BEP Book Review

Common Sense Parenting: Using Your Head as Well as Your Heart to Raise School-Aged Children by Ray Burke, Ron Herron, and Bridget A. Barnes
Fourth Edition. Boys Town, NE: Boys Town Press, 2015.

Full disclosure: As a retired school counselor, I am not an unbiased reviewer of this book. I have taught adult classes on Common Sense Parenting, used Boys Town Social Skills with young people, and even participated in some days of training at Boys Town, NE. But, that being said, I can vouch for the fact that the Boys Town Common Sense Parenting approach is quite effective, when used patiently and consistently, in helping a full range of adults and children communicate more positively with one another. Boys Town is well-known for providing care to troubled youth since 1917. Common Sense Parenting (first penned in 1989) distills what their staff have learned about children, parents, and family life from their research, observations, and experience.

A basic tenet of the book is that parents are their children’s first, and most important, teachers and that the goal of discipline is positive teaching, rather than punishment for misbehaving. In order to do that, parents learn how to set reasonable expectations and give clear messages about behavior they observe, as well as what they expect from their child. Positive or negative consequences are given with stated reasons so that children will be encouraged to learn acceptable behavior choices. Techniques such as effective praise, preventive teaching, and using charts and contracts to assist in reaching goals are all discussed.

From my experience, parents are most likely to seek parenting help when they are stymied by their child’s misbehavior. There’s a whole section of the book devoted to correcting problem behavior. An important chapter helps readers consider their own anger triggers and offers guidance on ways to calmly handle misbehavior situations, even when the child is totally out-of-control. Advice is given on how to do corrective teaching in such situations once everyone has calmed down so that the child learns positive alternative ways of behaving. Additional teaching follows to help the child learn self-control.

Boys Town research has identified a whole series of social skills (eg., asking for help, apologizing, listening to others) that can help children be more successful in handling interpersonal relationships. These are shared in another section of the book. Each skill is broken into step-by-step parts for ease of teaching and learning. Similarly, the processes of making decisions and solving problems are laid out in a “common sense” way for preventive teaching.

Finally, there are tips for parents on holding family meetings, establishing routines, helping children succeed in school, and handling peer pressure. These are offered to encourage meaningful conversation between parents and their children so that they stay “tuned in” to one another within the family. Practice is emphasized throughout the book because, just as with learning any new skill, the only way to really master something is to work at it and perfect it repeatedly.

I believe all parents could benefit from reading this book. Though a book on parenting may be a non-traditional selection for a collection of mental health-focused books, I would suggest that an important component of a person’s mental health is a feeling of calmness and self-control in everyday situations. Both children and adults can profit from common sense discipline. Parenting children with behavioral issues is particularly challenging, and this approach has been proven effective in caring for that subset of children, as well. In today’s world, where family members may be tempted to focus more attention on their personal devices than on each other, Common Sense Parenting provides keys to creating smoother, more connected relationships with one another.

Submitted by Kathy Miller

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