Ain't Misbehavin': subject index to democratic parenting

Alyson Schafer's latest parenting book, Ain't Misbehavin' is an excellent companion to her Honey, I Wrecked the Kids; the latter being a humane, sensible book on the theory and practice of raising kids with their cooperation (rather than in spite of them). But while Honey was meant to be read from cover-to-cover in one go; Ain't Misbehavin' is a series of short articles arranged by subject, a kind of shorter, wittier contemporary Dr Spock reference that you can turn to when you find yourself brought up short by the challenges of parenting.

Shafer's democratic approach to child-rearing really resonates with me; it focuses on getting kids to want to participate in family life, school and wider society, rather than bribing or forcing them. But it doesn't skimp on suggestions for what to do when kids test their limits or enervate their parents — solutions that allow you to retain your sanity and your integrity without escalating spats into fights and fights into wars.

We've been trying Shafer's suggestion for keeping Poesy, our daughter, in her own bed at night. We've got a calendar on the fridge now, with stickers for the days when Poe has a "sleep over" in our room. On those nights, we make a real occasion of things, with snacks and stories and tickling (and we all enjoy it). On other nights when Poesy tries to come into bed with us, we show her the calendar and remind her that there's a sleepover day and this isn't it (we're also using the calendar to track when one or the other of us is away or out, weekend swims and zoo trips, etc — it's really helping the kid with her dates and sense of time, too).

This is what I love about Schafer's approach: it acknowledges that the kid is part of the family and that things should be arranged to her liking when possible, but also lets parents stay in charge of the stuff we understand best and negotiate to maintain our own space and sanity.

A subject-index to Schafer's advice is the perfect antidote for those moments of angry upset when your best efforts, patience and goodwill fail — a bridge from despair back to hope.

Ain't Misbehavin': Tactics for Tantrums, Meltdowns, Bedtime Blues and Other Perfectly Normal Kid Behaviors