In 2022, families and researchers continue to discuss whether kids are alright in the third year of the pandemic. Most parents continue to be concerned about their children’s development and social and emotional well-being.
There’s also reason to be concerned about whether parents are alright. Parents of color are dealing with complex social challenges their kids are experiencing, like racism, bullying, and violence. What’s more, the vast majority of parents want their children to learn about racism in school, despite high-profile political controversy over the issue.
This year, we’ve chosen books that can help parents raise kids who are brave about race, honest, and resilient. We also highlight books that support the unique needs of LGBTQ families and advocate for societal shifts so that all parents have a fair shot at raising kids who will flourish. All of the books offer science-backed solutions and practical strategies that can be used in the everyday lives of families.
“Caregivers kept telling me, accented with passion or tears or gravity, that they did not want the young people in their lives to be raised like them, disconnected from people of other skin colors, imagining that racial inequities are normal, controlled by the propaganda of racist ideas, and ignoring the scourge of racist policies,” writes Ibram X. Kendi. “While the conservators of racism heard these caregivers, too, and became alarmed, and organized a movement to stop them, I became inspired.”
Kendi is a historian, founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, and bestselling author of numerous books, including How to Be an Antiracist. In his new book, he reviews decades of research on the destructiveness of racism to humanity; shares his own personal stories of how racism threatened the lives of his daughter, wife, brother, and parents, and his own childhood; and provides strategies for caregivers to raise children who are brave about race.
He urges caregivers to consider the ways they talk about and teach children about race and cultural identities—both intentionally and unintentionally. He describes forms of racial learning that are racist and antiracist. For example, Kendi explains how racism is fostered by promoting mistrust, in statements like “they’re taking over” to describe people of color. Another racial learning strategy that fosters racism is colorblindness, in which caregivers intentionally refrain from talking about race as if it does not exist (“I don’t see color”).
Parents can use antiracist learning strategies like “cultural socialization”: helping their children understand and celebrate the distinctiveness of their own cultural identity and history, as well as other cultural identities and histories, and extending this learning and appreciation for the commonalities among identities. Kendi underscores the importance of diverse children’s books and toys to promote understanding, perspective taking, and empathy in the early years, and encourages conversations about race to foster critical thinking about racism throughout childhood.
“The ultimate way to protect our children from racism is to protect all children from racism,” explains Kendi. “And to do that, we have to do more than raise antiracist children, we have to raise an antiracist society.”
Brain-Body Parenting begins with the relatable story of a mom and her four year old on a shopping trip at Target that escalates from her son refusing to relinquish a candy bar—despite her best efforts to distract him and remind him of the sticker he could be earning on his behavior chart—to him throwing the candy bar at a cashier’s face.
In the book, author Mona Delahooke, a clinical psychologist with over 30 years experience, dispels the myth that children willfully have tantrums. Instead, she explains that tantrums are often a sign that the autonomic nervous system is overwhelmed and vulnerable—a body-based stress response.
Delahooke guides the reader to understand the importance of physiology and how the nervous system is tasked with assessing whether a situation is safe or dangerous. With this understanding, parents can approach their children’s challenging behavior as their nervous system detecting a threat in the environment. This shift in perspective helps parents to be better attuned to support their children’s physiological needs.
Brain-Body Parenting explains how to nurture children’s self-regulation—their ability to navigate their feelings, thoughts, and actions on their own—through “coregulation”: helping children to feel safe and make sense of what they’re feeling and sensing in a loving way. Coregulation occurs in the early years when parents respond right away to their crying newborn by providing comfort. For older kids, coregulation might mean making space for your 10 year old to talk with you about how she’s having a hard time with peers at school and offering a hug. Delahooke also underscores the importance of parents needing nurturing, too, like getting enough sleep, having fulfilling connections with other adults, being aware of our own needs, and practicing self-compassion.
“We customize our parenting to each child’s body and brain according to how that child experiences safety,” writes Delahooke. “We use this knowledge to help our children move through their challenge zones, providing the backbone and presence that show them they can gain new strengths and eventually develop the self-regulation and self-sufficiency to thrive on their own terms.”
How do we explain the opportunity gap between rich and poor children in the United States?
The skills children need to flourish as independent adults include academic, creative, and technical skills, as well as social and emotional skills, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and self-discipline. But research by Nate Hilger—an economist, data scientist, and senior policy consultant—has called into question the belief that inequality in public schools is to blame for unequal success later in life.
While inequality in public schools is a problem in its own right, he points to inequality outside of schools—namely, in family income—as the more significant determinant of the opportunity gap. Children spend 90% of their time outside of school, he explains, and wealthy children have access to a far greater number of enrichment resources to build skills compared to poor children, like after-school programs, computers, tutoring, and sports.
Parent Trap highlights the folly in expecting parents to shoulder the complete responsibility for their children’s skill development, because it leads to success for only a fraction of children whose parents are wealthy. Hilger wants to stop overwhelming parents with unrealistic expectations and provide them with professional support and resources to help their children thrive and fulfill their potential.
“My goal is to wake up more people to the political power that parents have yet to claim as citizens and their own untapped potential to instill greater economic security in more children,” explains Hilger. “I hope not only to diagnose the pathological origins of inequality but also to lay out a treatment for these pathologies through voting, activism, lobbying, advocacy, and legislation in order to provide young people with the kinds of resources other better-represented interest groups already receive.”
“Some LGBTQ people are inhibited from seriously considering parenthood because of societal stereotypes and obstacles that make parenthood seem inaccessible or even impossible,” Abbie Goldberg writes. “Yet research points to the many strengths that LGBTQ people bring to parenthood, including freedom to define their own roles as parents, a tendency to share parenting responsibilities more equally than cisgender (cis) heterosexual folks, a deep appreciation for (i.e., not “taking for granted”) the possibility of parenthood, and personal experiences with stigma and discrimination that may foster resilience and empathy.”
Goldberg is a psychologist whose understanding of family diversity is informed by hundreds of LGBTQ research participants who have been a part of her life’s work for the past 20 years. In LGBTQ Family Building, she helps readers with the process of deciding to become a parent, considering and choosing family-building routes, transitioning to parenthood, and parenting in the early years.
The book weaves vignettes of prospective parents and parents at diverse junctures of their family-building journey with research findings and opportunities for reflection. Goldberg also provides assessment tools, discussion questions to ponder individually or with a partner, and many resources to support LGBTQ families. For example, in the chapter on the transition to parenthood, Goldberg provides guidance on mental health challenges including postpartum depression and anxiety, relationship struggles, questions around the division of household labor, and changes in social support networks.
“As you chart your path forward, either in becoming an LGBTQ parent or making your way as an LGBTQ parent, it is important to know that you have every right to be a parent,” writes Goldberg. “It is also important to know that you have resources—like this book—to support your decision making in relation to whether, when, and how to become a parent.”
“Raising Kids is meant to be there for you when you need to summon your best parenting self during daily life with children,” write coauthors Sheri Glucoft Wong and Olaf Jorgenson. “We chose ‘daily life’ because how we relate to our children day to day forms their sense of themselves, their connection to us, and their ways of being in the world.”
Glucoft Wong, a San Francisco Bay Area family therapist, and Jorgenson, a Silicon Valley private school head, have more than eight decades of experience between them supporting parents raising children.
Foundational to Raising Kids is the idea of “finding your spot.” It refers to a state of knowing for sure what the parenting need is in a given moment or situation and being decisive about what steps to take to support your child. Finding and occupying your spot is important both when you’re trying to guide your child to cooperate or clarify boundaries, as well as when you’re being loving and inspiring.
Raising Kids addresses topics like co-creating meaningful parent-child relationships, setting limits, helping your child navigate relationships with siblings and peers, determining the right-sized role for your partnership with your child’s school, and achieving a healthy balance for your child’s screen use. The book is full of ways to support children with common issues like cleaning up, going to bed, and completing homework. What’s more, Glucoft Wong and Jorgenson offer suggestions of how and what to say to communicate effectively. Raising Kids imparts an important message to parents that each new moment presents the opportunity “to be the parent you hoped to be.”
“No interaction we have with our children is too small to strengthen our relationship, to impart our values, to build their confidence, and to demonstrate communicating, relating, and caring,” explain Glucoft Wong and Jorgenson. “How we manage daily everyday life—including setbacks and conflicts—helps prepare children for the bigger, weightier issues they’re bound to encounter after they leave home.”
“Most adults are honest most of the time, but even adults who are honest almost all the time will tell an occasional lie,” explains Victoria Talwar. “Knowing this will hopefully help you develop a wise and compassionate stance toward children while teaching them to be honest.”
Talwar, a psychological researcher who has studied children’s honesty for over 20 years, shares practical ways to help parents foster truthfulness in their children. She begins by putting the focus on what researchers know about intentional deception in adults, with the aim of fostering empathy when parents discover that their preschooler has been dishonest. After all, lying is typical behavior that unfolds as children develop, she explains.
Children, like adults, are motivated to lie for different reasons, like escaping consequences, achieving personal gain, and managing their reputation. But children lie for selfless reasons, too, like to be polite, to help someone, or to protect someone from injustice.
Talwar outlines three steps to keep in mind when your child is dishonest. First, although catching your child in a lie might lead you to feel furious or betrayed, staying calm is key because an intense emotional reaction can undermine your efforts to help them learn. Next, figure out the underlying reason for the lie. For example, if your child lies about their grade on a test, then they might not have understood the material and might have been afraid of getting in trouble. Last, respond by teaching your child rather than punishing them. For example, help your child learn what to do—“tell the truth”—rather than what not to do—“don’t lie”—and give your child the chance to fix or repair the situation.
Of course, parents don’t need to wait for their children to lie to teach them about honesty. Show your children how much you value the truth when you see it. Talwar recommends that parents acknowledge, appreciate, and praise honesty. For example, tell your children when you notice that they were honest, especially when it takes courage. You can say “thank you” or show them you appreciate their honesty with a gesture like a wink or a smile. Sincerely praise your child’s honesty by paying attention and being specific about how you’ve noted their effort to tell the truth.