Parents with young children often look toward the elementary-school years with a combination of anticipation and fear. They anticipate the joy of seeing their kids become more independent, but also know that behavior struggles can accompany the quest for independence.
In Parenting Made Easy — The Middle Years: A Bag of Tricks Approach to Parenting the 6-12 Year Old, Anna Cohen attempts to guide parents through this sometimes daunting stage of parenting. Unfortunately, her self-published book, despite her credentials as a clinical psychologist, doesn’t appear to offer enough solid information.
Having spent many years teaching children in their middle years, I am no stranger to dealing with the unique behavioral challenges of that age group. I’m also raising my own child, who is in the process of entering this stage, and so was hoping to read something I hadn’t already learned from my teaching years. After all, parenting requires a set of skills that often differs from what we use in the classroom. Cohen’s book, however, was reminiscent of literature I’ve received in doctor’s offices — brochures with basic, generalized information that might be helpful to a select few, but contain what I consider common knowledge.
Cohen breaks down the basic interactions that parents may have with their children as they work toward raising “considerate” kids. (More on that supposed goal later.) She includes examples of strategies such as constructive feedback, acknowledgement of positive behavior, and using “I” statements in conversation. While these are indeed effective strategies, they are also fairly basic and well-known. The “bag of tricks” referred to in the title might have been more successful if there were some actual tricks in the bag.
And because the book claims to focus on kids between six and twelve, I expected to see at least a few references to the way children develop at different ages. Instead, Cohen lumps the six-year-olds and the twelve-year-olds together, which doesn’t make much sense when addressing challenging behaviors. Getting down to eye level and rephrasing what a child says to you, for example, is a strategy that will have much better results with a first-grader than with a pre-teen. Cohen would have given readers a more useful tool had she broken down strategies into specific age subgroups.
The book could also have benefited from quoting a bit more research, rather than using mostly Cohen’s own experience as guidance. As I read, I kept thinking that the strategies in the book might have been helpful with some of my well-behaved students who were simply having a bad day. However, for the majority of my students (including those who presented severe behavior challenges), Cohen’s advice would not have gone very far. I also found some of her advice to be conflicting, such as her definitions in different places of what it means to be controlling.
Which brings me to one of the biggest challenges I faced reading the book. According to Cohen, we are supposed to be raising children to be considerate. Sure, I want my kids — whether my own or my students — to be considerate, if being considerate means having empathy and good manners. But a whole lot of other things are important, if not more so: self-reliance, confidence, and willingness to learn, to name a few. My expectation from the title of the book was that I would be getting insight into parenting the whole child, not just re-reading a few basic, well-worn tenets of behavior management.
At eighty-eight pages, the book is a quick read — and, in fact, it was so short and generalized, it might have worked better as a series of blog posts or a couple of articles. This might make it useful for caregivers who don’t enjoy reading or have little experience with children in general. The last chapter consists of five pages of bulleted strategies, which might be the most useful part of the book, especially for someone who needs quick, very basic advice.
If instead you’re looking to take a whole-child approach to parenting and want to go beyond generalities, there are better books out there for you.
Parenting Made Easy — The Middle Years: A Bag of Tricks Approach to Parenting the 6-12 Year Old
Xlibris, February 2013
Paperback, 88 pages