The Book Corner

Do you have a book to recommend that you would like to see reviewed or would like to review yourself? Please send your suggestions to Harriet Heath at harriet.e.heath@gmail.com. We can’t guarantee every suggestion will be reviewed, but we’ll do our best to cover as many as possible. Submissions should be for books that are geared toward parenting educators or contain material that would support parenting educators in their professional development or their work with parents; please do not submit books about parenting curricula or programs or information for parents. 

Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2016). Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, doi: 10.17226/21868.
Reviewer: Harriet Heath, Ph.D.

This is a book that is apt to affect the work of parenting educators. The book is a summary of a massive research project aimed at improving the lives of children 0 – 8. The mandate for the research grew out of the fact that large sums of money have been spent on children in the last fifty years but the well-being of children in the United States has basically not improved. By some measures it has worsened (19-20).1 

Parents are perceived as crucial to achieving the goal of improving children’s health and well-being because they are responsible for guiding that dependent newborn to becoming able to deal with “physical, economic, and psychological situations that are characteristic of the culture in which they are to survive and thrive” (20). 

The committee’s major tasks were to identify:

  • Parenting knowledge, attitudes and practices associated with positive developmental outcomes in children ages 0-8; 
  • Universal/preventive and targeted strategies used in a variety of settings that have been effective with parents of young children and that support the identified knowledge, attitudes, and practices;  
  • Barriers to and facilitators for parents’ use of practices that lead to healthy child outcomes as well as their participation in effective programs and services. 

Based on this assessment, the committee made recommendations directed at an array of stakeholders, for promoting the wide-scale adoption of effective programs and services for parents. The resulting report serves as a roadmap for the future of parenting policy, research and practice in the United States (2).

The book is the rigorously documented summary of this extensive research. The list of references for each chapter tend to be half as long as the chapter itself. A concise summary concludes each chapter. 

The book starts by describing the purpose of the study, relevant definitions, the context and approaches used. It summarizes what seems to be known about parents’ knowledge, attitudes and practices that lead to positive parent-child interactions and outcomes within a family system. A summary of federal, state and local policies and investments supporting parents and children in the United States reveals an incredible number of efforts ranging from family leave policies to that of nutritional support programs. The report includes a review of evidence-based programs looking for underlying themes and practices inducive of supporting children’s healthy development. There is a recognition of an underlying problem of getting parents involved. The book describes a national framework of policies, programs and systems for distributing programs that will strengthen the capacity of parents and other caregivers to nurture young children. The book ends making ten recommendations including fields for further research, methods for training professionals, and ways for programs to collaborate. Repeatedly in the recommendations is a call for more knowledge about what parents do that is effective in nurturing their children to adulthood.

Two appendixes are of note. One reviews the criteria used by each of the three clearinghouses that identify evidence-based programs. The other describes the twenty-two programs identified in the report that have “strong evidence of effectiveness for supporting parenting knowledge, attitudes, or practices for parents of children ages 0-8” (413).

The research reported in this book seems to have been the basis for the document: Children and adolescents are shaped by early experiences – healthy development matters Jan. ‘20.2 This document makes specific recommendations for improving the lives of children by making more available educational and support programs for parents. 

Parenting Matters is a strong beginning to an often neglected subject.3 Throughout the book there is mention of the need for further research. For us in parenting education, it is worth noting some of the vast areas that need more research attention. For example, the book reiterates that parents are important in the lives of children 0 to 8 years and focuses specifically on these early years. It does not provide insight into the influence of parenting on children aged 8 and up. It also documents that parents need knowledge, specifically knowledge about child development, but does not explore other areas where parents may benefit from additional information. The book explores parents’ attitudes about child-rearing, but doesn’t articulate which attitudes best support parents in their efforts to nurture children. Finally, it does not provide guidance on how parenting practices beneficial to child well-being might look like in everyday child-rearing situations.  

The book lists acceptable evidence-based parenting programs and recommends their use. These programs have met the standard of proving change in parental and/or children’s behavior. However, given the questions unanswered, there easily may be needs of parents not covered by the recommended programs.  It may be wise in recommending programs that lists be open for including programs that may not meet the criteria of “evidence-base” but will meet other standards such as being theory or practice based and whose effectiveness is measured using other research designs.

1All numbers unless otherwise noted refer to the book, Parenting Matters.

2Jan 08, 2020 · Vivian Gadsden, Carter Professor of Child Development and Education and Co-Faculty Director of the Penn Futures Project, and Katherine Barghaus, Executive Director of the Penn Child Research Center and of the Penn Futures Project, have been awarded $79,471 from Casey Family Programs to help support a multiphase partnership initiative between Penn Child and Penn Futures and the Philadelphia Department of Human Services and Office of Children and Families.

3 Pas, A. van der (2003). A Serious case of neglect: The Parental experience of child rearing: Outline for a psychological theory of parenting. Uitgevertj Eburon: Eburon Delft


The Parenting Project: Build Extraordinary Relationships with Your Kids Through Daily Conversations

Authors:  Amy Alamar, Ed.D and Kristine Schlichting, Ph.D.;  Reviewer: Harriet Heath, Ph.D.

Though this book is written for parents, it offers many ideas and suggestions that parenting educators can adapt into their work. Both the way in which the book is organized and the content itself make it a useful resource for an educator looking for a new idea for a specific situation.

The book is properly titled, conveying the goal of building healthy relationships with kids through conversation. We talk about loving our children, and we show that love by building relationships with them. Dr. Amy Alamar and Dr. Kristine Schlichting have written a book about how to build that relationship or continue it through the preteen and teen years. They do so by looking at different kinds of conversations and the emotions involved–particularly the parent’s emotions–and suggesting how to handle them. Many of the recommendations around the parent’s side of the conversation involve asking questions in a timely, gentle manner that allows for an exploration of the situation, whatever that may be, and listening–really listening.

The writing of this book is warm and friendly. There are numerous examples provided for the reader to bring the authors’ suggestions to life; some of these are successful and some are not. Parenting educators should assess how relevant the advice is for the parents with whom they work.

The book starts with how parents might interview their child as a means of getting to know them. There are also questions the child can use to get to know their parents. The next two chapters briefly review conversations and methods for successfully building and sustaining relationships. The last chapter of this first section is full of suggestions on how to get conversations started. Throughout, there are concrete suggestions for parents on having these conversations, including specific ways of wording questions and strategies for dealing with typical situations.

The second part of the book addresses various themes ranging from common concerns to dealing with uncomfortable and even dangerous situations. There is a chapter about nurturing character in your child and one on fostering brave conversations your child may need to have. All suggest questions that will start and facilitate the conversation and deepen the relationship. As a person who has difficulty asking appropriate questions kindly worded, I know the multiple examples of questions in this book would have been a wonderful resource for me as a parent and will be useful as a parenting educator. It is the type of book one can pick up when a certain kind of situation is surfacing and get some solid ideas as to how to proceed.

Parenting educators should note that, though the book is written for parents of preteens and teens, many of its insights and suggestions are relevant for parents of elementary school-aged children. This title is a reference book that many parents as well as educators would benefit having on their shelves — a “how to book” in the most profound sense.

Published by Quarto Publishing Group, Beverly, MA, 2019


Evidence-based Parenting Education: A Global Perspective

Author: James J. Ponzetti, Jr.; Reviewer: Harriet Heath, Ph.D.

In each of its four parts, this edited book has nuggets of information for the parenting educator. After a brief history of parenting education, the first part of the book details a process of designing, implementing and assessing a parenting education program. These chapters give a useful overview for the student or the professional developing a program. The chapter on evaluation ends with a description of the development of the UpStart Parent Survey, a tool available for assessing parenting education programs. There is a chapter that raises pertinent questions concerning evaluation research, namely, does it work, for whom and under what conditions. This discussion documents the need for better theory about what parents do and how they come to do what they do. The final chapter in this section is a description of the U.S Cooperative extension parenting educator’s theoretical framework. 

The chapters in part two briefly cover evidence-based parent education programs overseas. Positive Parenting, a program recommended by the Council of Europe, stands out for its emphasis on “parental behavior based on the best interest of the child,”  specifying that parenting be “nurturing, empowering, nonviolent” and providing “recognition and guidance, which involves setting of boundaries to enable the full development of the child” (89). The chapter on Asian parenting education includes a comparison of family attitudes between Confucian and Islamic teaching, with their emphasis on respect for elders, authoritarian parenting style, and the mother as the primary caregiver (109).

Of most interest to parent educators in the context of COVID is the last chapter in this section dealing with web-based parenting (parenting without borders). The chapter starts with data supporting the availability of internet resources for parents. It then asks two very pertinent questions: how do parents find sources of information on the internet, and how do they assess the usefulness and accuracy of information obtained? The discussion of this last question is detailed and highly relevant for parenting educators who need to understand the parents with whom they work. This chapter could easily stand on its own and would be very beneficial to parents who are turning to the Internet for their parenting advice.

Each of the ten chapters in part three provides an in-depth description of an evidence-based parenting program. One drawback of this section is that there is no information provided as to why these programs were selected. The only program that did not aim to change misbehavior in the child was the Nobody’s Perfect program which informs parents about the ‘when,’ ‘whats,’ and ‘whys’ of childhood (293). This is a chapter worth reading for its description of how the program was developed and is now implemented.

The first chapter in the last section identifies ten trends in parenting education, providing a thoughtful and insightful read on what parent educators might expect in the future. The final chapter gives a very brief summary of each chapter in the book.

This is a good reference book for parenting educators. It includes detailed guidance about setting up and implementing a parenting education program and offers reviews of ten popular evidence-based programs. Finally, there are several outstanding and insightful chapters,
particularly on web-based parenting, the Nobody’s Perfect parenting program, and the future of parenting education.


The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World

Author: Jordan Shapiro; Reviewer: Harriet Heath

Harriet’s Updating Note: Shapiro’s book, reviewed here, is even more relevant during the current pandemic than it was when it was written or when I wrote the following review. The book poses questions such as, “Why should two six-year-olds playing happily with their dolls and chattering away using Zoom be limited to twenty minutes of “screen time?” As parenting educators, we are in an excellent position to help parents think through their rules about screen time. Are the rules about screen time or the activity done on screens? We also could be discussing, collecting and studying ways in which parents can help their children learn how to socialize via Zoom.  

Parenting educators are apt to miss this incredible book because it does not have any of the current buzz words such as “screens” and “digital” in its title. The “new childhood” in the title refers to a childhood where digital equipment is an integral part of children’s lives. The “connected world” is the vast internet they are forever exploring and interacting in. The author Jordan Shapiro’s basic assumption is that the digital world is here to stay. It is the world our children are growing up in and will live in. He argues that the adults in the lives of children should be helping their children to be ready to live in the digital world.

The book is exceptional among others dealing with children and screens in that it recommends turning on the computers, iPods and smartphones — not off. The book focuses on gaming, describing a wide range of benefits children gain. These benefits range from learning basic social skills to acquiring a greater sense of control by guiding an avatar through the imaginary horrors and wonders of a video game. Other gains described include raising situations that parents, playing with their children, can follow up on such as how children feel when losing or winning a game, or what the next steps of a game might be. Gaming, Shapiro describes again and again, is a wonderful way for parents to bond with their children.

Jordan Shapiro mocks those that worry about the negative effects screens will do to children’s minds and the dangers for children exposed unprotected to the wonders of the internet. His argument is that the people from time immemorial have renounced the new. He goes back to ancient Greece to prove his point. Socrates, the Greek philosopher, did not believe in the newly discovered art of writing. Discussions were to be verbal and thus fluid. Plato, fortunately, did not follow his teacher’s advice so today we can read of their discussions. Throughout this book, the author gives examples of how new technology has both led to changes in social patterns and reactions against those changes. It makes for very interesting reading and eats away at our criticism of the new.

Shapiro takes these examples of what the critics feel children are losing and describes how the children are getting the same or more relevant skills as they game. For example, early in the book, he describes his boys playing Minecraft with the neighborhood kids via Skype. He sees the same kind of role-playing and make-believe that he’d experienced playing in the streets of Philadelphia as a child. In both scenarios, the video game and the street play, the author maintains, children honed their self-regulation and executive functioning skills while trying to maintain an atmosphere of fun among friends. The book is a continuous weaving of describing social changes as a consequence of the digital world and how the digital world is providing children the experiences they need as adults in that world.

A concurrent theme is the vital role parents can and should have in helping their children explore this new digital world. First, parents need to know the gaming world. Next, Shapiro is adamant that parents should be playing the games with their kids. Innumerable times throughout the book Shapiro was playing the games with his boys. He describes them sitting side by side on the couch the way they would if he were reading them a story. Each had his own equipment. Often they were laughing together about something that happened or yelling at each other to move their virtual people in certain ways. Yes, sometimes his boys were playing while the author caught up on his e-mail, but he must have spent a large portion of time playing games with his kids. A third part of the parent role, related to the virtual role, is parents talking with their children about their gaming, virtual experiences. How did it feel when given an ugly label? How did it feel to give an ugly label? What was it like not having been invited to the party all your friends went to and then described on Facebook? One creative suggestion related to preparing kids for social media: Set up a mock social media with friends and relatives where children could participate and experience the give and take of social media and see modes of mature social media engagement before actually going on social media. By being involved, Shapiro notes parents are:

  • Demonstrating that they take their children’s imaginative play seriously. 
  • Subtly sending the message that they acknowledge the strategies the children are using to cope. 
  • Telling their children that they appreciate the things that mattered most to them. 
  • Finding a fun and safe space in which they can help their children cultivate sophisticated social and emotional skills.

The challenge for parents, Shapiro notes, is that the world their children are growing up in is not the world they, the parents, emerged from. Parents do not have the experience of their own childhoods to help them know how to guide their children. This book offers parents some guidance.

The book raises some questions. As a researcher, I found little evidence that children have actually mastered the skills the author claims they have. The author seems to be relying predominantly for evidence on what he observes in his sons and at times in their friends. Do children actually learn social skills when gaming? We need more solid evidence.

Another question relates to timing. If we are to prepare our children for their digital world is there a developmental sequence for doing so, for turning on the computers and opening the wide range of experiences that are there? The examples cited in the book were of his boys of elementary school age with some ideas for the teen years.

And maybe the most important question is how to be assured our children get enough physical exercise as they deal with the fascination of screens. This question the author barely mentions.

For us, who are parenting educators, the themes of the book can shake us up. So much of our discussion has been around the amount of time children should be on screens. Are we neglecting to pass along to parents what may be powerful tools they can use with their children as they prepare their children to live in the digital world that is theirs? As parenting educators do we need to point parents to specific kinds of games?  If children do learn vital social skills virtually, does gaming give parents another set of tools to aid them as they guide their children toward adulthood? Furthermore, kids are hankering to use these tools, which makes them even more powerful. Should we be teaching these tools? In other words, should we be dealing with screens from a broader perspective?

If we decide to integrate more information about the gaming/virtual world into our work, how do we choose to present to the parents with whom we work the digital world? If the parental role is so vital in helping children master the digital world, should we as parenting educators be integrating that part of the parental role into our work with parents? If we were to integrate screens more into our tools for parents, do we need to become more specific as to the skills that can be taught? The book challenges us.