Great Parents are great surfers. They are not born that way, they work at it. And they go under water a lot. All parents will face potentially “killer waves”, a term used to describe a wave that is fear-inducing and potentially dangerous. These killer waves can come in many forms, but involve a situation where your child is being swept away by some behavioral or emotional force, and you must surf through this period and keep your head. Most parents are not aware that even mild child problems can get much worse if you do not stay “on top of that wave”.
If you want to be the parent who grows old and can brag about how well their now grown child is doing, let me let you in on a secret: much of becoming (notice I did not say “being”) a Great Parent is based on your willingness to be resourceful and move outside your own comfort zone of parenting as you face these killer waves.
There are two comfort zone surfing patterns I have seen with parents over almost a decade of counseling: first, parents who parent just like their parents did, period. The second group of parents do not like much of what their parents did and then they make sure to surf very differently from their parents. Neither surfing pattern is necessarily better than the other, because in the end the key is to correct the mistakes your parents made and keep doing what they did well..
If all you are willing to do is surf either very like or very differently from your parents surfing style, and you do not look for resources along the way, you will not be a Great Parent most likely. Great Parents arm themselves with the best information, and go outside of “family parenting folklore” or “family wisdom”. Have you ever seen an Olympic Athlete say, “I got here because I just did what family thought was best?” Uh, NO. To be great at something, you must look for the most vital knowledge and translate that into the best technique having the greatest impact on the seas you are currently surfing.
As a psychologist and counselor who is a child specialist here in Tucson, I have sat in a lifeboat and successfully coached parents through their surfing of the waves that accompany their child’s giftedness and rebellion, ADHD, anger/tantrums, low self-esteem, social awkwardness, Autism, anxiety, depression, loss, trauma, sexual or physical abuse, drug abuse, school failures, and more. Know this: Every kid goes through problems that can turn into much worse problems unless you handcraft a response that really accounts for who your child really is. The resources below are designed to not only help you PREVENT problems, but understand if there is a problem. TRUST ME, your child will encounter issues that you have no idea how to handle. You need to have resources.
So, save the list below, because one day you will need it. I thought I would offer you some of the “best of the best” resources I have come upon that parents I work with have agreed are credible and practical, rather than like the 98% of parenting books out there, many of which read like a nerdy psychologist wrote it who has never had kids.
These resources should help you (or someone you know) surf through some of the most common but challenging parenting waves that must be surfed carefully. These resources address issues such as “How do I know what is normal behavior for my 6-year-old?”, “What are techniques I can use to better connect to my teenager even though she never wants to be around me anymore?”, or “What emotional, cognitive, or social skills should I be developing at each stage of my child’s development?”. Great parents ask these kinds of questions.
Brunner’s Best of the Best for Successful Parental Surfing (As surfers say, “keep your toes on the nose!”)
(The Baby Period) For parents trying to get their baby into a regular sleep and feeding cycle, I recommend a book called “Babywise”. This book is very scientifically based, and uses a systematic and compassionate approach to helping your baby learn to sleep and eat on a schedule. A good book for parents you know who believe that you always “feed on demand”. By the way, I know of no research supporting that idea, and it can lead to parents losing much more sleep than they need to.
(Birth to 3 years of age) “Touchpoints”, by T. Berry Brazelton, MD – Dr. Brazelton does a wonderful job of discussing what is normal emotional and behavioral development. Brazelton seems to have a highly nuanced grasp of issues like bedwetting, sleep problems, and sibling rivalry. This book has become a classic and is a key reference for new parents. A great gift to give for a to-be mother’s shower!
(Birth to 5 years of age) “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child”, Edited by Steven Shelov, MD. Another classic reference that more thoroughly than Touchpoints discusses all of the medical aspects of development until age 5. I consider this and Touchpoints two essential desk references for my practice. Published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
(Birth to 9 years of age) “Ages and Stages”, by Dr. Charles Schaefer and Theresa DiGeronimo. Subtitle for the book is “Tips and techniques for building your child’s social emotional, interpersonal, and cognitive skills”. Could not have said it better. This book does what few books do, talks about what is normal, and what SKILLS you need to cultivate during each developmental period. Great for parents of gifted children, or for parents who want their kid to be the one other parents are envious of, because it really talks about how to help your child accelerate their development!
(Three to young adulthood – for social problems) “The Unwritten Rules of Friendship”, by Drs. Natalie Elman and Kennedy Moore. A great book that helps parents teach their children to navigate social situations with more finesse. One parent said this book really helped them understand how to account for their child’s temperament, and so often temperament is ignored by parents and others. For example, some kids have a “shy” temperament, and this book gives specific advice according to the temperament of your child. In a world where social skills are vastly underdeveloped, a breath of fresh air packed with potent tips.
(Three to young adulthood – for anger problems) “The Explosive Child”, by Dr. Ross Greene. A great book for parents with children with anger or tantrumming problems. Greene really walks parents through a process and system they can use to respond to their child’s behavior. Parents of children with milder to more severe anger issues (e.g., that accompany bipolar conditions) would benefit. This has become a classic. I use this book as I work with parents and have them read sections.
(Four to young adulthood – parenting a child with focusing or ADHD problems) “Driven to Distraction”, by Drs. Hallowell and Ratey. Subtitle: “Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood”. Yes, a very insightful book. A book that also discusses the over diagnosis of ADHD. A very sober look at ADHD and how to manage it.
(Seven to young adulthood – raising boys). “Raising Cain”, by Drs. Kindlon and Thompson. A New York Times Bestseller. Subtitle: “Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys”. Yes, that must be a focus because culture gives the opposite message. Too many parents forget boys are as emotionally complex as girls. A patent falsehood. Boys just hide their emotions better, their feelings run just as deep. A vast majority of boys I work with don’t understand this CORE TRUTH: “Courage is not the absence of worry or distress, it is the mastery of them”. Boys grow up thinking feelings are for girls, and meanwhile they stuff their feelings inside. What’s the problem? As a Navy Seal buddy told me, most often those who became SEALS did not ignore or feel ashamed of their feelings, but they sure as heck mastered them! When your head hits the pillow tonight, reflect on that.
(Three till they leave the house – teaching your child to have “inner discipline”). “Kids are worth it!”, by Dr. Barbara Colorosa. Of all the parenting books I have read through, she seems to have a great grasp of how to setup a reward/consequence system that truly teaches your child to develop internal discipline, in other words, an internalize value system! That is the best gift we can give our kids. This is a point I hammer away at as I work as a counselor helping parents cultivate a robust value system in their children. I She has a CD you can buy to listen in on her stuff.
(Three till they leave the house – connecting with your child) “Connected Parenting”, by Jennifer Kolari, MSW. How do you cultivate a deep bond with your children that will last a lifetime? How do you really “connect” with your child, instead of just “interacting”. These are vital issues addressed, in a user friendly manner.
Of course books can often offer a very generic approach, and in the end, to solve a problem you must account for all of the factors like temperament, history of the problem, family dynamics, etc. That is why in my work I make sure to first ask a lot of questions, and never after a short meeting say, “Go read this book!”. As a counselor I have come to appreciate the importance of coaching by first getting to know the players and always viewing a behavior from a developmental perspective. You should parent in the same way.