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Posts from the ‘Emma’s Huffington Post Articles’ Category

Impatient Kids? Read this.

Impatience and childhood go hand in hand. There’s a reason “Are we there yet?” is such a common marker of traveling with kids. We cannot expect our children to come into the world as patient and understanding as the Buddha, and we’d probably worry about them slightly if they did. But as they grow, it’s a parent’s job to help them understand that they don’t get everything they want the moment they want it. Teaching them patience teaches them how to operate in the world as healthy, well-adjusted adults. It teaches them how to monitor their emotions, how to think of others and how to be in relationships with others — including their own children one day. Teaching patience makes your life easier, too — you know your children won’t have a meltdown the second you’re not able to fulfill their every request.


Here are some questions to determine if you’re teaching your child patience:

If you’re having a conversation with a friend and your child has something to say, do you stop talking so he can share his thought?

If the answer is yes, stop. Not only is it annoying to the friend, but it teaches the child that he is so all-important that any word out of his mouth is worthy of stopping an adult’s conversation. Tell your child that you’d love to hear what he has to say, but he must wait his turn.

If you’re out at the zoo and your child is thirsty, do you drop everything and make for the food court to get her something to drink?

I certainly hope not. If you’re enjoying watching the baby lions, then by all means, continue watching the baby lions! Your child can wait until you pass a drinking fountain — there’s no need to make a beeline for a $4 beverage. Unless it’s 100 degrees and you’ve been out for hours, I seriously doubt dehydration is a great risk.

If you’re eating dinner and your child wants a refill of his milk, do you get up to get it for him or finish your dinner first?

Nothing irritates me more than when moms claim they haven’t had a hot meal in weeks. Have your hot meal! No one is depriving you of it but yourself. Tell your child that you would be happy to get him another drink, but after you have finished what’s on your plate.

Does your diaper bag, purse or backpack contain an answer to every need of your child that might possibly arise?

If the answer is yes, what are you afraid of? That your child will experience a tiny bit of discomfort that you can’t make go away that very instant? Guess what? That’s called life! It is OK to ask your child to wait for her crackers, her lovey, her bottle, her favorite toy. It’s OK if she’s slightly uncomfortable for a few moments. It will teach her forbearance!

Do you pull up Caillou on your smartphone every time you’re in a waiting room?

Whether it’s at the pharmacy, the doctor’s office or even the lobby of a restaurant, if you have instant entertainment waiting for your child, you are not actually teaching him to wait. You’re teaching him that he must be constantly engaged.

Do you become short-tempered when dealing with traffic jams, slow sales clerks or even your child taking a long time to put on her shoes?

If so, then you could probably do a better job modeling patience yourself. It’s not easy! Children will test every ounce of that patience. But know that they see it when you snipe at other drivers, when you roll your eyes at the sales clerk, or when you tap your foot when your 6-year-old is trying to tie his shoes. We could all do better in this department, and so let your child know that you struggle with having patience, too, and that you are trying to have more of it — just as you’re asking them to have more of it.

Trust me, patience is one of the best skills you can teach your child. It will make your life easier now, it will make him a stronger adult… and if enough parents join the fight, it just may etch away at a culture that expects instant gratification, no matter the cost.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Join the discussion! Connect with me on Twitter @emmaschildren or

This article was originally posted on HuffPost Parents

Modern-Day Parenting in Crisis

My last Huffington Post piece went viral and I can’t believe it’s now at over 1 million “likes”! I’m glad so many parents joined the conversation to discuss the state of modern-day parenting with me. This means we can start making a change and to quote the article, “straighten these children out, together, and prepare them for what they need to be successful in the real world and not the sheltered one we’ve made for them.”

Since it’s still getting a lot of attention I wanted to share it here, on my blog, to encourage more comments and open conversation. Let me know your thoughts. Do you agree that modern parenting is in serious trouble?

Here’s the full article from Huffington Post:


I generally am quite an optimistic person. I tend to believe that everything will work out for the best unless the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not prone to drama. That’s why when I say that modern parenting is in serious trouble — crisis, even — I hope you’ll listen, and listen carefully. I’ve worked with children and their parents across two continents and two decades, and what I’ve seen in recent years alarms me. Here are the greatest problems, as I see them:

1. A fear of our children.
I have what I think of as “the sippy cup test,” wherein I will observe a parent getting her toddler a cup of milk in the morning. If the child says, “I want the pink sippy cup, not the blue!” yet the mum has already poured the milk into the blue sippy cup, I watch carefully to see how the parent reacts. More often than not, the mum’s face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum. Fail! What are you afraid of, mum? Who is in charge here? Let her have a tantrum, and remove yourself so you don’t have to hear it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t make extra work for yourself just to please her — and even more importantly, think about the lesson it teaches if you give her what she wants because she’s thrown a fit.

2. A lowered bar.
When children misbehave, whether it’s by way of public outburst or private surliness, parents are apt to shrug their shoulders as if to say, “That’s just the way it is with kids.” I assure you, it doesn’t have to be. Children are capable of much more than parents typically expect from them, whether it’s in the form of proper manners, respect for elders, chores, generosity or self-control. You don’t think a child can sit through dinner at a restaurant? Rubbish. You don’t think a child can clear the table without being asked? Rubbish again! The only reason they don’t behave is because you haven’t shown them how and you haven’t expected it! It’s that simple. Raise the bar and your child shall rise to the occasion.

3. We’ve lost the village.
It used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child. They would act as the mum and dad’s eyes and ears when their children were out of sight, and everyone worked towards the same shared interest: raising proper boys and girls. This village was one of support. Now, when someone who is not the child’s parent dares to correct him, the mum and dad get upset. They want their child to appear perfect, and so they often don’t accept teachers’ and others’ reports that he is not. They’ll storm in and have a go at a teacher rather than discipline their child for acting out in class. They feel the need to project a perfect picture to the world and unfortunately, their insecurity is reinforced because many parents do judge one another. If a child is having a tantrum, all eyes turn on the mum disapprovingly. Instead she should be supported, because chances are the tantrum occurred because she’s not giving in to one of her child’s demands. Those observers should instead be saying, “Hey, good work — I know setting limits is hard.”

4. A reliance on shortcuts.
I think it’s wonderful that parents have all sorts of electronics to help them through airline flights and long waits at the doctor’s office. It’s equally fabulous that we can order our groceries online for delivery, and heat up healthy-ish food at the touch of a button on the microwave. Parents are busier than ever, and I’m all for taking the easy way when you need it. But shortcuts can be a slippery slope. When you see how wonderful it is that Caillou can entertain your child on a flight, don’t be tempted to put it on when you are at a restaurant. Children must still learn patience. They must still learn to entertain themselves. They must still learn that not all food comes out steaming hot and ready in three minutes or less, and ideally they will also learn to help prepare it. Babies must learn to self-soothe instead of sitting in a vibrating chair each time they’re fussy. Toddlers need to pick themselves up when they fall down instead of just raising their arms to mum and dad. Show children that shortcuts can be helpful, but that there is great satisfaction in doing things the slow way too.

5. Parents put their children’s needs ahead of their own.
Naturally, parents are wired to take care of their children first, and this is a good thing for evolution! I am an advocate of adhering to a schedule that suits your child’s needs, and of practices like feeding and clothing your children first. But parents today have taken it too far, completely subsuming their own needs and mental health for the sake of their children. So often I see mums get up from bed again and again to fulfill the whims of their child. Or dads drop everything to run across the zoo to get their daughter a drink because she’s thirsty. There is nothing wrong with not going to your child when she wants yet another glass of water at night. There’s nothing wrong with that dad at the zoo saying, “Absolutely you can have something to drink, but you must wait until we pass the next drinking fountain.” There is nothing wrong with using the word “No” on occasion, nothing wrong with asking your child to entertain herself for a few minutes because mummy would like to use the toilet in private or flick through a magazine for that matter.

I fear that if we don’t start to correct these five grave parenting mistakes, and soon, the children we are raising will grow up to be entitled, selfish, impatient and rude adults. It won’t be their fault — it will be ours. We never taught them any differently, we never expected any more of them. We never wanted them to feel any discomfort, and so when they inevitably do, they are woefully unprepared for it. So please, parents and caregivers from London to Los Angeles, and all over the world, ask more. Expect more. Share your struggles. Give less. And let’s straighten these children out, together, and prepare them for what they need to be successful in the real world and not the sheltered one we’ve made for them.

You can see me elaborate on the subject on this HuffPost Live segment with Alyona Minkovski!

Hands Off! Parenting Wisdom From Around the World: A Review of Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting Without Borders

I originally wrote this review for the HuffPost Parents blog, to which I’m a regular contributor. I loved this book and I hope you do too!


As parents and caregivers, we hold these truths to be self-evident: Children need quality time with us and active stimulation in order to develop properly. Being a good parent means putting our children’s needs before our own. Parents should monitor children’s TV habits to protect them from violent or inappropriate media exposure.

Most American and British parents trust in these fundamental, universal truths. But what if some of them weren’t universal at all?

That’s exactly what Dr Christine Gross-Loh asks in her excellent Parenting Without Borders. In it, she takes a comprehensive look at how parents raise children across the world, investigating what parts of parenting “common sense” are truly held in common and which are rooted in particular cultural assumptions.


Dr Gross-Loh may be uniquely qualified for such a comparative analysis. After earning a Ph.D from Harvard in East Asian studies, the American-born daughter of Korean immigrants moved to Japan with her Jewish-American husband and their children.

While in Japan, she noticed that some choices she thought were normal were earning her strange looks from other Japanese moms. They were surprised, for example, by her close monitoring of her children’s TV watching. Japanese parents are relatively lax about their children’s TV programs and video games — yet Japan has remarkably little violence or crime.

Is it possible, Dr Gross-Loh wondered, that what “good parents” do in America is different from what they do in Japan — and that both could be equally valid approaches? Or even more intriguingly, could parenting practices have evolved to cultivate different qualities and skills in children, with priorities and methods as influenced by the culture around us as the food we eat or the music we listen to?


…..When compared with the rest of the world, Americans stand out by butting in. What do you think??? Do you find this to be true?

Read the full review here

Les Enfants Fantastiques!

This week, I got the chance to read Bébé Day by Day, the follow-up to Pamela Druckerman’s bestselling Bringing Up Bébé. My verdict: Vive la French parenting!


They say that those who fight the hardest are those who are the most alike, so perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me that when it comes to parenting, the English and the French have quite a bit in common.

It took Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist and mother, to show me as much. Druckerman’s keen observations about the differences between European and American parenting styles were spot-on, and her writing style in Bringing Up Bébé was fun, flirty and accessible, rather than preachy or judgmental.

For parents interested in the ideas behind Bringing Up Bébé who couldn’t find time to read it all the way through, Day by Day is perfect. It’s divided into short chapters based on bite-sized parenting “keys” — a less laissez-faire author would have called them “rules” — designed to be picked up and read in spare moments.


I’ll admit: Not all of Druckerman’s keys appealed to my English sensibilities, but the majority of them did. Here’s my English take on some of her most interesting arguments:

#11: Observe Your Baby
This one is fantastic, and so important. New parents often assume that when a baby moves around, makes noise or fusses, he needs something. But a lot of the time, babies are just experimenting, not asking for help. The only way to know what a baby is trying to convey — and be sure you’re not projecting a need onto him — is to actively watch him and learn which cry means “wet diaper” and which means “I like making this interesting noise!”

One of my favorite things to do with a baby this time of year is take him outside with a blanket and a book. I can watch him spend a half hour or so rolling around, and catch up on weekend reading while he’s engrossed in playing with grass or looking at rocks. Everyone gets some calm downtime, and you get the chance to watch and listen to your baby away from the toys and TV.

In fact, I would pair #11 with #20, Do the Pause, which advises parents to wait and listen when a sleeping baby starts to fuss or cry. Just like adults, children cycle through sleep phases, and scooping her up between cycles or during a light phase can interrupt her cycle and teach her to expect you to come in rather than learn to soothe herself.

Chapter 4: Bébé Gourmet
I nearly laughed aloud at the entire food chapter, because I associate so many of these “French” recommendations with my very, very English mother and her compatriots. In fact, Druckerman arrived at many of the same conclusions I covered in my last article: serving vegetables as a first course, establishing a dinner table culture that embraces new foods, involving kids in cooking and rejecting separate “kid food.” Food and table manners may be where Americans have veered furthest from old-fashioned common sense, and where English and French parents find themselves most emphatically aligned.


To read my full review, follow this link to the original post on the Huff Post Parents blog.


My Guide to Joining the Food Revolution!

If you didn’t get a chance to take part in Food Revolution Day, no worries! Joining the Food Revolution should be a lifelong change and you can start with my simple tips… So take a stand for good food and essential cooking skills. Remember: Cook it, share it, live it!


I originally wrote this article for the Huffington Post Parents Blog. There’s plenty more if you follow that link, including some great Spring-Summer recipes the kids will enjoy, but without further ado…

Here are my top tips for getting kids on board with healthy new foods:

1. Serve vegetables as an appetizer. While you set out the rest of dinner, keep hungry kids occupied with veggies. (I love carrot sticks and fresh cut bell pepper.) When you serve veggies before dinner, they’re more likely to be eaten.

2. Offer control. Picky eating is often about control, not taste. Offer two options (“Shall we have peas or broccoli trees with lunch?”) and give your child the power to choose one.

3. Remember tiny tummies. I often hear from parents concerned that their toddlers aren’t eating enough. But when they describe all the child ate that day, it’s really plenty of food. Children’s tummies are quite small — about the size of their clenched fist. What looks like a reasonable snack to grown-up eyes might be an overwhelming portion for little ones.

4. Never underestimate the power of a silly face. At snack time, try arranging cucumber slice eyes with a ranch dip smile and carrot teeth, or peanut butter eyes and a celery mouth on an apple slice head.

To make it a meal, add a bit more protein. “When my kids were really young,” Mary remembered with a laugh, “one of the silliest things was to do low-fat cottage cheese on lettuce and make faces with veggies.”

5. Make it interactive. Who says you shouldn’t play with your food? Steamed artichokes with lemon butter for dipping, roasted asparagus with a little cup of grated parmesan, lettuce wraps for stuffing with seasoned chicken or beans and veg — kids love interacting with their food! For bonus points, give each component a cool name — “trees with snow” will add a dash of giggles to a dish of broccoli with parmesan.

6. Delegate sous chef duties. At the market, have everyone pick out one fruit or veggie they’d like to have that evening. (“Only one each, not two,” you say, ensuring they’ll want at least one.) Then, let them add their chosen food to the pizza, soup, or salsa. When children are involved in the cooking, they’re much more likely to try the result.


7. Be a veggie pragmatist. As a busy mum herself, Mary is the first to acknowledge that it’s not always possible to browse the market with your children. When that happens, reach for frozen vegetables. “The nutrient profile on vegetables that are flash frozen are just as good,” she says, and frozen veggies are more forgiving of busy schedules and fickle toddler tastes.

8. Zucchini bread is not a vegetable. Quite a few recent books suggest ways to “sneak” fruit and veg into children’s meals. Boosting nutrition is all well and good, but it’s also important to teach children what things look and taste like in their natural state. Don’t just sneak a cheeky puree into the pizza sauce — tell them it’s there, and let them see how it’s prepared.

9. Grown-up food is kid food. As a child, I ate what my parents ate, and so did all the other kids I knew. Giving children bland, nutrition-poor “kid food” like macaroni or chicken nuggets is a recent phenomenon, and it does no one any good. Unless there are allergies involved, serve one meal for the family.

10. Don’t give up. Studies show that children have to try a food 10-15 times to like it, and I’ve certainly found that to be true. Encourage children to play with a new food, touch it, smell it, and above all taste it, but keep things lighthearted. Remember your child isn’t just being contrary — being suspicious of new food is an entirely reasonable instinct, especially for children.

11. The no-thank-you bite. If your child refuses outright to try new things, introduce a “no-thank-you bite” rule. With this rule, if a child doesn’t want to eat something, that’s fine — so long as she takes a small bite and says “no thank you.” If she still doesn’t like it, chalk it up to one of those 10-15 necessary new food exposures and move on.

The Top 5 Worst Mistakes American Parents Make

Here’s an excerpt from my Huffington Post article: The Top 5 Worst Mistakes American Parents Make.

During my years as a nanny, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some truly fantastic American mums and dads. I’ve often marveled at how American parents teach children that anything they set their minds to is possible, and how despite the fact that American parents work longer hours than their European counterparts, they still make time to raise strong, healthy families.

However, after working in England, Germany and the United States and hearing from friends who live all over the world, I’ve noticed a few places where modern American parents could use a bit of extra coaching.

And it really is modern parenting that’s at fault for most of these shortfalls — British, American and Continental parenting styles were quite similar until a generation ago. It’s time to take a steady look at what traditional American and European parents knew, but modern American parents seem to have forgotten: Here are the top five mistakes that modern American parents make.

1. Regimenting time, not behavior
It’s no secret American children are overscheduled, but the real problem is that American parents spend energy creating boundaries around what kids are doing, rather than how they’re doing it.

My last article mentioned one mum who’s a perfect example of this problem. She signed her daughter up for swimming lessons and brought her on time each week, but didn’t invest time in helping her cope with losses and setbacks. Learning the backstroke is great, but learning to process disappointment is infinitely more valuable.

Parents in Britain sign their children up for lessons, practice and play dates, too, but they are even more focused on correcting misbehavior and encouraging success. When I was growing up in England, my parents would have been absolutely horrified by some of the behavior tolerated by Americans exhausted from shuffling kids from rehearsal to soccer practice.

2. Setting the Bar Too Low 
American parents famously suffer from “everyone gets a trophy syndrome,” congratulating children for showing up to sporting events rather than winning and pushing grade inflation higher and higher.

But this is just one facet of a larger problem: setting low expectations for children’s behavior.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a parent — usually an American one — come to me and say that their child just can not sit properly through a meal or keep from melting down on a trip to the grocery store. Invariably, it’s because the parents have come to expecta tantrum or a fight, and the child duly obliges.

“I don’t know,” they say, shaking their heads. “Jack just can’t sit at the table for that long.” When I say that he can, parents often don’t believe me — until they try it out, establish higher expectations, and watch as their child rises to the occasion.

Children all over the world misbehave and make mistakes, but American parents seem peculiarly inclined to make excuses for their children’s horrid behavior. A few weeks ago, I went out to supper with a friend, and the family at the table next to ours had two children who were running around and spilling salt and pepper all over the table. When one of them made a mad dash and bumped into my friend’s chair, his mum came over and scooped him up. “Sorry,” she said, smiling, “he missed his nap today and he’s a little wired.” But she never corrected his behavior, and sure enough, five minutes later they were off again running around like maniacs.

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge the connection between behavior and environment, and adults must be sensitive to children’s limitations. But while being tired may be a factor, it doesn’t excuse poor behavior. Don’t be afraid to establish expectations, and hold your children accountable.

Please visit the Huffington Post Parents blog to read the full article.

Making the A Team: The Rights and Privileges of Childhood

Earlier this week, I caught up with a friend who teaches swimming to children. She’s a fantastic coach — she swam competitively throughout college — with lots of experience training kids. As many coaches do, she divides children into ‘A’ and ‘B’ relay teams for competitions so that they can swim with others at a comparable skill level.


Recently, however, one mum took issue with this. She approached my friend after a lesson and asked her to rename the divisions the ‘A team’ and ‘A-minus team.’ Being part of something labeled ‘B team,’ she worried, was hurting her daughter’s feelings.

My friend was taken aback, to say the least. Fifteen years ago, when Barb started coaching (and I started nannying), parents who suggested that their child’s delicate constitution required such adjustments and euphemisms were seen as oddballs, and their requests were met with a raised eyebrow and a firm “no.” Now, not even a generation later, Barb and I are astounded to find that parents like these are everywhere.

Somehow, over the last fifteen years, parents have increasingly embraced the idea that rules are for other people’s children, and that bending them to make things easier in the short-term is a good idea. But being a good parent doesn’t mean keeping your children happy in every moment. It means raising them to be healthy, independent, gracious and happy as adults. It means setting them up for success, not a rude awakening. When short-term and long-term happiness appear to conflict, the choice is easy.


Read the full article on the Huff Post Parents Blog, originally published on March 28, 2013.

Nanny Emma’s Picks: The Best Books for Kids, Part II (ages 6-10)

There’s something magical about going into a bookshop or library with a child who’s just learning to read by herself. The sense of wonder is infectious, and you can almost see new ideas popping up as children excitedly survey the shelves and reach out to the books that call to them.


Children this age have moved on from books on colors and numbers and are ready for books that tackle more abstract topics like friendship, loss and inner strength. When I buy or borrow a book for children this age, I look for work that properly examines or explains mature concepts in age-appropriate language. No one likes to be preached at, including children, and the best books include positive or thought-provoking messages that grow organically with the story, not ones that feel squished in.

That being said, I also look for books that are just plain fun. The enduring power of books by authors like E. Nesbit, Edward Eager and Roald Dahl are proof that sophisticated topics can happily coexist alongside fantasy and pure silliness.

A dad reads Bucket full of Dynasaurs see attached story from Booktime

The last post, on books for children ages 1-6, focused solely on new books. This time, I’ve added two older books that are popular in the UK, but aren’t household names in the U.S.. Some of the best children’s books are by British authors, and these really ought to have a place on American shelves, too.

Ages 6-8
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea (Sandpiper, 1994) by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard. In the warm, well-paced first book of this wonderful series, the elderly Mr. Putter finds a companion in Tabby, a cat at the animal shelter. The carefully chosen, simple language is easy for children to understand, but the story is rich and full, and complemented perfectly by Howard’s delightful illustrations. I recommend the entire series to early readers.

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulson, 2012). With its detailed watercolors and message of inclusion, Each Kindness reminds me of the 1944 classic The Hundred Dresses. Wendy Lukehart, Youth Collections Coordinator for the DC Public Library, admires Woodson’s deft handling of the subtle bullying and exclusion all too common in elementary school. When Maya, a gregarious new girl with “old and ragged” clothes comes to school, Chloe and her friends all ignore her. After the new girl drops out and their teacher gives a hands-on lesson about the ripple effect of kindness, Chloe regrets missing an opportunity to befriend Maya.

Wendy also recommends Sarah Stewart and David Small’s The Quiet Place (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012). Set in the 1950s, the book stars Isabel, a Mexican girl whose family moves to the Midwestern U.S.. Isabel practices her English by writing letters to her Aunt Lupita, and readers see her grow more comfortable in her new life. Her father and brother help her make and decorate a “quiet place” made from cardboard boxes, which gets less quiet — in the best possible ways — when she invites new friends inside. Wendy especially likes the way the book explores “the role that creativity and a supportive family play in helping” Isabel feel at home.

Sally Young, staff manager of Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, CA, likes Rabbityness (Child’s Play, 2012). “It’s a beautiful book — the illustrations are stunning,” says Sally, and the visual style is “really different” than other books on the shelf. Rabbityness tells the story of a colorful, creative rabbit who suddenly disappears, leaving the woods sad and grey. But when Rabbit’s friends discover the paints and instruments he left behind, they celebrate Rabbit by using his gifts to make their own joyful art. The book celebrates creativity and approaches loss with sensitivity and grace.

Ages 8-10

Ballet Shoes (Yearling, 1993) by Noel Streatfeild. The first in the classic Shoes series, the story of adopted sisters Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil has been an inspiration to generations of aspiring dancers and actors (and for Petrova fans, engineers) since it was first published in 1937. It’s more popular in the UK than it is in the U.S., and it’s high time American readers rediscovered it.

Elizabeth Bennhoff, Early Childhood Librarian Fellow at the University of Denver, recommends John Grisham’s series for middle grade readers. In the latest,Theodore Boone: The Accused (Penguin, 2012), the precocious protagonist (and justice-minded child of two lawyer parents), has to defend himself after being framed for robbery. In a preteen market saturated by supernatural romance for girls and gross-out humor for boys, Elizabeth likes that the series “features a boy with some ambition and in a real-world setting. Theodore Boone isn’t slaying dragons or making fart jokes — he wants to be a trial lawyer.”

Diane Garrett of Diane’s Books in Greenwich, CT, recommends Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, by Children’s Poet Laureate emerita Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Michael Emberley (Little, Brown, 2012). Hoberman carefully selected over 100 poems that are both “easy to remember” and “worth remembering.” At the end, she includes tips for learning poetry gathered over a lifetime as a poet for children. The book is a wonderful way to introduce children to the fading practice of poetry memorization, for as UK Education Secretary Michael Gove put it, “to know a poem by heart is to own a great work of art forever.”

Lauren from The Reading Bug bookstore in San Carlos, CA, says: “One of the most important books written this year for ages 8-12 is Wonder by RJ Pallacio. There is an entire campaign surrounding this book called ‘choose kind’ that I hope will circulate through schools to teach our children to be kind to one another no matter what we look like.” Lauren is not alone —Wonder (Knopf, 2012) was a #1 New York Times bestseller last year.

Gallery Bookshop’s Sally Young also likes Newberry Award-winning author Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy. “This book is just different. It’s almost like a puzzle — and you would not guess what the ending is!” After his father loses his job, funny, self-aware 11-year-old Georges moves into a new apartment building and joins a new neighbor boy’s top-secret spy club. Together, they investigate the mysterious Mr. X upstairs, and like Georges’ namesake, impressionist Georges Seurat, the boys discover unexpected relationships between the dots they observe and the whole, complete picture of Mr. X. “It’s very mysterious,” says Sally, “and you get hooked!”

Donating Books:
In my post on books for younger children, I included links to a few charities that are looking for children’s books to continue with the great work they do. All those U.S.-based organizations still need books, but I’d also like to suggest giving to three international charities:

Darien BookAid sends books to Peace Corps volunteer teachers, and KKOOM, a charity founded by a Fulbright fellow and Korean adoptee, sends English and Korean picture books to volunteers in orphanages across South Korea. The International Book Project, founded by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Harriet Van Meter, stocks the shelves of village libraries and classrooms in developing nations in developing nations as well as underfunded schools in the U.S.. Donations to all three are tax-deductible for Americans.

Thank Yous:
My thanks to all the passionate and fantastically knowledgeable children’s librarians and independent bookstore staff who contributed suggestions. Buying books is especially lovely with help from enthusiastic experts, and talking with these people was a delight. Thanks again to Lauren from The Reading Bug, Diane of Diane’s Books, Lizzie Preston of Hatchards, Ronna of Good Reads with Ronna, Elizabeth Bennhoff of the University of Denver, Wendy Lukehart of the DC Public Library, and Sally Young of Gallery Bookshop.

Nanny Emma’s Picks: The Best Books for Kids, Part I (ages 1-6)

This article was originally published via Huff Post Parents. Enjoy! ..and get reading!

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of some truly fantastic children’s books. The first entry in two beloved children’s series, Amelia Bedelia and Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective were published in 1963, as was Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop and the lesser-known but brilliant, dreamy Swimmy.


For several generations now, these beloved classics have awakened children’s curiosity and shaped their imaginations for a lifetime to come. If I were to say, “Let the wild rumpus start,” I bet that more than one of you would instantly think of Max in his white pajamas and crown.

“Books that we read to children become part of them emotionally. They offer them scripts for how to handle things later in life, and just — beauty! Joy!” says Wendy Lukehart, Youth Collections Coordinator at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Washington, D.C. I couldn’t agree more.

With the children I’ve looked after, I’ve always made sure that reading together is a daily activity as integrated into the routine as breakfast or bathtime. There is an art to reading children’s books, and the secret is simple: You must be willing to be silly! Show excitement about the book, give the characters voices and engage children by asking what’s happening or what will happen next.

A bedtime story

It’s hard to tell which recently published books will stand the test of time, but there have been some truly brilliant ones published in the last year or two. In my decades of experience as a nanny, I’ve learned what to look for: Books that are designed to be read with children, rather than to them.

What follows is a list of the best books for children ages 1-6 published since 2010. It includes my personal favorites along with wonderful recommendations from librarians, veteran booksellers, and researchers. This is a post overflowing with the best new books, hand-picked by people who love reading with children.
Baby and Toddler:
Diane Garrett of Diane’s Books in Greenwich, CT recommends Tuck Me In by Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt (Candlewick, 2010). Toddlers can participate by helping lift flaps to “tuck in” a sleepy baby animal on each page. With few words, bold print and its repetitive refrain, it’s a great bedtime book for the younger set.

Elizabeth Bennhoff, Early Childhood Librarian Fellow at the University of Denver, likes Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout (Chronicle, 2012). A is for Airport, B is for Bike Route: “It’s a fun book about all the different things you can see on a road trip.” After you’ve read it together a few times, this is a great book to tuck into the car seat.

“My all-time favorite for board books is Boynton — I just love her humor!” says Wendy Lukehart. Sandra Boynton’s fun, rhyme-filled books (the latest is 2011’s Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods), are not your typical animal books; they’re “funny for the adults and surprising for the children, too… because the characters do unexpected things.” Boynton is both author and illustrator, and her cartoon artwork adds to the zany fun.

Preschool & Kindergarten:
No-Bot, the Robot with No Bottom, by Sue Hendra (Simon and Schuster, 2013). One of my absolute favorites, No-Bot tells the story of a robot who loses his bottom while playing on the swing and recruits his animal friends to help him find it again. I read this book in the UK and loved it so much I bought it for the children I nanny in the States. It’s fantastic fun on either side of the Atlantic!

Elizabeth Bennhoff recommends the latest by Eric Litwin and James Dean: “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons is so cool!” (HarperCollins, 2012). All the books in the series, says Bennhoff, “do an excellent job of incorporating pre-reading skills in fun ways. They have a predictive pattern that allows kids to predict what’s going to happen next, which helps their language and narrative skills. The illustrations are great and they make reading fun.” Each book also has a YouTube video with fun songs and extra animation.

Lizzie Preston, a bookseller at Hatchards, London’s oldest bookshop, recommends the lively illustrations and fun rhymes of books by Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson, the team behind the immensely popular 1999 book The Gruffalo. Their most recent collaboration, Superworm (Alison Green Books, 2012), “is a really big favourite at Hatchards and is one of our bestsellers at the moment.”

Ronna Mandel, the mastermind behind the terrific site Good Reads with Ronna, raves about 2013 Caldecott Medal winner This is Not My Hat by author/illustrator Jon Klassen (Candlewick, 2012). “Prepare to be lured into the brilliance of a book that marries subtle yet sophisticated artwork with short, simple sentences that say so very much,” says Ronna. “Readers old and young will love finding out the fate of one small, overly confident crook of a fish who thinks he can outsmart a bigger fish whose hat he has just stolen.” Ronna, who is also the book reviewer for  L.A. Parent, says the book is ideal for children 4-7.

Wendy Lukehart loves 2013 Caldecott Honor Book Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook Press, 2012). How many kinds of green are there? Forest green, sea green, lime green, pea green… Because “it deals subtly with the multiple meanings of green,” including a gentle message about caring for the environment, “it rewards repeated readings … and works with a lot of different ages.” Cutouts on each page transform into something new on the next, and even grown-ups will enjoy Seeger’s intricate, textured die cut illustrations.

Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), is another of Wendy’s favorites, and rightly so. “It’s a bedtime story, but it goes so far beyond the typical story, and offers a script to parents” for how to calmly put to bed a child who declares she’s not sleepy. In the book, the parents encourage a low-pressure bedtime routine, and patiently list the routines of various animals until she drifts off. Wendy “can’t say enough good things about the art,” which is original and fresh, but dreamy enough for bedtime.

Last, one of my favorite new discoveries: Twigtale, a brilliant new website that personalizes books with customized stories and your child’s name and photo. These books are fantastic — they’re unique and high-quality, and with titles like Crib to BedSoon-to-Be New Sibling and Starting School, they really help prepare children for transitions by walking them through what to expect, step by step.

Donating Outgrown Books:
As caretakers, part of our job is to cultivate gratitude and compassion in children. Donating outgrown books is a great way to teach your children about giving back, and to see your family’s books make a difference in other children’s lives.

Contact your local library, Goodwill, children’s hospital or women’s shelter to see if they need books. Larger regional charities like Books for America, which helps underfunded DC schools and shelters provide books and reading programs for children; Bookends in LA, which sends kids’ books to youth centers, shelters, literacy programs, and underfunded schools; and ROAR (“Reach Out and Read”), a student-run organization at USC’s Keck School of Medicine that reads to children at pediatric clinics while they wait to be seen by physicians, are all looking for gently used children’s books.

Many thanks for great suggestions to Diane, Elizabeth, Wendy, Lizzie and Ronna, and I look forward to seeing readers’ suggestions for great books in the comments!

On Praise and ‘Bribes’: What the New York Times Got Right (and What It Didn’t)

This is an article I wrote for Huff Post Parents. You can find the original article here.

I’d like to weigh in on the debate sparked by “Train a Parent, Spare a Child,” Bruce Feiler’s recent New York Times article. Moms in the media have taken issue with the article’s conclusion that it’s almost never a good idea to bribe children to prompt good behavior.

Bribery is the only way to get my kids to do unpleasant tasks like tidying up, says the New York Times‘ KJ Dell’Antonia. Sometimes I need quick, short-term solutions for unexpected problems, says Slate‘s Alison Benedikt.

Who’s right: the moms or the researchers? My decades of experience as a nanny and parenting consultant have given me the opportunity to see parenting from both of their perspectives, and I believe they’re both missing some key points. As with the parable of the blind men and the elephant, the correct approach lies in a synthesis of the two.

Here’s what Feiler gets right:

His title. I couldn’t agree more that the most important thing a parent can do is train him or herself. We take classes to learn about math, cooking and dance, so why should parents be expected to intuit something vastly more difficult — caring for a child? Recent studies show that training parents can result in significantly better outcomes for everyone, including improved mental, physical and social health for children over the long-term. I applaud Feiler for encouraging discussion of the best possible childcare techniques.

His suggestion that praise is the most effective training strategy. When children are learning a new skill, constructive praise is the best tool you’ve got for cheering them on and reinforcing their success. As with any powerful instrument, however, it’s best to be judicious with praise. For good behavior that meets established expectations, simple, specific acknowledgment is the way to go. If your child minds his manners at supper, for example, a simple “thank you for sitting so nicely at the table” reaffirms that he’s on the right track without suggesting that you expected anything less.

“If-Then” to “Now-That.” In Feiler’s article, Daniel Pink suggested moving from an if-then reward model (“if you finish your homework before dinner, you can watch TV”) to a now-that model (“Great job mowing the lawn without being asked! Since you finished early, shall we go out for dessert?”). This is different than a reward because it helps children see the usefulness of good behavior — they have more time to enjoy life afterward.

The Reward of Autonomy. Like all human beings, children crave dignity, autonomy and independence. Perhaps the best piece of advice in the article is that we give our children choices when possible (taking care not to overwhelm them with a glut of options).

I have used this strategy with children of all ages. For example, one family I know had a little girl who threw fits over dressing in the morning. When I started working for them, her parents had been starting each day with the same epic battle, and were at their wits’ end. So, we established a new routine: each night, she chose one of two outfits for the next day and laid it out. Choosing tomorrow’s outfit became a pleasant part of bedtime, and she and her parents could begin each day on a positive note.

All of the above is great advice, but there’s some bruised fruit mixed in Feiler’s barrel. Here’s where the moms have won the day, in my opinion:

There is nothing wrong with the words “should,” “must” and “have to.” The article advises avoiding “controlling” words like “should,” “must” and “have to,” because “all of those things that convey to them you’re a big person trying to push around a little person.” I disagree. Those words are clear and authoritative, and sometimes, that’s necessary with children. There’s nothing wrong with explaining, “You must hold Daddy’s hand when crossing the street, or else you could get hit by a car.”

Dinner cannot always be a game.
Playing games to encourage children to eat is a nice idea, and I’ve certainly engaged in my fair share of “Here comes the plane — whoosh — open wide!” But who has the energy to do that every day? Dr. Kazdin’s suggestion to set up an escalating vegetable-eating competition between children sounds impractical — before you know it, you’ll be performing cartwheels for him to eat carrots, or push-ups for peas! You may laugh, but some people go to extremes to get their children to eat.

Instead, like any other situation where expectations are established and communicated, mealtime should be about choices and consequences. Set the expectation that this is dinner, it’s time to sit and eat, and if your child chooses not to, there’s nothing else until the next mealtime.

Praise and rewards do not create dependency, as the psychologists in the article allege. I have worked with many children over the years, but I’ve never met a ten-year-old who expects praise for being toilet trained, or a college student who wants a sweetie for making his bed.

Children need challenges and increased expectations as they age, but change can be scary, and offering rewards — coupled with choice and a sense of autonomy — helps make their introduction smoother. If your child is working toward a particular skill or behavior, feel free to use praise, treats or special activities to create positive associations with mastering the new challenge.

However, refrain from offering a constant, rote pat on the back. Research shows that just as grade inflation rewards children with ever-higher marks despite their studying fewer hours, praise inflation can lower effort and achievement all around (especially praise that labels the child rather than the behavior, like “you are such a good girl” or “you’re so smart!”). Acknowledge good behavior with specific, positive, matter-of-fact language, and save the more effusive tone for praising real effort and advancement.

While I didn’t agree with everything in the article, it did open up a great conversation between parents, researchers and childcare professionals. In that respect, it’s an absolutely fantastic piece, and I’m grateful to Mr. Feiler for publishing it.

Emma Jenner

Parenting Consultant, Parenting, Parenting Guidance