Differences really matter to children. Young children have to make sense of the world in a very short space of time. To do that, they use a lot of categorical thinking in which they allocate people or things into groups. This has huge advantages in terms of being able to organise information efficiently in their brains but it can throw up some very direct questions (“What’s wrong with that boy’s hand?“) and some incorrect assumptions (“Amrita’s skin is brown because her mummy stayed out in the sun too long.“) while they try to work through it all.
Children’s books that celebrate diversity in an active and warm way are hugely helpful for talking to children about diversity issues and for promoting an inclusive mindset. Not only can these messages help children value the people around them, they also send a strong signal about their own personal value as uniquely different individuals, helping to build self-esteem and confidence as well as friendship and emotional skills.
Here are my personal favourite children’s books that celebrate diversity. (If I have left your favourite off the list, please do comment below and share it with us all!). Continue reading
If you have a teenage son who is not doing as well as you think he should be at school, you must read He’s Not Lazy: Empowering your son to believe in himself by Adam Price. If you have one, you’ll know the type of boy I mean. The boy who doesn’t bother with homework or just dashes it off at the last minute. Who refuses to take responsibility for his schoolwork unless you trawl through his bag to make sure it gets done. The boy languishing in a lower set than his ability. The ‘could-try-harder’ boy who is too cool, too busy, or too engrossed in his Xbox to put in the hours on his academics.
If this is your son, then this is the book to help you step back, figure out what’s going on, and get yourself off the treadmill that is sustaining his behaviour. Continue reading
I had really high hopes when I started Little Kids, Big Dilemmas by Sarah Kuppen. The book’s sub-title is ‘Your Parenting Problems Solved by Science’ and, as you know, countering fads and fashions with solid evidence-based child development understanding and proven parenting strategies is exactly what I do and what I care about. This, I thought, is the book for me.
And, on many levels, the book does exactly what it says on the tin. Sarah Kuppen is a university lecturer in Developmental Psychology. She sticks firmly to her brief, rolling out the evidence on a range of parenting issues, debunking a few myths and addressing common parental questions. There’s a Q&A format to help keep it real and not too theoretical and some of the issues addressed (like toddler tantrums and supporting children’s learning) are near-universal concerns for modern parents. Continue reading
Learning how to recognise a good friend (and to be one) is an important part of childhood. All children experience some ups and downs in friendships. Parents can play an important role in helping children manage friendship problems by helping them think about why their friends might be behaving in a particular way and discussing what qualities and actions show that someone is a good friend.
Snuggling up with a storybook can be a great way to talk through friendship issues sensitively with young children and introduce new ideas. And for older children, who want to think about issues for themselves, books can be a safe space to work through thoughts, scenarios and emotions. Here are my recommendations for really good books for helping children manage friendship problems. Continue reading
The Mother of All Jobs: how to have children and a career and stay sane(ish) by Christine Armstrong is either a hotchpotch of a book or a treasure trove, I’m still not sure which. It ranges from social campaigning to baby-planning to marital advice to childcare options with a single thread pulling it all together: how to combine children and a career with some semblance of sanity for all involved.
It’s easy to read and digest, and the breadth of topics kept me interested. Christine Armstrong’s dispassionate and unflinching honesty about the challenges in combining a career and motherhood quickly strips away all illusions about how easy it is to ‘have it all’. I imagine it would be a real wake-up call to anyone planning a baby or heading back to work after maternity leave. If you are struggling to combine work and parenting, this book will reassure you that you are not alone and not at fault. Continue reading
Sibling conflict can really spoil family time. Constant bickering or relentless competitiveness can really wear on parents’ nerves. Yes, there are parenting strategies you can use to tackle rivalry between siblings (see Sibling conflict: a survival guide for parents), but sometimes a more subtle approach is useful too. Like snuggling up with story books about sibling rivalry and seeing where the conversation leads you. Using children’s books to tackle sibling rivalry helps children think more deeply and independently about relationships, about how other people feel and how to manage their emotions. Here’s my list of the best children’s books about sibling rivalry.
(These are books for siblings who are already here. If you want to prepare your child for the arrival of a new baby, check out these Books for preparing toddlers for new babies.) Continue reading
Children’s books are jam-packed with gender stereotypes. Boys play football, fight dragons, get into trouble and marry princesses. If you want to offer the boys in your life a slightly wider choice of role models, it’s a good idea to seek out books which go against the grain. Especially if they are feeling a bit of an odd-one-out.
Here’s my selection of brilliant books that offer diverse male role models and emphasise the positives in taking a different route from everyone else.
Have you read any Young Adult fiction recently? Because, seriously, YA fiction is where it’s all happening. Strong characters, gripping plots, imaginative worldscapes – the best YA books are packed with all the juiciest elements of fiction. Perfect for inspiring teenage daughters to take on life at full tilt. Here’s my pick of the best!
(Obviously, all these books can be read by boys too. I just think that these particular books have strong female characters with the kind of bravery and resourcefulness that I would wish for every teenage girl to carry her through to adulthood and beyond.) Continue reading
A client recently asked me to recommend books she could read with her little one about going back to work. But I could only think of one book. I can recommend lots of books for helping children cope with change in general, and lots of books about issues in children’s lives (like starting school and making friends) but I couldn’t think of any storybooks for children about working mums. So I decided to do some research.
It didn’t take long to work out that a) there are not many books out there on this topic and b) that’s probably because it’s a complete minefield. After all, merely the act of writing a storybook about mums going to work presupposes that this is unusual or problematic, that it will cause issues for children that need to be dealt with. There are no books about dads going to work so why should there be storybooks for children about working mums? Mums work, end of story.
Indeed, the one book that does jump out on this topic (My Working Mom by Peter Glassman)has been widely vilified as insulting and offensive. The working mum character in this book is a witch who is either never there or turns up late and generally fails in all her child’s wishes and expectations (though the moral of the story is that her daughter loves her anyway). Do check out the reviews on Amazon if you fancy a bile fest!
But, having said that, the fact that a client had asked me to recommend something suggests that there is a need for storybooks that will prompt conversations with young children about the world of work and why adults go to work. Children are often baffled about what we do all day! And when things aren’t going well, due to separation anxiety or childcare issues for example, it’s easy to turn on the guilt and get trapped into emotional messages. Having a storybook to frame some blame-free conversations might really help sometimes. Continue reading
David Cohen’s How the Child’s Mind Develops is quite an academic read so probably best for parents who have a very keen interest in children’s cognitive development. But if you are that way inclined, this book gives a really good overview of key issues and ideas in developmental psychology. It covers huge ground in a level of detail ideal for those without a deep knowledge of cognitive development theories but with an interest in children and/or psychology.
Cohen kicks off with a summary of the methodological difficulties in studying developmental psychology. How we can research babies’ brains when they have no language for expressing their thoughts or preferences? Given the over-interpretation of much psychological research in the popular media, this is a great antidote to our tendency to jump to big conclusions from methodologically dodgy ground. Continue reading
There are things I love about Calm Parents, Happy Kids by Dr Laura Markham. And things that wind me up enormously. The key messages are mainly sound (with a few exceptions) but the US style of delivery horribly grates on my British nerves. I suspect it’s a bit of a Marmite book – which side you end up on will probably depend on how you feel about self-help books in general.
The things that wind me up? Mainly, it’s the constant repetition. In the style of many self-help books, the text follows the pattern of 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them. 2. Tell them. 3. Tell them what you have just told them. Messages are heralded, summarised and repeated again and again. (Have you got it yet? Yes, I got it the first time!). You are certainly not going to finish this book without understanding what it’s saying! Continue reading
The teenage years can be a bit of a shock. Logically, of course, you know they are coming. But it’s impossible to predict exactly how your lovely, loving child will change when they hit the teenage years. Or how you will react as a parent when they do.
Parenting teenagers requires us to adapt our parenting style. Some of us come into our element in the teenage years – this period fits well with our natural parenting style. Things that we were doing ‘wrong’ in earlier years become ‘right’ in the teenage years. Others of us get pulled completely out of our comfort zone and everything we have learnt as parents in the preceding decade no longer seems to work.
Whatever your experience, it’s a good time to reach for a book or two to help you understand what’s going on in your teenager’s brain and reflect on your new family dynamics. To help you choose, here’s my take on a selection of the bestselling books on parenting teenagers. Continue reading
When it comes to gender, science has got a poor track record. Across the centuries there has been a consistent tendency for scientists to come to big conclusions about the differences between men and women, boys and girls, based on pretty flimsy evidence. And usually these have been conclusions which conveniently justify existing inequalities and the power status quo.
Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: the real science behind sex differences sets out to systematically challenge and dismantle this neuroscientific sexism that uses skewed science to prove that women are inherently more suited to caring roles and men to action and objective decision-making. But the brilliance of the book is that she does it, not through ideology but by unpicking centuries of flawed scientific methods and unconscious bias. Taking on the scientists at their own game. Continue reading
Change can be difficult for children. Children’s life experiences are much more limited than ours so they may not have learnt strategies for facing change confidently. And they often don’t have the reassurance of remembering previous occasions when they have faced big changes and adapted successfully. Young children, especially, thrive on predictability so can be stressed by even minor changes to their routine (see Helping children cope with change). Reading story books to help children cope with change can offer reassurance that change is ok and help start conversations about how children are feeling.
Here are my recommendations for reassuring and conversation-starting books to help children cope with change:
Reading books with children is a great way to start conversations about topics they might find difficult. Whether you have a shy child or just want to help your confident child develop empathy, reading children’s books about shyness helps children to reflect on big themes like courage, friendship and kindness.
Parents often worry about shy children missing out on friendships and opportunities. The best children’s books about shyness give the clear message that there is nothing wrong with being shy. But that sometimes shyness can get in the way of enjoyable or important things. And that sometimes, we all have to do something a little difficult in order to open the door to a new and wonderful experience.
Here are five sympathetic children’s books about shyness that tell stories about overcoming social anxieties to achieve something special. Continue reading