For me, reading and parenting go hand-in-hand. There is so much that I feel clueless or helpless about as a parent. I don’t know about you- but if there’s an “answer” out there, I want to find it! Articles, blogs, and books are great resources for parents but finding the time to dive into (and finish) an actual book can be really tough these days (for me any way).
I have concerns like many parents, about raising good, responsible people who are prepared for adulthood. This task seems huge. And even on the days that I think I’m doing a good job, I feel like there is so much more to learn that could be helpful to my boys.
I want my kids to be successful in life, but I always think about what does “success” really mean? So, I made it my mission to get back into reading with the goal to learn, to gain more confidence in my parenting, to find ideas for helping my kids develop. And ultimately to share all of this with you- because you may not have a lot of time to read either.
Reading doesn’t always happen for parents, but these are three books that I think you need to have on your shelf. Each one helps paint a picture of the critical skills that we may want our kids to develop. All are very reader-friendly, and the type of book that I will keep on my shelf and refer to again and again as my kids get older.
3 Books Today’s Parents Need
I think many parents hope that their kids are intelligent. My husband and I want our kids to be book smart, street smart, and emotionally competent. Becoming Brilliant by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD talks about what it will really take for kids to be successful and their findings may surprise you.
Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek talk about balance between hard skills and “soft skills”- for our kids to be successful, yes they need to understand content and information, but the book also talks about the importance of social skills and personal happiness as important keys to success. I read that and thought, “This I can work with- I can definitely help my kids with these skills.” The introduce the idea of the 6 C’s that our kids will need to learn in life: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence.
I love that the book talks about creativity, which is something we value in our house. Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek discuss how kids are naturally creative and curious so we need to support this; we need to foster it or they won’t be ready for the jobs of the future. Why is that? Well, the jobs that don’t require creativity will likely become automated and possibly not needed. Creativity definitely fits into the skills our kids need, so I’m glad to know we’re not “wasting time” being creative over here!
As if there weren’t enough great points the authors make, they discuss the need for confidence to be successful. In my work for the last decade, I have taught athletes about confidence: what impacts it, how to build and maintain it, and how to do so on and off the sports field. Becoming Brilliant discusses that if we want our kids to try new things and persevere in the face of challenge, they will need to have confidence. Many parents don’t realize it, but confidence can be developed: some may not naturally have it, but it can be developed like all of the skills discussed in this book.
One of the big take-aways for me from this book, in addition to the fact that the path to “becoming brilliant” is much more diverse than you think, is that we need to give our kids chances to try, then fail and try again. We need to give our kids chances to explore, to experiment and yes: to fail. But then to support them as they try again. I think this is a hard lesson even for well-meaning parents.
Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek suggest that we need to “praise the process of learning” rather than focusing on the outcome. We need to remember to praise effort because doing so on an ongoing basis helps our kids understand that learning is a process. When they understand that learning takes time and that they can (and need to) try again, this will help them give more effort and actually helped kids show better performance in laboratory settings. These are great reminders and points of education for parents.
The book also highlights need to provide guidance for our children to develop all of these skills; our kids need to understand that skills can be built and Becoming Brilliant gives practical ideas for how to do all of this, since schools tend to be focused on content. Yes, there is a lot that we can (and need to) supplement outside of the classroom, but this book can help us learn how to cultivate the skills that our kids will likely need to be successful (and remember, that includes being happy!).
The Opposite of Spoiled
I chose The Opposite of Spoiled to read because it’s important in our house that our kids are appreciative of everything that they have. We want them to be thoughtful and knowledgeable about money and I was hoping this book would help with that. I was not disappointed by Ron Lieber’s book, and I don’t think you will be either.
I love that this book is “a promise to our kids that we will make them better at managing money than we are and give them the tools they need to avoid the financial traps that still ensnare so many adults.” I love this because this is what I want for our kids. My hubby and I work way too hard to be seeing a bunch of our money go to debt that we got ourselves into earlier in life. We should have made better choices; we thought we were being smart, but we could have done better. This book helps parents understand how to do better, how to have conversations about money, and how to teach the values that are important to you as a family. We shouldn’t be scared to talk to our kids about money and Lieber gives very clear ideas for how we can do that.
He also acknowledges the fear that many of us have of raising spoiled kids. “Spoiled children tend to have four primary things in common, though they don’t all have to be present at once:…few chores or other responsibilities…aren’t many rules…others lavish them with time and assistance, and they have a lot of material possessions.” My thought? Crap. That’s my kid. So even though I think we’re doing some things well, I know that we run the risk of raising a kid who is entitled and ungrateful. If we do, it’s because we didn’t do a good enough job.
I’m definitely one to talk about money with my son, so I love that this book gives clear guidance and ideas for how to do it. Before reading, I was kind of winging it with talking and teaching about money. I already had the conviction that we can teach early and often about money and the role it plays in life: that it’s not everything, that there is a different between need and want; yes we have “enough” but we can be doing better financially- both in what we make and what we do with it. Thanks to The Opposite of Spoiled I now have clearer ideas and steps for how to educate and discuss the topic of money and the values it relates to.
What’s also great about this book is that it addresses questions that kids will have, and the concerns that parents will have. I think that even if someone were nervous about any of these conversations, Lieber presents the ideas in such a way that talking about these topics would seem manageable.
One take-away that I’ve latched onto for my son is the ideas related to allowance, which we’re implementing. Giving him a weekly allowance is allowing us to better teach the lessons of money.
The Opposite of Spoiled also tackles the challenge about discussions of class: many of us (myself included) are highly privileged and yet it’s easy to have no idea how to talk about this with your kids. I live in an area very similar to what Lieber discusses in part of the book: an area that has great schools, and as such, only those with a certain income live there. What that creates is a situation where we miss out on diversity. It’s a pain point for me, but a trade-off I’m willing to make. But it doesn’t mean we’re off the hook for introducing diversity, experiences of others and helping our kids understand just how fortunate we (and they) are. I love that Lieber’s book helps many different kinds of families understand how to teach about not just money, but the values that are important to your family.
Unselfie is based in the idea that kids need empathy to be happy and successful. They need to understand the perspectives and feelings of others. In a world where bullying, terrorizing, and mom-shaming exist, I completely agree. Research shows that empathy can be taught and Dr. Borba argues that it should be a primary focus for parents raising kids “rather than being a nice ‘add on’ to their development.” She lays out the 9 competencies that make up empathy, helping parents understand what empathy actually is, and what we need to help our children learn.
Dr. Borba discusses that the Empathy Advantage will give children the edge, and let’s face it- we often want our kids to have “the edge.” But this is the kind of edge I really want my kids to have- one that’s based on character and caring. It’s one that we can work on together rather than simply trying to do the best on test scores.
But why else should we care about empathy? Research shows this generation of youth have markedly lower levels of empathy and as empathy decreases, peer cruelty increases. Social media also adds a very complex, and easily accessible layer to the bullying epidemic. Don’t you want to try to reverse what’s happening? I do. I don’t want my kid to be the bully or the one who is bullied. I want my kids to be the ones that stand up for the kid being picked on and to be confident in themselves and their choices to care for other people.
Unselfie aims to help us deal with the fact that “while we may be produce a smart, self-assure generation of young people, today’s kids are also the most self-centered, saddest, and stressed on record.”
The book gives a blueprint for how to teach and support our children in the development of empathy. Dr. Borba gives great guidance on how to teach important topics such as how we can help kids recognize feelings. For example, when my 4yo has hurt or upset someone, I tend to ask how that person might have felt. She points out I need to keep asking how he felt, and then move onto how the other person felt. Knowing their own emotions helps kids identify emotions and empathize with others. Educational points like this are everywhere in the book.
Not only does Unselfie help you understand what your kids need to know, but gives very user-friendly ways to teach these to your kids. Dr. Borba also knows that these lessons start at home, and that we need to practice what we preach so she discusses ways for families to be clear on who they are and their belief systems in order to pass these onto their children.
Unselfie also helps to identify the behaviors and actions we’re likely already doing and how we can use these as opportunities to teach about empathy. For example, Dr. Borba reminds about the importance of reading and reading skill as ways to develop kindness. For example, rather than simply reading a book, we can talk about the lessons of the story and the feelings of the characters.
I also love that this book talks so much about kindness and the many ways to help create it. I hate how much cruelty I see in the world and I worry about the bullying that is so rampant now. I worry what it will be like as my kids get older. This books talks about so many of the areas I value as a parent with science to back up these beliefs and concrete steps to work on these areas.
My final take-away from this book is that it addresses bullying and how to help your child know what to do to be an upstander rather than a bystander. This is something I hope to instill in my kids and now I have actionable ways to do that.
Add these books to your library!
Becoming Brilliant, The Opposite of Spoiled, and Unselfie have amazing lessons and ideas, but that can become overwhelming: there is so much that we can do, should do, and need to do to help our children be successful, happy and well-rounded. But we can take it one step at a time. Each book provides information and concrete steps to help our children develop skills and strengths that will become assets in life. I’d recommend adding these books to your library and tackling them one chapter at a time- take what you can use now, and leave the rest for later. I know I’ll be coming back to these books again and again.
What are your favorite parenting books, and what lessons have you taken from these?