Play is Path to Happiness: A Review of The Happy Kid Handbook


1607_HappyKid_FTrying to raise a joyful child in a stressful world?  This month, I decided to review The Happy Kid Handbook by Katie Hurley because I liked the idea that focusing on the individual child, as opposed to following popular trends, led to a happy kid.  Using numerous anecdotes, Hurley, a child psychotherapist, provides a back-to-basics guide to parenting with strategies for practicing empathy, building assertiveness, and embracing differences.

Hurley argues when the word parent shifted from a noun, something one is, to a verb, something one does, it led to information overload.  She references current theories – such as attachment parenting, free-range parenting, and mindful parenting – and explains parents have become so caught up in these methods they have lost sight of the child in front of them.  The path to a happy kid is as individualized as the child herself.  Therefore, Hurley strives to help parents know their child and make decisions accordingly.

I could relate to this approach because since I started Parenting by the Book in 2010 I’ve reviewed nearly 70 titles.  While they have many suggestions in common – limit screen time, encourage free play, and set boundaries – each has also offered some unique insights.  As a result, I’ve never identified with one parenting style or recommended one specific book.  Instead, when pressed, I tend to list my favorites and explain the strengths of each.

The Happy Kid Handbook begins by explaining the importance of knowing your child’s strengths.  This is not so parents can focus on them exclusively but so they can better understand how to meet their needs.  If you have more than one child, you know first-hand that no two children are alike.  Still, many parents treat their children the same in an effort to be fair.  Hurley gives tips to understanding different personalities, like how to teach flexibility and how to prevent emotional overload.

Next, Hurley argues the power of play.  She explains, “A misconception about ‘creativity’ is that it is restricted to the arts. If a child is more puzzle-oriented then painting-oriented, that child might be viewed as lacking creativity.”  But it’s just not true.  Hurley believes creativity is about making new things by tapping into the imagination. This is something play perpetuates, along with connectedness and concern for others.

Hurley is quick to clarify that she is not talking about play groups.  She believes their directed manner leads to learned helplessness and puts parents on a path of constantly enrolling children in ‘age-appropriate’ classes.  What kids really need is sufficient unscheduled time for play.

Hurley believes one of the biggest obstacles to making this happen is the modern parents’ insecurity when it comes to structure.  “Filling the downtime with more activities might make it easier for a stressed-out parent (no worries about how to pass the time), but it robs children of time to play, learn on their own terms, and create,” Hurley argues.

While Hurley covers other important elements of happiness, her insistence at making time for play really resonated with me (probably because I just finished writing an article for Richmond Family Magazine on the importance of recess). Hurley explains, “It can take thirty to sixty minutes to plan, develop, and act out a high-level play scenario.” Think costumes, props, and sets.  “When unstructured play is continually disrupted to allow for more structured activities, children don’t have the opportunity to work through the process that makes play meaningful.”

I particularly liked how Hurley reiterated, “Creating a play-friendly environment does not mean that your kids take over every room in the house.”  As I write this review, a Littlest Pet Shop “city” is set up in my family room and my daughters are upstairs singing karaoke.  But as Hurley recommends, they will clean up this adventure before they start the next.  After all, only happy parents can raise happy kids. (There’s a great chapter on how to be a happy parent, too.)

So if you think parenting advice has gotten too complicated, then check out The Happy Kid Handbook by Katie Hurley for suggestions on how to be joyful in a stressed out world.



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Renegade Parenting Rules: A Review of “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide”


If today’s helicopter parents make your head spin, you’re not alone.  I decided to read It’s OK to Go Up the Slide by Heather Shumaker, a journalist and author of It’s Ok Not to Share, because it offered additional insights into issues like homework and after-school schedules – two topics I feel strongly about.  But I ended up being most pleased with her persuasive argument for more recess; for I learned early on in my public school teaching days, increased recess meant increased productivity in class.

Shumaker starts her book by reminding parents to take off their adult lenses and welcome risk.  She argues, “We equate risk with danger.  But risk is not a bad word.  Healthy risk should be our ally; it helps our kids and lets them develop into competent, confident people.”  She recognizes that this can be challenging idea for today’s parents.  Sometimes, Schumaker admits, “We’re not in the mood for another spill, mess, or tear-filled scene that could result from kids making mistakes and assessing the risk on their own.”   But the sooner we accept risk is a part of life, the sooner we can stop paralyzing our kids with our fears, Schumaker claims.

Schumaker also stresses the importance of modeling mistakes.  Since our children are always trying new things, Schumaker believes, it can be frustrating if they never see the adults in their lives making mistakes, too.  Granted, it feels like most of the mistakes my kids witness occur when I’m cooking dinner, but I suspect that was to be expected.  My mom’s a great cook, but she still is notorious for using the smoke detector as an indicator for when the bread is done.  As the dish towel fans the air above the oven, she shouts over the beeping, “It’s okay. Nobody died.”

This brings me to Schumaker’s next point, dealing with mistakes.  For example, I can’t fault my kids for getting worked up about something trivial if I do the same thing.  That’s why I still love the ritual of discussing our days over dinner.  My husband and I get a chance to share how we handled obstacles at work and promote a healthy attitude toward mistakes.  After all, as Schumaker notes, French philosopher Joseph Joubert said, “Children need models more than they need critics.”

I also loved how Schumaker adapted the Amish approach to technology to assist parents with teaching lifelong habits.  She advocates, “Go slowly.  Be careful.  Set limits to protect what you cherish.”  Parents will find a host of practical tips from teaching kids to manage their time to establishing boundaries.  After all, email and social media notifications come at random intervals, which is why Schumaker feels they are so addictive.  Therefore, Schumaker explains, “It’s not enough to give a child a low-tech childhood; we must give her the skills, knowledge, and habits to live with technology.”

Finally, my favorite chapter is “Recess Is a Right.”  Using research on recess from a variety of sources, Schumaker builds a convincing case that “recess is as essential as lunch to the school day.”  She explains the benefits of brain breaks and negative consequences of losing recess as punishment.  Schumaker provides the recess guidelines by Olga Jarrett, a professor and researcher of recess at Georgia State University, which I suspect will have most RVA parents advocating for more recess at their kids schools.  My fourth grader’s school falls in the “losing learning potential” category because she gets only 15 minutes of recess each day.  Luckily, the book includes advice for parents eager to bring about a change.

In summer, playground slides get hot.  They burn your legs as you slide down.  If you’re looking for another way, then check out It’s Ok to Go Up the Slide by Heather Schumaker.  Over the course of the book, Schumaker tackles tough issues, like why it’s so important to foster independence, assume all is well, and shield kids from fear, not the world.  While it will take more than going up the slide to raise confident and creative kids, it’s a great first step.

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When Less is More: A Review of The Gift of Failure


Can parents be overly attentive to their kids? This month, I decided to review The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey to find out.  This teacher, journalist, and parent addresses the pitfalls of being too responsive to your children.  According to Lahey, without a chance to learn from failures, kids miss out on the opportunities to figure out how to solve their problems.

“The less we push our kids toward educational success, the more they will learn,” Lahey claims.  If you don’t believe her, she suggests you try to the following exercise.  While your child is playing LEGOS or dolls, ask if you can join in.  Then, try to take a new direction with the toys. Most likely, the fun will end.  The reason?  According to Lahey, “The quickest way to kill off your child’s interest in a game, topic, or experiment is to impose your will on her learning.”

It’s not just a love of learning that’s lost.  Lahey explains that when children lack the competence gained from experience they are more likely to take risks they are unprepared to handle.  It’s also a confidence killer.  “Overparenting teaches kids that without our help, they will never be able to surmount challenges,” Lahey argues.  So “in order to raise competent, capable adults,” Lahey maintains, “[You] have to love them enough to put their learning before [your] happiness.”

Lahey recognizes this is difficult; however, she insists that the best part about autonomy-supportive parenting is that parents no longer need to engage in “nagging, nitpicking, hovering, [or] directing.”  That’s not to say you are supposed to dismiss your high expectations.  Lahey points out how “children react favorably to parents who hold children accountable for lapses in behavior or failure to uphold expectations.”  What Lahey discourages is “bribes, rewards, excessive monitoring, or pressure” because these actions “corrode a child’s sense of autonomy and therefore his intrinsic motivation.”

The reality is that our children are counting on us to teach them the ways of the world.  Lahey believes, “If we lavish praise for inherent qualities in an attempt to bolster their self-esteem, we do them a huge disservice.”  Lahey explains the dangers of a fixed mindset and the belief that children succeed because they are smart and not because they worked hard.  When in truth, it’s the kids who have developed problem-solving skills from real-life obstacles who learn the value of not giving up.

In The Gift of Failure, Lahey examines the downside of competitive sports and offers strategies for negotiating the transitions of middle school.  She includes a host of informative anecdotes as well as practical strategies.  Whether you need help establishing nonnegotiable expectations with tasks like homework or want assistance with guiding your child’s time-management, Lahey’s insights into organization are wonderful.  So if you’re struggling with loosening the reins, check out The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey for a better understanding of how the best parents learn to let go so their children can succeed.



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Secret’s Out: A Review of “What They Won’t Tell You About Parenting”



Parents are busier than ever.  Most tell me they are too busy to read. Tom Limbert’s latest book, What They Won’t Tell You About Parenting, is the perfect antidote.  This quick read is packed with thoughtful advice that speaks to the heart of the matter.

Using references and anecdotes from leaders in a variety of fields, Limbert establishes why it’s important parents recognize they are the ones who set the tone in their homes.  He writes, “You can’t let a toddler or a teenager having developmentally appropriate tantrums or mood swings affect your mojo.”  Limbert’s straight-talk is hard to deny.  I couldn’t agree more when Limbert argues, “What they won’t tell you is that it all starts and ends with you.”  Yes, it’s a huge responsibility, but one every parent needs to embrace.

As far as Limbert is concerned, “The single most important quality of good leaders is their energy.”  Now, I know what you’re going to say, you don’t have any.  I get that, I do.  I’m no stranger to exhaustion, but as Limbert points out, energy feeds confidence and enthusiasm, both of which are necessary if parents are going to inspire action.  Using thoughtful comparisons to inspirational coaches, Limbert demonstrates the importance of attitude, whether it’s trying to figure out how to get your kid to clean up after himself or finish his homework.

Granted, Limbert acknowledges that sometimes it’s hard to be enthused about parenting for three hours, much less three days, but he argues most jobs work that way.  Therefore, the sooner you understand that your “emotions are contagious” the better.  This is why a major theme in What They Won’t Tell You About Parenting is empathy.  He makes no excuses for disrespectful behavior, but Limbert does advocate for parents to accept that their children have their own stressors in their life.  He writes, “You want your child to listen? Be likeable. You want to be likable? Listen more.”

So Limbert walks parents through how to communicate effectively, how to respect others, and how to manage emotions.  I enjoyed how Limbert compared nipping disrespectful behavior at every turn to pruning beautiful flowers.  “We have to remember; the egotistical monster is inside us all.  It’s not your child’s fault.  But here is something from the ‘What They Won’t Tell You about Parenting’ file: it is your fault if you allow your child to be a disrespectful brat.”

That’s the kind of tell-it-like-it-is take on parenting you’re going to get in Tom Limbert’s latest book.  I found it refreshing.  A friend of mine often says she wishes she took some education classes in college because she feels like it would have helped her tremendously as a parent.  While 23 years of teaching experience hasn’t given me all the answers by any means, my kids have benefitted from my classroom experiences with boundaries, discipline, and motivation.  So I like how Limbert encourages parents to constantly think about how best to teach their child.

Limbert believes, “If you are indeed going to teach your child to be healthy and safe and to respect others, you will make your child cry.”  While most teachers and therapists know this, it’s hard for many parents to accept.  And when kids cry, it’s even more important to be a leader.  If your child senses you are spinning out of control, so will she.  It’s not going to be easy, but luckily, Limbert’s book offers parents a variety of practical strategies to promote your child’s cooperation.

If you think parenting has gotten too complicated, then I recommend you read What They Won’t Tell You About Parenting by Tom Limbert for secrets to simplify your life.



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Setting a Course: Bruni’s “Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be”



As an English professor for the Virginia Community College System, I deal with the issues confronting higher education on a daily basis. However, having a daughter in eighth grade has given me new insights into the insanity that is now college admissions process.  Therefore, I was eager to read Frank Bruni’s book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

Bruni explains, “College is a singular opportunity to rummage through and luxuriate in ideas, to give your brain a vigorous workout and your soul a thorough investigation, to realize how very large the world is and to contemplate your desired place in it. And this is being lost in the admissions mania.”  Unfortunately, while I share Bruni’s view of the college experience, many don’t, and I worry that what’s being lost by this new mindsight costs far more than the exorbitant price tag.

How did we end up in this predicament? According to Bruni, “What’s happened at these schools is straightforward: The number of slots for incoming students either hasn’t expanded significantly or hadn’t risen nearly as much as the number of young people applying for them, and that surge in applications reflects a confluence of developments.”

A record number of applications are being submitted by prospective students, thanks to convenient technology like the Common Application. Bruni notes, “A quarter century ago, only one in ten college-bound students applied to seven or more colleges. Now, more than one in four do.”  This shift impacts a college’s perceived worth because selectivity is a factor when colleges are ranked.  Bruni explains a lot – from how foreign applicants, whose affluent families can pay the bill, to “primary legacies” influence admissions. If you’re interested in learning more about the negatives of the U.S. News & World Report Rankings, this is a good resource.

According to Bruni, “Roughly 75 percent of the students at the two hundred most highly rated colleges come from families in the top quartile of income in the United States.”  He explains this is in part because of families’ investment in the process.  Bruni references Mark Sklarow, the chief executive of the Independent Education Consultants Association, who said over a decade ago approximately 1,500 professionals worked as full-time college consultants and by 2014 there were about 7,500.

Still, Bruni gives many effective examples to illustrate his point that it’s what you put in to college, not where you go, but I particularly liked this quote from makeup mogul, Bobbi Brown, who switched colleges three times, “If you can identify and stick with something you’re genuinely passionate about, you’re ahead of the game,” regardless of where you go to school.

Bruni insists, “If you’re a parent who’s pushing your kids relentlessly and narrowly toward one of the most prized schools in the country and you think you’re doing them a favor, you’re not.” As far as he’s concerned, “You’re going to get into a college that’s more than able to provide a superb education to anyone who insists on one and who takes firm charge of his or her time there.  But your chances of getting into the school of your dreams are slim…To lose sight of that is to buy into, and essentially endorse, a game that’s spun wildly out of control.”

When I speak to my college classes about this issue, I compare it to Weight Watchers.  Just because someone pays to join and attends meetings, that doesn’t mean he or she is going to lose weight.  Results are determined by the person’s commitment every day.

So check out Frank Bruni’s antidote to the college admissions mania. He paints a convincing picture that hard work, and what my family refers to as “chutzpah,” is what’s required to succeed, not the name of the degree.

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Guiding Girls into Grownups: A Review of Untangled



Need help guiding your girl into a grownup?  Untangled by Lisa Damour argues there are predictable patterns when it comes to our daughters’ development.  She believes, “Life with your teenage daughter doesn’t have to feel like a tangled mess.”  Based on her experiences as the director of the internationally renowned Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, Damour outlines the seven transitions girls experience as they move into adulthood in her new book.

  1. Parting with Childhood: Damour explains, “Girls’ efforts to part with childhood are both conscious and not.”  That’s why your daughter may “bristle” when you ask a question at the wrong time or be mean unexpectedly.  Damour recommends parents “accept that girls part with childhood gradually and embrace opportunities to do things for her, with her, and to stand by to admire her when she’s doing more and more for herself.” Furthermore, Damour warns parents not to view development as a race.  She writes, “When they want to grow up too fast, it’s our job as parents to slow them down by pulling back.”
  2. Joining a New Tribe: According to Damour, the significance of a girl’s tribe cannot be stressed enough. “Teenagers aren’t just looking to make friends, they are replacing the family they’ve withdrawn from with a tribe that they can feel proud to call their own.”  My 13 year old daughter’s tribe is her gymnastics team. She counts down until her next opportunity to be with them. While there are often times when I want to weigh in on the drama at the gym, I resist the temptation because, as Damour explains, “The more you bite your tongue, the more she may be willing to share and the more impact your advice will have when you give it.”
  3. Harnessing Emotions: “Parents who are surprised by their daughter’s dramatic ups and downs can lose sight of the fact that she is pretty shocked, too,” Damour explains. I particularly like this section of Untangled for it distinguishes the difference between complaining, which implies someone else should fix things, and venting, which serves as a means for unloading distress. Damour encourages parents to compare it to an adult grumbling about work during dinner. If someone who cares about you hears you out, you often feel better.  That’s all your teenager needs.
  4. Contending with Adult Authority: Damour compares this step to seeing behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. She reminds parents that the goal isn’t to raise a sheep, who follows any adult. The ability to evaluate authority figures is essential for future success. Damour maintains, “Teens watch adults closely and soon notice that many of our edicts are, in fact, hypocritical, nonsensical, or simply self-serving.” Therefore, your teenager is likely to test your arbitrary rules.  That’s not to say teens don’t need boundaries because they do, but Damour encourages parents to assess and acknowledge their limitations. It will make for a better relationship with your teen.
  5. Planning for the Future: Throughout Untangled, Damour offers good advice for negotiating technology, but I really liked her explanation of how our teenagers are about to create a digital record of their adolescence. No one is expecting perfection. “Put the emphasis where it belongs,” Damour recommends, “On your role as her ally in the effort to ensure that none of her regrettable impulses follow her indefinitely.” And seek help from older teens with experience in such matters for greater impact.
  6. Entering the Romantic World: In this chapter, Damour tries to help parents make the most of be limited opportunities to guide their daughters through the complex world of romance since most girls can be intensely private about such matters. Damour’s advice, “[Remember] you have three jobs: to alert your daughter to the fact that she has an inner compass, to support her in asking for what she wants, and to make sure she knows how to express what she doesn’t want.” She explains that part of the problem is that many parents don’t know how they feel about teenage relationships so, once again, getting a handle on your own emotions will help you handle your daughter’s.
  7. Caring for Herself: I love how Damour explains, “Girls can listen and roll eyes at the same time.” Still, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that girls don’t like to be lectured. (Who does?)  As a result, the best bet is modeling good behaviors, for Damour explains the research shows that girls who had high body satisfaction had parents who “exercised, encouraged their daughters to be fit, and emphasized healthy eating.”


Ultimately, Damour argues, “It’s often time to worry when a teenager’s behavior isn’t all over the map – when she hangs out at one extreme or the other.”  And parents who expect teenagers to be difficult and immune to adult influence are the ones most likely to have misbehaving teens.  Damour believes, “Once a girl believes that her parents understand where she’s coming from, she’s usually willing to consider their advice or find her own solutions.”

Untangled offers a host of wonderful suggestions for dealing with social media, sleep patterns, drinking, and drugs.  Arguing about school work?  There’s advice on that and embracing the growth mindset too. If you want insights into your growing girl so you can raise a healthy and happy young woman, then check out Untangled by Lisa Damour.  It’s filled with great information on how to connect with your daughter.



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Help for Having It All: A Review of Getting to 50/50


Trying to have a great career, marriage, and family?  I selected Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober to see if I could get some insights into all three.  These authors believe everyone benefits when both women and men have full careers.  Using a good balance of research and anecdotes to support their argument, the authors devote at least half the book to explaining what children gain when both parents work.  According to Meers and Strober, “Independence, self-confidence, cognitive and social skills, and strong connections with two parents – not just one.”

Apparently, in 2006, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded, after 15 years of research, that “child care is not the thing to worry about.” Meers and Strober explain, “How you parent is.”  Having previously been a part-time stay-at-home mom, I knew exactly what they meant.  Just because someone is “home” with their children that doesn’t mean they are actually meaningfully interacting with them.  In fact, Meers and Strober explain research indicates that “working moms spend only 20 percent less time than their at-home peers in ‘social interaction’ with kids – playing games or reading books versus making dinner while the kids run around outside.”

It seems “while the majority of kids felt they got enough time with Mom (whether or not she worked),” Meers and Strober report research from the Families and Work Institute which showed, “40 percent said they had too little time with their other parent: Dad.”  Therefore, if you want your children to do well, it’s in their best interest to spend time with both parents.  I’ve been teaching in the evenings and working online for years, so while I didn’t need any more convincing about how valuable time with dad is, the authors continued building their argument.

Meers and Strober looked specifically at how kids performed after kindergarten and found “having an at-home parent was not a factor, but Mom’s and Dad’s approach to parenting – what they believe and how they behave – was quite significant.  It turns out that children with the greatest academic and social competence have mothers (and dads) who let go.  That does not mean a parent should be detached, but letting a child do for himself builds self-confidence and problem-solving skills.  The only other factor with equal strength: having a good marriage.”

I’m not sure I really thought about it before, but according to Meers and Strober, the research indicates that sharing roles lowers divorce risk a lot.  This probably won’t surprise you, but Meers and Strober explain, “When women start arguments at home, it’s about division of household tasks 80 percent of the time.”   As a result, two-thirds of all divorces after age forty are initiated by women, the authors report.  This makes finding a way to 50/50 even more important.


How can you get to fairness without a fight?  Meers and Strober recommend the following:

  1. Create a master plan.
  2. Give notice.
  3. Change expectations.
  4. Do what comes easy (which may mean skip it).
  5. Telepathy is overrated: Ask for what you need (and be specific)
  6. Be direct – not directive
  7. Barter, accrue credits, and cash them in (meaning cover for each other when you can)
  8. If you can’t agree, call an expert
  9. Sneak off with a special someone – your spouse


Expanding on strategies such as these, Getting to 50/50 offers advice on tapping into your best resource – your spouse.  This morning, my husband spearheaded the taking down of the Christmas decorations, and in less than two hours, everything was packed up. It might be the best gift my family gave me this holiday season.

Meers and Strober explain, “The happiest working couples are those who build a community around themselves – one made up of friends, family, colleagues, and other working parents who support what they do.”  So start the New Year off by resolving to make choices that will move yourself into a better, more equal world.  Then, check out Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober.



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Good Intentions Gone Awry: Review of How to Raise an Adult


“Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life?” Julie Lythcott-Haims asks in her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free from the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. While this title references many of the titles reviewed by Parenting by the Book – Free-Range Kids, The Price of Privilege, and The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – it does a great job of bringing all of the resources together for a persuasive argument against helicopter parenting.

According to Lythcott-Haims, “A heightened level of parental involvement in the lives of kids obviously stems from love – unquestionably a good thing.  But by the time I stepped down as dean at Stanford in 2012 I had interacted not only with a tremendous number of parents but with students who seemed increasingly reliant upon their parents in ways that felt, simply, off.”

She explains that “if anything, today’s childhood feels dystopian, like some futuristic story where parents’ overprotection, overdirection, and hand-holding have been taken to their (il)logical conclusion.”  Given everything I read and experience (both as a parent and professor), I must say I’m inclined to agree.  Perhaps, this is why I wasn’t surprised when Lythcott-Haims shared how “in a 2013 survey of college counseling center directors, 95 percent said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus.”

For all parents scheduling to ensure that kids have every opportunity, Lythcott-Haims maintains, they are actually limiting their children’s future opportunities for success.  Students lack the commitment, persistence, and problem solving capabilities they need to thrive due to a lack of free-play in which they are the masters of their own destiny.  The fact that Lythcott-Haims reports the findings of a 2014 study from the researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder, which was “the first to correlate a highly structured childhood with less executive function capabilities,” only serves to illustrate this point.

That is what this book does.  It tackles everything from what we’re doing now to why we must stop overparenting to how to parent differently based on effective research and moving anecdotes.  Essentially, Lythcott-Haims argues the heart of the problem is “the student’s inability to differentiate the self with the parent.”  Without the space to learn how to survive on their own, students lack confidence in their abilities and are unable to deal with failure.

Lythcott-Haims shares how psychologist Dr. Madeline Levine explains that parents may be overparenting and unwittingly causing psychological harm when they do the following:

  1. do for their kids what they can already do for themselves;
  2. do for their kids what they can almost do for themselves;
  3. and allow their parenting behavior to be motivated by their own ego.

These actions result in Millenials being called ‘orchids’ and ‘teacups’ due to their fragility.  Lythcott-Haims actually believes the best metaphor was coined by educator Joe Maruszczak, who dubbed them ‘veal’ since as Lythcott-Haims explains, “they’re raised in a controlled environment and led, metaphorically, to slaughter.”

And there’s no denying that overparenting stresses us out, too.  According to Lythcott-Haims, “American parents are depressed at twice the rate of the general population.”  Essentially, our failure to normalize struggle causes greater stress on our children and ourselves.

Lythcott-Haims argues, “Being able to do so much for our kids is very much a function of extra money and leisure time.  When we do everything for our kids, we do so with the best of intentions.  But when it comes to getting ahead in life, skills like getting to places on time, being in charge of your own backpack or briefcase, and knowing how to cook turn out to be as important as schoolwork, piano lessons, and competitive sports.”

I particularly liked how Lythcott-Haims claims if we really want to help our children then we need to take up the task of teaching our kids to think – to figure things out for themselves – at home.  She explains, “Chores matter a great deal.  Yet children today spend significantly less time doing chores than did previous generations.  A 2008 study from the University of Maryland found that children between the ages of six and twelve spend only twenty-four minutes a day doing housework, which is a twenty-five percent decline from 1981.”

Twenty-six minutes!  This statistic really moved me because sometimes I find myself feeling bad for requiring my children clean up after themselves at the end of a long day.  But when I think of it in those terms, it’s really nothing in the grand scheme of things.  In fact, how will I ever instill a work ethic in my kids if that’s all the practice they’re getting on a daily basis?  Granted, they are at school and on homework, but, as Lythcott-Haims explains, “a work ethic is about taking care of more than number one” and this is something few middle-income children have practice in these days.

So if you’re worried that your good intentions may have gone awry, I recommend How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  It offers practical strategies to parents, who struggle with letting their children learn from their mistakes.


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The Tools to Improve: A Review of Different Learners



This November, parents across the country will be sitting down at conferences to discuss children’s strengths and weaknesses; therefore, as a teacher of twenty-three years, I decided to feature Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing, and Treating Your Child’s Learning Problems by Jane M. Healy in the hopes of aiding the process.

While Healy addresses learning disorders, Different Learners offers parents a comprehensive guide to a plethora of learning problems.  Using scientific research, Healy not only suggests solutions but also offers preventative measures to combat the consequences of “today’s fast-paced, stressed-out lifestyles.”

Healy explains that a large data analysis in 2000 by Jean M. Twenge found that normal children in the U.S. reported more anxiety symptoms than child psychiatric patients in 1950.  A big part of the problem, according to Healy, is that almost half of American adults are “extremely stressed” from trying to meet the demands of work and family activities.  Healy explains that in an attempt to give their child every advantage these parents, ironically, may also be giving their child a learning problem.

“Chronic stress creates a smoldering neutral firestorm that can disrupt logical thinking, memory, and attention, not to mention motivation and self-esteem,” argues Healy.  “It can worsen or even cause learning deficits and ADHD symptoms.”  This situation is compounded by two factors.  First, most Americans no longer engage in the most common form of stress relief – exercise.  Second, many children are exposed to violence in media, and since they have not outlet to relieve the stress caused by these arousing visual images, it causes the “brain to respond physiologically to viewed violence as if the viewer were a first person participant.”  As a result, Healy explains brain scans revealed that “heavy exposure to media violence reduced brainpower in areas associated with self-control and attention.”

Healy offers parents a variety of buffers for stress as well as addressing the fact that many parents are “confused by unsubstantiated hype about a need to accelerate learning in order to cope with our rapidly changing technological age.”  While it’s good to have high expectations, Healy urges readers to remember that parents must be sure that they are grounded in reality.

Also, Healy explains how “scientific evidence is mounting that many learning, behavior, and mood disorders stem at least in part from careless or uninformed food choices.”  She urges parents to do their kid’s brain a favor by becoming nutrition-conscious.

In addition, “brain function is the first casualty when a child isn’t getting enough sleep.  Research documents a strong relationship between insufficient sleep and children’s learning, memory, mood, and attention problem,” Healy maintains. “Yet teachers cope every day with tired, mentally listless, or hyper students who arrive at school chronically sleep deprived.”

Are your kids getting sufficient sleep?  According to Different Learners:

Infants up to 6 months need 16-20 hours

6 months-2 year olds need about 15 hours

2-6 year olds need 10-12 hours

7-13 year olds need 9-11 hours

14-18 year olds need 8 ½-9 ½ hours

This is consistent with the research on “The Lost Hour” in Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman, which I blogged about previously.

Finally – at the risk of sounding like a broken record for I feel like every month I’m saying, “Read. Read. Read” – Healy reiterates the importance of reading.  She reports estimates indicate that 80 to 90 percent of children in need of special services require assistance with reading so you may wish to check out my posts on The Book Whisperer as well as Summer Reading 101 for more tips.

Different Learners does a good job of showing parents that “most learning problems are variations in normal development.”  Healy encourages parents to keep in mind that “each child is a complex, growing, learning system who develops as part of a much larger system.”  Unfortunately, until our culture becomes aware of what kids’ brains really need, Healy believes there will continue to be trouble in our classrooms.

So if you’re interested in learning more about the tools necessary to improve every child’s ability to learn, then check out Different Learners by Jane M. Healy.

You may also want to check out my posts on Healy’s previous book, Failure to Connect.

The Wonderful World of Writing: A Review of The Write Start


Need a guide to help you nurture young writers in your house?  The Write Start by Jennifer Hallissy, a pediatric occupational therapist, is a wonderful resource, which offers parents not only an explanation of the path to writing readiness, but it also details 52 creative activities to assist help children of all ages with developing the skills they need to succeed.  Separated into Scribblers, Spellers, Storytellers, and Scholars, Hallissy provides parents with the information they need to raise confident writers.

Why there are so many reluctant writers?  This was a question driving Hallissy’s research and what she realized was that reluctant writers of all ages lacked the same basics:  “How to hold a pencil.  How to sit upright in a chair.  How to use one hand as a stabilizer while the other is at work. How to memorize the movements that make up each letter of the alphabet.”

Once Hallissy was able to improve the foundational skills that support writing, she maintains, “My reluctant writers actually wanted to write.”  Therefore, it became her mission to catch kids before they fell behind.  (Hence the 52 activities in this book.)

Hallissy explains, “Thinking and learning are not one and the same.  Thinking is a passive pursuit; learning is active.”  And, according to Hallissy, “Writing is thought in action,” as it offers children the opportunity to make knowledge their own.

TheWriteStart_PBBOct15What Hallissy hopes parents will come to understand is that “writing often precedes reading…because, like spoken language, it’s self-generated.”  Therefore, by placing an emphasis on writing skills from an early age, parents are actually providing a link to academic success in a variety of ways.  Why?  According to Hallissy, “Since efficient writers don’t have to focus their attention on the mechanics of writing, they are able to focus on what really matters – meaning.”

So Hallissy explains to parents what they need to know at each stage of writing – scribbler, speller, storyteller, and scholar – and then offers the proactive parent tips on guiding young writers at every stage.  Hallissy also outlines the tools, materials, and spaces that promote writing.  For example, Hallissy points out how parents are often quick to exhibit art work but neglect to decorate with “print.”  I’ve been teaching English for over twenty years, and while I’ve hung up my children’s writing on our frig, I’ve never thought to permanently display it.  I’m already sizing up where I might hang something on the wall.

The remainder of the book is full of interactive writing tasks, each with a variation for the different stages of writing.  Some unique activities I intend to try are as follow:

  • Table Talk – Did you know there is such a thing as chalk cloth? I didn’t.  But I love Hallissy’s idea to create a tablecloth out of it so kids can perform everything from sketches to spelling to math calculations on it.
  • Show-Me-the-Money Ledger – My nine year-old definitely needs to keep a piggy-bank balance, as she squandered all her savings this past summer on Shopkins and was crushed when she realized what she’d done.
  • Food for Thought – My thirteen year-old is always asking me, ‘What’s for dinner?’ She even created a mini menu board out of a picture frame (thanks to Pinterest) so she’d know, but I never got around filling it out.  Guess who’s going to be in charge of that job from now on?

Hallissy reiterates what more and more research confirms, “Neglecting old-school writing education in favor of its high-tech counterpart is a serious mistake with far-reaching consequences.”  So if you’re interested in engaging your child in the wonderful world of writing, then check out The Write Start by Jennifer Hallissy for just the right combination of fun and functional skills development.




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