Sunday, June 3, 2012

It's OK Not to Share - Heather Shumaker

Title: It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids
Author: Heather Shumaker
Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin (Penguin Books), August 2, 2012 (Review Copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: May 29, 2012
Finished: June 2, 2012

From the publisher's website:

Parenting can be such an overwhelming job that it’s easy to lose track of where you stand on some of the more controversial subjects at the playground (What if my kid likes to rough house—isn’t this ok as long as no one gets hurt? And what if my kid just doesn’t feel like sharing?). In this inspiring and enlightening book, Heather Shumaker describes her quest to nail down “the rules” to raising smart, sensitive, and self-sufficient kids. Drawing on her own experiences as the mother of two small children, as well as on the work of child psychologists, pediatricians, educators and so on, in this book Shumaker gets to the heart of the matter on a host of important questions. Hint: many of the rules aren’t what you think they are! The “rules” in this book focus on the toddler and preschool years—an important time for laying the foundation for competent and compassionate older kids and then adults. Here are a few of the rules:

  • It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property
  • Bombs, guns and bad guys allowed.
  • Boys can wear tutus.
  • Pictures don’t have to be pretty.
  • Paint off the paper!
  • Sex ed starts in preschool
  • Kids don’t have to say “Sorry.”
  • Love your kid’s lies.

IT’S OK NOT TO SHARE is an essential resource for any parent hoping to avoid PLAYDATEGATE (i.e. your child’s behavior in a social interaction with another child clearly doesn’t meet with another parent’s approval)!

I saw this featured in a book newsletter and I knew it was the kind of parenting book that was right up my alley. I've been reading parenting books and magazines since before I even thought of having children, mainly because being a teacher means parents ask you for parenting advice because you're around their kids almost as often as they are. The information in this book pertains mainly to the 2-6 year old set, so much younger than the kids I teach, but a lot of the tidbits presented will have a positive affect on older kids if introduced in these early years (plus most can be modified to suit an older group). 

The author begins by introducing the place where all these "Renegade Rules" come from, a preschool that she herself attended as a child, and where her mother taught for years. When trying to find a preschool for her own children years later, she couldn't find a school that practiced similar principles. Realizing how unconventional her experience was, she decided to compile all the 'rules' so people could replicate the ideas in their own homes and neighbourhoods. 

The book is well organized and has a format that is very easy to follow. Each chapter introduces a concept (such as "Kids Need Conflict", and "Go Ahead, Let Him Hate the Baby!"), shows the typical way parents approach the issue vs. the unconventional "Renegade" way, how children interpret the messages given to them when each way is used, and phrases to use and avoid when trying the concepts out. 

Perhaps it's just because I'm a younger mom and I'm around kids all the time so I have an idea of what works and what doesn't, but some of these concepts aren't as unconventional as I expected. A few of the chapters seem fairly common sense, such as "Sex Ed Starts in Preschool" (explaining proper words for things and giving age-appropriate answers to their questions), "All Feelings Are OK, All Behaviour Isn't" (saying that it's okay to feel a certain way but that doesn't mean you can take it out on other people), and "Don't Steal Play" (saying that young children need free unstructured play vs. hammering them with academics). Even though some of these ideas weren't new to me, I did find a lot of good material that was relevant, particularly the words and phrases to use and avoid sections.

However, some of the topics that I did find unconventional were doozies. The sections on not forcing kids to share, letting them hog whatever toy/activity they want for how long they want, allowing weapon play, letting kids swear, and not forcing kids to play with someone they don't want to were all pretty groundbreaking. These are all the unspoken rules of dealing with kids, especially for me as a teacher. From sharing and not swearing to making sure kids don't exclude others, these are considered practically solid, and if you asked me last week if someone could convince me it was okay to do the opposite of these I'd have been pretty skeptical. But after reading it, it all makes sense. I always wondered why we make kids share their things when we as adults don't have to, and why we force kids to play together when they don't want to. I really value treating children with respect and honouring their voice, and forcing them to do things when they aren't hurting anyone (and they are getting hurt in the process) doesn't do our kids any justice. The author not only manages to dispel these parenting cliches, she reinforces practical ways to allow our kids to be who they are (not to mention better off emotionally) so long as they aren't hurting people or property (the Renegade Golden Rule). I fully plan to implement these concepts in parenting my own daughter, as well as with the kids in my classroom. 

A must-read if you're a parent, teacher, or simply interact with children on a consistent basis. The ideas here are thoughtfully presented, and will actually make you stop and reconsider what you thought were the 'no-brainers' of raising kids. Plus there's a wonderful resource list for adults and children in the back with some wonderful books that I will be looking into. The book is being released in early August, so mark your calendars.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the beige cover with red accents, and the image of the girl hogging all the toys is very cute. Actually, all the illustrations in the book are quite charming, I wished there were more of them (my favourite was one of a little boy giving the death glare to a baby in a stroller). 

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