I have a confession to make: Many books written by colleagues sit in a pile on my desk, half or never read. I can barely get through these well-researched, informative books, and I know the sleep-deprived, stressed out parents I work with have an even harder time than me.

To be honest, I’m not sure a parent can become better at their job by reading advice from a book (though a short column written by yours truly might be helpful now and then). I believe parenting is best learned by trusting gut feelings, asking questions, being humble, and constantly starting over again and again and again.

This column is devoted to another kind of book that may be more instructive than Parenting How-To’s, the picture book. I’m not referring to message-heavy illustrated books with obvious agendas. Rather, consider picture books that are simple and direct. Often a fun, quick read with cool illustrations is more inspiring than 200 plus pages of professionally endorsed do’s and dont’s. Good picture books can positively influence parents as well as kids, teaching without preaching.

So with or without your kids: Read, look, and enjoy!


Boundaries – No, David!

Issue: Boundaries
Suggested Book:
No, David! by David Shannon

Have you ever tried to count how many times a day you say “No” to your child? No, not now.
Time to go.
No, that’s dangerous.
Put that down.
No, don’t touch that.
Pay attention.
No, you cant.
Be quiet.
Stop that!!!!!

Sometimes our children listen, but many times they don’t. It isn’t because they’re trying to intentionally push our buttons. Young kids are remarkably present focused. Whether it’s a wall to be climbed, a cookie to be eaten, a dog to be hugged, a game to be played, or a song to be sung. Whatever is immediately in front of them is the most important thing in the world, EVER!

They’re not trying to drive us crazy on purpose. On the rare occasions when they are trying to get a rise out of us, a mischievous grin or giggle will give them away. Most often they’re just doing what children are hard-wired to do: explore worlds, test boundaries, and discover passions.

I can’t think of a better example of a kid doing what a kid does than that energetic, boundary pusher David, the guileless mischief-maker in David Shannon’s book titled (of course) No, David!

David is a force of nature, with uncompromising, often exhausting child-like drive.
His exploits continue in the David book series, but No, David! is the first and a true classic.

No, David! is a picture book that relies on very few words. Shannon’s artwork has a frenzied, hilarious quality that sets the tone perfectly. While David plays with his food, makes various messes, runs around naked, and doesn’t listen, he does so in a fevered pitch, always at the brink of total disaster. From off the page, David’s mother reprimands, warns, and scolds, but David is not one to be stopped. He goes from one potentially damaging, embarrassing or dangerous activity to another with arms akimbo and a wild grin on his face.

His mother attempts to protect him from harm, as a mother should. Her tone gets increasingly exasperated, and she loses her temper. Afterwards she realizes that maybe she’s been a bit too tough. She must remind poor “Davey” of her unconditional love. Sure, he wreaks havoc, but he is just so darn cute and clueless!

Kids love No, David!, as just about every kid can relate to constantly being told “NO”! This is a book that can be useful when discussing the difference between good, old-fashioned messy fun and property-destroying pandemonium.

But I particularly recommend No, David! to parents as a reminder of the intractable and loveable nature of risk-taking children. It’s important to let kids go the limit, whenever possible. It’s crucial to protect them from harm. But it makes all the difference in the world to provide a loving hug when they’re upset by having gone too far.

No, David! is about the power of parental love above all else. It reminds parents to lighten up before, during and after the damage is done, and to save the “I told you so” for later, or never.

This was first published in A Child Grows in Brooklyn on April 19, 2011

Sharing – Duck & Goose

Issue: Sharing
Suggested Book:

Duck & Goose by Tad Hills

Sharing is difficult at any age, especially in a proprietary and materialistic society like ours. Parents of young children particularly need to relax about sharing, or the lack thereof. Most young children conceptualize everything in their worlds as extensions of their corporeal beings; their toys, their food, their parents, the views out their windows. I cringe when kids are categorized as ‘good’ sharers or ‘bad’ sharers. Asking a three year old to willingly hand over a toy is like asking them to cut off their arm and give it away. Yes. Ouch. In my opinion, sharing should be considered a developmental stage, something to encourage but not force, like walking or talking, or using the potty.

Some kids move in to a more fluid acceptance of sharing sooner than others. So please, try to limit the comparisons, pointing out the ‘good’ sharer while your kid bear hugs their toy truck so tightly you fear for his circulation. Instead, read a book like Tad Hills Duck & Goose and let these adorable characters ‘float’ the message without shaming or blaming.

Duck and Goose meet when they both happen upon a polka-dot ball at the same time. They think it’s a giant egg, which adds a whole other hilarious dimension to their story. What’s great about Duck & Goose is how nuanced the sharing/not sharing subject is explored. These little feathery guys are not one-dimensional “MINE MINE MINE” characters. Sure Duck and Goose squabble, try to one-up each other, not unlike toddlers and pre-schoolers, but they also try hard to be polite and struggle to think of solutions to the conundrum of having just one ball. Like human kids Duck and Goose crave social contact and thrive on friendship. But they’re stubborn little devils. They ultimately work their differences out without sacrificing their strong wills. They are imperfectly perfect, and the kind of role models this Parenting Expert can support.

Valuable lessons aside, I also love Duck & Goose because of the way Hills has married colorful, playful illustrations with sweet, funny, but never cloying prose. Support your local bookstore or library and go get a copy now.

Here’s the link to the Duck & Goose flickr page that shows the book and the accolades that it’s received.

And here is the Amazon page link for all of the Duck & Goose books.

This was first published in A Child Grows in Brooklyn on February 17, 2011