May 2005


Figuring out just what your special child needs Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn’t Fit In—When to Worry and When Not to Worry, by Dr. Perri Klass and Dr. Eileen Costello, Ballantine Books, 2004, $14.95. Quirky kids are idiosyncratic and different. Their peculiarities set them apart from others. Once they receive a diagnosis, however, their “quirkiness” is official. They receive a label that dramatically changes their life course. Quirky Kids is extremely helpful for parents navigating these unfamiliar waters.

The authors of this book address a variety of diagnoses, including autistic spectrum disorder, Asperger syndrome, nonverbal learning disabilities and sensory integration dysfunction. Parents now enter an unfamiliar world of specialists, medical terminology and educational placements.

Quirky Kids provides parents with the opportunity to prepare themselves while embarking on this particular journey. In a chapter titled “Specialists, Labels and Alphabet Soup,” readers get clear definitions of the various disorders and are introduced to a host of relevant specialists, therapists and supporting professionals. Subsequent chapters discuss family life, education, social life and particular medical concerns. This information is essential for parents striving to meet the specific needs of their exceptional child, a child who will follow a unique developmental trajectory.

Particularly impressive is the way parent commentary is threaded throughout this carefully crafted book.

Quirky Kids offers solace to parents who spend most days schlepping their child from one therapist to the next. Parents who sadly note the lack of birthday and social invitations. Parents who must field the onslaught of expert advice from relatives, friends and even strangers. Yet this book is also filled with a good dose of encouragement and inspiration.

It provides parents with the tools to better serve, love and conscientiously provide for these special children and teenagers whose unique gifts and loving spirits they cherish.  Emilija Novitovic, M.Ed. 

How can you and your child best learn to communicate? Stop Arguing with Your Kids: How to Win the Battle of Wills by Making Your Children Feel Heard, by Michael P. Nichols, Ph.D., Guilford Press, 2004, $15.95.

Michael Nichols, a practicing family therapist and professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary, has a simple message: It takes two to argue. If you don’t argue back, there is no argument. So parents should talk less and listen more.

I recommend this well-written and clear book for all parents, but especially for parents of preschool or school-age children because it will help them establish important communication patterns.

Nichols outlines a communication method called responsive listening. If a child feels understood—even if parents don’t agree with the child’s point of view—the child will feel respected and appreciated. Therefore, the child will not need to yell and argue in order to be heard. Writes Nichols, “The child who’s not granted the right to argue is a child who’s not granted the right to be his or her own person.”

The next two parts offer parents five steps on how responsive listening techniques allow children to be more open and expressive. The book then goes on to demonstrate how to apply the techniques with children of three different ages. At each age, there are different developmental reasons why a child might argue. Knowing these will help parents respond appropriately.

Listening to a child’s opposition will release his or her resistance and demonstrate that you, as a parent, respect them. In the long run, Nichols believes that his approach will lead to more cooperation and less questioning of parental authority. 

Nichols also provides examples and sample dialogues to help parents get started.

The strength of this book is that it deals with frustrating, real-life situations that leave parents wanting to pull out their hair—or perhaps that of their children.

The steps to responsive listening are easy to understand, although they may seem more difficult to practice when emotions are high. But they can make a difference when communication patterns are already in conflict. 

I agree with Nichols’ philosophy, so I recommend this book not only to professional colleagues but to parents, as well. Improving communication is key to developing a strong relationship between a parent and child. Robin Bluestone-Miller, L.C.S.W.

Two is better than one when it comes to children Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life, by Jennifer Bingham Hull, Seal Press, 2004, $14.95.

I came to this book as a mother who is not yet there. I’m not ready to commit to having a second child. Now that my daughter is almost 3, my life is starting to resemble something close to what it was before. No more diapers, no serving special meals, no binkies falling under the crib at 2 a.m. Should we have another child and disrupt our chi? Or would adding another increase our joy?

For some insight, I turned to Jennifer Bingham Hull, a freelance writer and former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal, who has written a very readable, very enjoyable collection of essays chronicling the first few years after her second daughter was born. No longer consumed with reading every parenting book—or worrying over every sound her daughter makes—Hull has moved on to bigger, and for the reader, more amusing problems: How, for example, do you make going to the dry cleaners as fun as going to Disney World?

Surprisingly, she begins with an introduction that would scare off anyone from having another child. She cites studies about how the year after a second child is born is usually the hardest year in a marriage. According to those studies, it’s also the year in which “women’s life satisfaction drop[s] to an all-time low.” 

From here, though, she visits familiar, and more friendly, territory: How can I possibly have room in my heart for two, make shared parenting work and deal with all the stuff, stuff, stuff? Hull does it all with great honesty and candor. She exposes her imperfect world of clutter and sexless nights so that we may smile and nod and know that we are not alone.

Each essay is bite-sized—perfect for picking up during early morning feedings or in the few minutes before your eyes close at night.

Beyond One confirms what I thought to be true about having a second child—it can be one of the most difficult tasks in life to take on, but also one of the most rewarding. Kim Schmidt

Kids Eat Chicago

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