When Jane was born I felt a tad ignorant about parenting; but I figured I had time to learn. Two children later and with Jane having turned 5 I am more concerned about my parenting skills. My wise mother suggested reading Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim Ginott. "It would probably be more useful than those economics books you've been reading," she said. Taliatha and I just finished it and although I'm not terribly well read in this genre here are my impressions.
First, I'm pleased to report that unlike some parenting books and magazines Between Parent and Child doesn't offer gimmicky advice for problems that usually just go away. (Why won't my precious angel sleep through the night? How do I get enough ME time? How can I help my kid read by age 3?) Instead, Dr. Ginott presents principles for interacting with your children that can be adapted to different situations. His primary thesis is that children are more responsive when parents address feelings before rushing to punish or lecture. The book gives numerous examples of common conflicts and useful tactics for resolving them. These include problems with eating, homework, siblings, bedtime, etc. For example, what do you do if your kid wants something at the store but you don't want to get it? First, don't try and convince little Timmy that he already has enough toys or that it's too expensive. This will just lead to counter arguments. Kids quickly learn how to try and get what they want. Instead, acknowledge Timmy's feelings. "Yeah, that would be so much fun if we could play with that toy! I like it too!" Often just validating your child's wish will fulfill their need and you may not even have to state the obvious: you're not going to buy the toy. That's the idea anyway, I'll have to let you know how it goes in practice.
Another part of the book that was helpful for me was the discussion on parents' emotions. Before reading this book my approach to conflicts has been, "I need more patience. If I can just not get angry everything will be fine." The problem was that I didn't have a strategy for when my patience did run out. Instead of yelling or angrily tossing the perpetrator into time out, Dr. Ginott recommends expressing in simple words how their behavior makes you feel. Emphatically express your frustration in words and focus on the behavior, not the child. "It makes me very upset when you push her," not "Why are you so mean to her?" This provides a constructive outlet when I'm upset and it models for my children how to resolve angry feelings through talking rather than yelling or fighting. This doesn't mean that you remove consequences. What it does do is allow you to resolve your emotions first so you don't dispense discipline hastily or angrily.
A lot of the book's advice is better suited for slightly older children. Sometimes you can't reason through things with a two or three year old. Still, I have seen some improvement in how I interact with my son Paul, who just turned three. Having specific tactics for resolving problems has helped me relax and have more confidence that I can handle whatever the kids throw my way. I think the most rewarding part has been focusing on how my kids feel more than their "bad" behavior. This has helped me appreciate them more as people and this in turn has strengthened our relationships.