Thursday, December 15, 2005

Review: Adventures in Gentle Discipline

Review: Adventures in Gentle Discipline
Kristy Alley

In writing Adventures in Gentle Discipline, author Hilary Flower says she hoped to write the book that she felt was missing from the vast array of parenting advice already lining bookstore shelves. She has succeeded in writing that missing book, one that allows parents to “honor [their] own expertise, feel less alone, craft a livable discipline plan, and work with [their] own personal trouble spots.” Unlike books that insist upon a strict regime of parent-centered scheduling and punishments, but also unlike compassionate but vague suggestions that if we just love our kids enough, discipline won’t be an issue, Adventures in Gentle Discipline offers a practical, experience-based guide to compassionate parenting that is both realistic and useful.

As in Flower’s last book, Adventures in Tandem Nursing, Flower’s scientific background shines through in her ability to clearly organize and lay out information in a way that is accessible yet not dumbed-down. The first part of the book explains why and how the book was written, a process that involved corresponding with around 200 parents about their families’ problems, practices, and solutions regarding gentle discipline. As a result, the tone of the book is “parent-to-parent,” rather than the “I’m the expert, you know nothing!” tone commonly found in so many parenting books. In reviewing the foundations of and motivation for gentle discipline and compassionate parenting, Flower gives readers a chance to reaffirm their own beliefs and renew their commitment to respect their own needs, as well as those of their children.

Flower also takes the time to do a little myth busting, explaining the difference between permissive parenting and gentle discipline, as well as how punishment does not really equal discipline. She reminds us that the goal of discipline and effective parenting is a child who is ultimately self disciplined, and that this requires giving children some space to experiment and make mistakes. She also devotes considerable space to pre-emptive discipline-in other words, avoiding common pitfalls and limiting certain no-win situations, such as taking a tired, hungry toddler, well, anywhere. In one of the many quotes and testimonials from real parents, one woman shares her practice of checking “HALT,” or Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If her child was acting out of sorts, or if she knew they would soon be entering into a potentially trying situation, those were the first things she checked for.

A few of the many other areas discussed are how to engage children in meaningful ways rather than offering constant (over)stimulation and entertainment, giving toddlers the language to express their emotions in more constructive ways, respecting the importance of play, and giving children who need a physical outlet acceptable options. On the flip side, Flower devotes considerable space to the needs of parents. She acknowledges the reality of parental anger and frustration, as well as the difficulty of letting go of old ideas about how children should behave and what parents are “supposed” to do to make that behavior happen. The tone is consistently empathetic and pragmatic, which makes it easy for the reader to honestly review his or her own parenting habits without feeling defensive or judged. Adventures in Gentle Discipline is an invaluable resource for parents trying to place compassion and respect at the center of their parenting.

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