I'm not a big fan of parenting books on the whole. I'm not sure exactly why, since I've never been totally confident that I'm doing parenting right. I just don't always see why people who write parenting books necessarily know any better. I've also read way too much about Bruno Bettelheim, an Austrian child psychologist and writer and also possibly a total liar and nutbar who was convinced that 'refrigerator mothers' caused their children to become autistic by not giving them enough affection. Writing a parenting book is kind of like being a chiropractor - pretty much anyone can do it, it's not regulated, and how do you tell the ones who are just going to make your back stop hurting from the ones who think they can cure cancer and schizophrenia by squishing your head?
So when I was sent this book by the publisher, I was intrigued, but skeptical. But I really liked it. It's solidly evidence-based, gives the theory, the evidence and both good and bad examples, and it fits with my instincts.
Parts of this book reminded me of two other books I've read: Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, and Teenagers: A Natural History by David Bainbridge. Wiseman's terming of the best type of parent as a "loving hard-ass" meshes nicely with the type of parenting that Kastner demonstrates as most successful, which is "authoritative parenting". Authoritative parenting consists of emotional warmth, firm limits and solid structure, along with allowing "psychological autonomy" (in other words, letting your kids disagree with you, even on big issues). This is in contrast to "authoritarian parenting" - strict rules without emotional warmth or psychological autonomy - and "permissive parenting" - lots of warmth but no rules or structure. The material that deals with how teen-agers' brains are developing and changing recalls much of what I read in Bainbridge's book, and can be really useful to know when dealing with a teenager whose behaviour seems off-the-charts irrational.
The book provides tools that parents can use on themselves as well as on their tweens or teens, stressing that it's difficult to parent effectively if you're not able to deal with your own frustration, anger or feelings of rejection before dealing with your child's issues. There are quizzes to help you assess your child's type, the type of relationship you have and the type of problems you want to focus on, with abundant reassurance that not getting perfect answers on the quiz does not mean you are failing as a parent. There is also emphasis on "good enough" parenting.
Some things seem to fall in line with common sense, some things were obvious to me, some things felt like they should have been obvious but weren't, and some things gave me something entirely new to think about (for instance, the idea that "a child who's accused of doing evil when he was just being naive or stupid has had real harm done to him." I never thought of it quite like that before). I felt that a couple of the essentials to remember and repeat could be very useful: for instance "my child is doing the best she can, given the situation and her innate temperament"; and "I may be right, but am I effective?", as well as "I will not cave when faced with high emotions".
The book recognizes that the underpinnings of a child's success - socially, emotionally, academically and in every other way - are complex and interwoven. It's actually pretty impressive how the authors manage to pull together multiple scientific studies, analyze and synthesize the findings and present them as something fairly clear, concise and simple (if not easy) to put into practice, rather than as a morass of indistinguishable information. I've even found myself watching television shows with dysfunctional parent-child interactions and musing on what the wise-minded way to handle the situation would have been (and in case you're wondering, yes, I do feel like a bit of a weinie when that happens).
I already have a list of people who want to borrow this. It may have turned me into the kind of person who recommends a parenting book. Weird.