fabulous book recreates classic developmental psychology experiments in an easy-to-follow photo format specifically designed to support parents and practitioners in decoding babies’ behaviour and understanding why babies do the things they do.

Continue reading

Best books for raising empathetic boys

A quick glance through the shelves of the children’s section in the library is enough to know that the majority of male figures in children’s stories adhere firmly to gender stereotypes: dads work, boys are brave and none of them do the housework. Not much help if one of your parenting aims is rebalancing gender bias and raising empathetic boys!
So I set out to find some picture books that might provide younger children with a few counter-cultural images of men as caring, emotional, gentle and patient.

This is my selection – I can’t guarantee that you will succeed in raising empathetic boys just by reading these books together (that’s a lifelong endeavour) but at least you will be exposing your young boys to the idea that there is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to being male. (Got a girl? Try these Books for raising confident girls!) Continue reading

Book Review: The Teenage Brain (Frances E. Jensen)

If you are a bit of a brain geek (like me) and a parent of teenagers (or nearly-teens) then this is the ideal book for you. It charts the changes that take place inside teenagers’ brains and how the differences between teenagers’ and adults’ brains can explain typical teenage behaviour (such as impulsivity, risk-taking, mood swings, lack of insight, forgetfulness, and poor judgement).

For a parent of teenagers, The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults is both an enlightening and a frightening read. It will help you understand why your teenagers behave the way they do (and why they can’t control it) but also just how dangerous that teen thinking and risk-taking could be. A teenager’s brain is basically a recipe for disaster: a hormone flooded, jacked up, stimulus-seeking explosion incapable of weighing up risks or making mature decisions. It’s amazing any of them survive at all…. Continue reading

Books for preparing toddlers for new babies

Books are a great tool for preparing toddlers for new babies. There is so much about babies that toddlers can’t anticipate and sustaining a sensible focused conversation with a toddler is never easy. So that precious time when you are snuggling up for a good story is a wonderful opportunity to introduce new ideas and prompt conversations about feelings and upcoming changes (see tips on Preparing your child for a new baby).

Whether you are just about to tell your toddler there is a baby on the way or have already welcomed your new bundle of joy, these are my personal recommendations of books that help young children cope with the arrival of a sibling. But be warned, talking to toddlers about new babies can throw up some probing questions about how the baby got into Mummy’s tummy in the first place – so you might also want to check out these Top 10 Books for talking to children about sex too! Continue reading

Books for talking to children about emotions

It takes time for children to learn to recognise and manage their feelings. Talking to children about emotions can help this process. Talking is usually best done when everyone is calm and no-one is overly emotional. Reading a book together can help young children to reflect on feelings (their own and other people’s) and can prompt conversations about how emotions are expressed.

Here are my favourite books for talking to children about emotions – I hope you find them useful. Continue reading

Review: Amazing! magazine

Amazing! magazine is a monthly children’s educational magazine for boys and girls aged 7+. It’s aim is to educate whilst entertaining by providing engaging content that children will actually want to read. Amazing! magazineThe content is based on the UK Key Stage 2 national curriculum and covers core subjects such as Maths, English, Science, History, Art etc. – but in a fun and accessible way that draws on children’s fascination with the gory, rude and funny. If your kids like Horrible Histories, then Amazing! magazine might be right up their street.

Unlike cheap and cheerful keep-them-quiet-in-the-supermarket comics, there are no free plastic toys (hurray!) but 36 pages of cheeky puzzles, brainteasers, jokes and funny factoids. The academic subject matter is all re-interpreted to have a child-fascinating focus (think zombies, cheesy feet, aliens and bogeys) with high quality illustrations and a child-friendly font and snippets layout. If only all learning could be like this… Continue reading

Triple P parenting self-help workbooks

Triple P parenting self-help workbooks are an ideal solution for parents who want to learn more about positive parenting but who can’t attend a parenting course.

Triple P parenting self-help workbooksThe books cover all the same material as the acclaimed 8-week Triple P parenting courses – helping parents to discover and implement positive parenting strategies for managing, educating and caring for their children – but with the added convenience of being able to read it on the train or dip in and out as time permits. The workbooks guide parents through a 10 week series of reading, thinking and practice tasks designed to build good relationships with children, encourage their learning and development and manage their behaviour in a positive way. There are three Triple P parenting self-help workbooks to choose from, depending on the age and needs of your child: Continue reading

Best books for teenage boys

Keeping teenage boys engaged with reading isn’t always easy. At a time in their lives when instant gratification thrill-seeking instincts are in the driving seat, books for teenage boys have to compete with the higher adrenalin kicks and quicker pay-offs of sport and computer games, the social approval of hanging out with peer groups and the no-brain-input-required of easy watching TV box sets. The odds aren’t good.

best books for teenage boysTo compete with those alternatives, books for teenage boys need to offer thrills, excitement and the kind of page-turning compulsion that keeps them reading even when the technology is calling. Not to mention, stretching them to new emotional levels and providing insight into themselves and the world they are about to inherit.

This is my list of books for teenage boys that simply cannot be dismissed as boring! As long as you can get him to start one of these books, he won’t want to put it down! (Got younger boys? See these recommendations!) Continue reading