Book of the month: March

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“[…] if you want your child to be gentle, kind, and thoughtful, you must be a parent who hugs instead of hits, who demonstrates compassion and comforting actions instead of impatience or retribution, and who listens instead of lashing out in anger. Your skills will become her skills.”

There had to come a time that the book of the month would be a parenting book, right? As you know, I read a lot, and there have been many parenting books I just cringed at and wanted to flush down the toilet (I didn’t, they ended up in the garbage). Not this one! This one is a gem, that has marks, and post its, and notes all over it. It was a recommendation by Baby Zand’s music teacher, and it has saved me from many tantrums. I have since recommended it to every parent, and so it is only right that it is my book pick for March. And before you think you are out of the toddler stage, go check out the authors’ other books for pre-schoolers, teenagers, and even children with special needs.

“[…] children need kind, firm limits, patient teaching -

and supervision.”

Let me set the scene for you: it is a regular Tuesday morning, and we are sitting at the breakfast table. Baby Zand wants to investigate every oat in her oatmeal, relish every bite of her applesauce, and take her time to sit, observe, and enjoy this meal. I start bugging her “are you finished yet?”. We still need to get dressed, take out puppy Haigo, and get into the car to be at school on time. “Are you finished yet?” “Not yet mama!” This goes on for another 5 minutes. At some point I drag her out of her chair while she clings to her green smoothie spilling it everywhere and screaming she is not finished yet. We wash her hands and mouth while she is crying, snot dripping out of her nose. We go upstairs, and the next battle starts. I want to get her dressed, but Baby Zand is adamant about wearing a fur coat in the middle of a heat wave. On top of that, she wants blue polka dot leggings, a red T-shirt with animal print, and pink purple socks. We battle it out, and she keeps taking off her clothes again and again, throwing them on the floor. “No, not this one mama.” My patience is getting very thin, and all I barely hold myself back wanting to yell “just wear something!” Eventually she is wearing a big, puffy green skirt, with a red T-shirt, pink tights, and a white fur coat. Yes, we finally get downstairs only to have to decide what shoes to put on. By the time I get into the car I am exhausted, Baby Zand is screaming that she didn’t want to leave her straw hat behind, and we are both in a puddle of tears. Now some parents may say, just put some clothes on her and drag her out of the door. I say to them, they have not dealt with a toddler, who has made up her mind. She will rather go to school naked than wear what I pull out.

We often had multiple tantrums before leaving the house about not the right kind of breakfast, not the right kind of outfit, not the right kind of way we were walking down the stairs. Seriously! And while I was trying to understand her difficult situations, it was just getting to the point where I wanted to throw myself on the floor and cry.

I devoured this book, and have since then applied most of the principles. The most important part for me is that every child has a different temperament. It’s not about one child being better than another, it’s just about how their temperament is playing out, and how we as parents deal with that.

“While attitudes, behavior, and decisions may change with time and experience, temperament appears to be part of us for life. No temperaments are good or bad, right or wrong - they are just different.”

As the authors describe, there are nine categories of temperament:

  1. Activity level: more active than inactive time and a lot of activity to explore and play in a safe, supervised space.

  2. Rhythmicity: how predictable are biological functions for your child such as hunger, sleeping, and bowel movements?

  3. Initial response: how does the child react to a new situation or person? Do they approach the situation by learning more about it, for example tasting a new food or do they withdraw from the situation, maybe crying and spitting out new food?

  4. Adaptability: how does the child react to a new situation over time. This overlaps with approach and withdrawal. For example how does the child adapt to a new preschool?

  5. Sensory Threshold: how sensitive is the child to sensory input like touch, taste, vision, smell, and hearing? Does the child wake with every small noise or does it sleep through a loud truck passing by?

  6. Quality of Mood: some children are just happy and sunny all the time, while others have a constant scowl and take time to warm up.

  7. Intensity of Reactions: how does the child react to events around them. This overlaps with quality of mood.

  8. Distractibility: how present is the child when engaged in an activity such as nursing or playing?

  9. Persistence and Attention Span: Persistence is the willingness to pursue an activity even when other events are happening around the child. The attention span is how long the activity will be pursued without interruption.

By looking through these nine categories of temperament, you will probably easily say “oh my child does this and that”. I found it so helpful to think in these categories when a tantrum was about to come up. For example in above situations, I now know exactly what Baby Zand needs in each situation and what I can do to support her.

“Kindness shows respect for the needs of the situation, including a child’s developing need to learn social skills. By understanding and respecting your child’s temperament, you will be able to help him reach his full potential as a capable, confident, contended person. And there’s a bonus: you will probably get a lot more rest, laugh more, and learn a great deal about yourself and your child in the process.”

I now wake Baby Zand a whole 20 minutes earlier, so she can feel free to explore and enjoy her breakfast for longer. I wait until she tells me she is ready, and we get up without green smoothie flying everywhere. When it comes to getting dressed, we go through each category of clothing. “Which shirt do you want to wear today?” “You can have the choice of these pants or those pants that go with this shirt. Which one do you want?” etc. Then Baby Zand gets herself dressed, usually while I just stand back and observe. Don’t get me wrong, this requires a tremendous amount of patience and holding back. Sometimes all I want to do is rip the sleeve off her head as she tries endlessly to shove it in there. And then I stop, and think of this book. What is she learning by my interfering? Definitely not that she is capable, and it crushes her confidence. When I give her that extra bit of time and sometimes caring help, she gets so happy for being able to do something by herself, it makes all of this worthwhile! And of course she will still wear a summer pink dress with red pants and yellow socks in the middle of winter - but she is happy and I am happy this time.

Now of course all of this happen within a set of firm rules. The authors constantly stress that a child needs both kindness, as well as firmness. You want to show understanding for the emotions your child goes through, while being firm in the need to clean up, leave the house now, or go to bed. The book dives deep into all areas we as parents struggle with: how to actively listen to what your child needs and is feeling, how to deal with difficult moments at the table, in bed or while potty training, as well as how to socialize with other kids without fist fights over one shiny toy. I can not recommend this book highly enough if you are a parent. Even if things are going well, you will definitely take something new and helpful along with you!

For more information:

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Make sure to check out some other book picks here!