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Books to make you a better parent

If you’re caught in a rut with your child’s discipline system, academic enrichment, or just your humdrum daily routine… these three parenting books will get you out of it.

Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five

by John Medina
Every child is different, but every parent has an idea of what kind of person they want their child to be. We want smart kids. We want happy kids. We want kind kids. We want healthy kids. But we don’t necessarily know how to make that happen. In Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina, who previously wrote a Brain Rules book about how adult brains work, explains the often surprising science of how children’s brains develop and gives practical tips on how to apply that science to raising children. The book covers pregnancy to age five, but the information is easily adapted to older children as well. Well, most of it. Apparently, my kid’s strong preference for carbs and chocolate is probably due to my eating habits in late pregnancy, and there’s nothing I can do about that now. However, there are also plenty of ideas about how to raise healthy and happy children after they leave the womb, focusing on things like modeling empathy and developing impulse control. Brain Rules for Baby doesn’t provide many specific daily tasks to check off to build a perfect child, it’s more of an overview of principles to keep in mind while you try to guide your child to adulthood.
Pear Press, $11.51 [Amazon]

Playful Parenting

by Lawrence Cohen
Lawrence Cohen is a play therapist, and his book is full of ideas about how parents can use play to build confidence and competence. One of his main concepts is daily, child-directed play. It’s important that you don’t just play with your child, but that you let your child be in charge. For instance, avoid saying no to their suggestions no matter how inefficient, unproductive, or ridiculous they might be. This builds their confidence, strengthens your bond with them, and clues you into their desires and fears. One recent play session in which my son showed me how he could take care of a baby ultimately revealed that he really wants a baby brother but is not at all into the idea of a little sister. Play can also allow a child to talk about their emotions in a nonthreatening way, which is important, as Brain Rules for Baby claims that emotional labeling is one of the most important factors in your child’s emotional health. Perhaps most interesting, to me at least, is Cohen’s claim that children react well to playful anger. So if, for example, your kid refuses to put their shoes on every morning and it always ends with you yelling and them crying, you can change the cycle by getting “angry” and doing some over the top, silly “yelling.” Playful Parenting is all about ways to create a happy and stable home by having fun with your kids.
Ballantine Books, $8.74 [Amazon]

How to Raise A Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature

by Scott D. Sampson
When I was pregnant I read that a lack of access to green space correlates strongly with ADHD, so when my son was a baby I took him to the park every day and let him lie on the grass and feel the dirt and sticks and the occasional worm, but as time went on, obstacles sprung up, and I let that go by the wayside. Trips to explore nature became less frequent. According to author (and Dinosaur Train host!) Scott D. Sampson, I am bad and wrong and my neglect may lead to the demise of mankind. Seriously. Sampson believes that the solution to some of our most pressing problems—climate change, species extinction, habitat destruction, even obesity and diabetes epidemics—lie not in the lab, but in nature. Kids today spend 90% less time outdoors than we did as children, and this growing disconnect with nature has wide-ranging effects on their health and the health of the planet. If children interact with screens instead of the planet, the won’t be motivated to promote sustainability and protect local wildlife. His book explores the ways children connect with nature throughout their development, the roadblocks that prevent their connection with nature, the benefits of a lifelong love of the outdoors, and strategies to “re-wild” our cities (plant local plants, mostly). How to Raise a Wild Child makes an excellent case for getting out out into the wild and letting your kids get in the mud, play with sticks, and dig for worms.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.95 [Amazon]