It's One of Those Days
The Language of Parenting Series:
Golden Books Publishing, 1998
The single most powerful moment in my three years of parenting came this summer when sunset shadows cast unmistakable monsters on my son's bedroom wall. He turned enormous, watery eyes on me and asked if the monsters would get him. I reassured him mommy would never, ever let monsters get him. I think I said the right thing but I knew sheer mommy power alone couldn't banish the beasts for good.
Enter The Language of Parenting series by Jane Aaron and Dr. Barbara Gardiner, published by Golden Books and designed to give parents the tools we need to talk through tough emotions with very young children. The four big hardcover Language of Parenting books--When I'm Afraid, When I'm Angry, When I'm Jealous, and When I'm Sad--sport simple cut-out illustrations in soothing construction-paper colors and minimal text. Each book shows and tells about real-life situations that bring on intense feelings, and each one presents positive ways to cope. Author/illustrator Aaron wins trust right from the start, beginning each book with the dismissive quips grownups use far too often (Mom and Dad say, "don't worry," "you're hungry," "you're tired," "don't be silly"), and squashing each one with the child's matter-of-fact reality: "but I still feel (fill in the blank)."
When I'm Afraid
When I'm Afraid covers not only monsters, but getting lost, doctors' visits, and dark, lonely bedrooms. The solution: find a grownup and hold on tight. The book (thankfully) doesn't suggest that adults can actually make the world safe, but it lets kids know they can take action against fear by connecting with people who make them feel secure.
When I'm Angry
When I'm Angry does the best job of capturing raw emotion. Illustrations are choppy and busy, and the text sounds remarkably like a preschooler's wail: "Sometimes I'm so angry. I'm angry . . . angry . . . angry." This book doesn't give reasons for anger--because really, once the screaming starts, who cares from whence it came--but it does a terrific job of presenting ways to cope: talking it out, playing it out, taking a breather, having a snack, or reading.
When I'm Jealous
Strategies for dealing with jealousy rest on affirmative, levelheaded responses by mom and dad: "I feel better when my mom says, 'nobody likes to share all the time.' 'My dad says the baby gets jealous, too--she wants to be big like me.'" It's wise to keep the books handy for borrowing phrases when real-life bouts of jealousy leave us cranky and blank.
When I'm Sad
Mom and dad are at the root of most of the "sad" scenarios, making this book especially tough and all the more valuable. The series' construction-paper hero/ine feels sad " . . . when my Mom has to go away . . . when my parents yell at me . . . or at each other." Talking, playing, cuddling, and drawing are top ways to cope. Crying is also okay, and here it gets approval from dad--"he told me even he cries sometimes."
My son giggled at the idea of a crying dad and refused to believe in it, which left his super-emotional daddy and myself groping for words and actions to round out his emotional repertoire without staging a sob scene. Thank goodness for the small paperback Parent's Guide tucked into each book--one of the very best things about The Language of Parenting series.
In each Parent's Guide, clinical psychologist Barbara Gardiner walks through her "ABCs of Parenting"--Acknowledgement of Feelings, Behavior, and Consistency of Parenting Style. Gardiner packs volumes of honest, fundamental, positive-parenting strategies into these concise booklets. She emphasizes the difference between the importance of appropriate and reasonable expectations of children's behavior and the value of consistency in modifying difficult behaviors.
Gardiner is decidedly "kid-friendly" but she isn't afraid of discipline. "Of course," she says, "you should not threaten unreasonable and unenforceable consequences. In general, a good habit is to keep the punishment short, relevant, and enforceable. Your child loses dinner for one night, but she knows that tomorrow can be a better day."
In respectful, real-life language, the Guides reassure parents that we have it in us to handle the tough times. They offer words and actions like lifeboats when we're rendered speechless by fear, anger, jealousy, sadness, or sunset monsters on the wall.
The Language of Parenting Series is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and independent booksellers.
Ann Rosenquist Fee is a regular reviewer of books for Minnesota Parent.
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