Last updated on August 30th, 2021
More great books that will help you as a parent, and as a compassionate human being
Now I want to list some other books which are also helpful, and which don't quite fit into the category of books on mindfulness, compassionate communication, or anorexia. Unsurprisingly, I have found the following to be close to the NVC and mindfulness approach. I welcome any additions of your own, if you'd care to add them in your comments.
What to Say to Kids When Nothing Seems to Work: A Practical Guide for Parents and Caregivers by Adele Lafrance and Ashley Miller
My guess is that most parents will find this book extremely helpful, in a practical way. First, you get a few general principles of communication ('The road map'), and these are very similar to those in my book (Chapter 13 especially). Then there's tips for dealing with the inevitable road blocks, including dealing with your own unhelpful knee-jerk reactions.
Then there are numerous practical examples, demonstrating how to apply the road map to various real-life questions, such as 'I don't want to', 'I'm so bad!', 'You just don't get it!'. If you often wonder, "What should I say when my child says/does …." then I bet you will find a form of words (and the reasons to use those words) in this book. There are at least 13 such real-life examples, and I confess to skim-reading many of these, while still being glad that for anyone in that particular situation, it's all there.
I love that there's also a section for 'The do-over': the repair after we parents blew it and made things temporarily worse. And there's a detailed, organised list of recommended reading at the back so you can research more on topics like ADHD, grief, suicide.
The framework is Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT). The authors produce wonderful free video resources to help parents with communication with a child with an eating disorder.
I say more about EFFT and how it is used in the treatment of eating disorders here, where I also point you to some of their most useful videos
There is just one tweak I would make to the EFFT road map — and I base this on my learnings in Nonviolent Communication (NVC). When you connect with how your child is feeling, I think it's helpful to phrase it as a question rather than a statement. And indeed, the book is full of examples where that is exactly what is done — there's a flow to the dialogue which means your child can correct your guess and say more about how they really feel.
All the EFFT resources truly respect the parent-child connection. They are deeply, beautifully human.
So, a highly recommended book to help you with all those 'What do I say?' moments.
Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté.
It's possible to misunderstand the thrust of this book if you speed-read, and that could leave you with a sour taste. So let me try to make this clear. The message in this book is not to demonize your child's friends, but to highlight the need for your child to be attached to you, to take guidance from you, trust you, feel supported and loved by you. And no, this book isn't just about small children: teenagers need connection to their parents too. The danger, if you don't nurture your kid's attachment to you, the mature parent (ha! I hear you say), is they will take refuge instead in attachments to their fair-weather friends. As parents, our mission is to give unconditional love, help them with their emotions, help them mature: the book explains what all this involves. Our kids' peers, on the other hand, are not yet sufficiently mature to provide this.
What you'll find in this book is very, very relevant to parenting a child with anorexia, especially if you're hesitant about your strong role around meals, or if you feel tempted to give up when your child screams how much they hate you. It will help you clarify your role as a supportive, caring parent who does what's needed without either sinking into permissiveness or resorting to punishments (including "grounding" or the euphemistically named "consequences"). It will make you appreciate the many ways in which your child needs you to flourish.
This book doesn't mention Nonviolent Communication but I heard it recommended by an NVC Trainer, and in my opinion, it does a great job of clarifying a parent's role, attitude and options in a spirit of compassionate communication.
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthoodby Lisa Damour
I haven't read many books on raising teens. Those I have picked up left me annoyed about how much our poor youngsters get criticised and treated like aliens. Untangled is a lot more in tune with my attitude. It's clear that the author enjoys and celebrates teens.
There's a bit about eating and eating disorders in there – and you can take it or leave it — the author seems to know about it but it's not her specialty. What I really enjoy in the book is how it brings out the ordinary struggles of teens and how parents can navigate this. If your child has an eating disorder there's something refreshing about immersing yourself in the very ordinary ups and downs of any teen. If you're wondering how to balance your child's independence with providing a safe container, how to give your child privacy while also being informed, how educate her about dangers while also making sure you're the first person she will go to if she runs into any trouble, then this book will help. It's about girls, but if you have a boy and haven't found anything much to help you with these questions, then get it anyway.
Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn
Alfie Kohn is the person to read if you want to understand the problem with rewards, praise, punishment and "consequences". If you work in education, do check out his other books too. This is a real eye-opener, but because we're talking about anorexia here, do make sure you don't get the wrong message from this book. Don't get all permissive and relaxed and wait for your anorexic child to get an urge to do the right thing. Our kids need us to carry them when they are unaware they can't stand on their own two feet. We must expect them to eat whether they want to or not. They are not in touch with healthy instincts and they won't access self-healing until they've leant on you to feed them and override their mental restrictions. Just as long as you remember that anorexia creates a rather extreme parenting situation, read this book. If you get confused, skip back to the other book "Hold on to your kids".
Parenting Your Anxious Child with Mindfulness and Acceptance – A Powerful New Approach to Overcoming Fear, Panic, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Christopher McCurry
This book fits perfectly under the categories of mindfulness, parenting, as well as anorexia, as it deals with both the child's and the parent's journey through fear.
You may not consider your child to have an anxiety problem, but this book is still highly relevant to a child suffering from anorexia. Fear is your kid's main problem at mealtimes, and you, the parent, probably also want tools to help you with your own stress. If so, you can always skip to later chapters, and read how parents can help their kids to eat, and how to expose them to fearful situations to desensitise them. McCurry takes the sting away from thoughts and feelings, describes how empathy and mirroring work to defuse anxiety, and most of all, shows how anxiety isn't a reason not to act.
These concepts are central to my book here, but McCurry explains it all beautifully, and his work is particularly relevant if your child struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or particular phobias even before the onset of anorexia.
The reality slap: finding peace and fulfillment when life hurts by Dr Russ Harris
Great tools in this, along the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (which McCurry, in the book above, uses).
Martin Seligman: Authentic happiness, and Flourish
Martin Seligman isn't your average self-help writer. He conducts research and produces original thinking. Before him, there weren't many psychologist concentrating on wellbeing: it was all about what's wrong with you, not what's right. About illness, not wellness. Seligman is the father of Positive Psychology movement. If you've ever left a therapist wondering why you paid good money to feel more miserable and helpless than when you came in, you will appreciate positive psychology. (It is not to be confused, by the way, with vapid exhortations to 'think positive'.)
I read 'Authentic Happiness' when it came out and thought it was wonderful. If, that is, you ignore the chapter where Seligman writes about himself, which doesn't do it for me. But after that, this is rich material.
Martin Seligman produced a new book, 'Flourish', which expands on and revises 'Authentic Happiness'. It's less practical self-help and more memoir. Read it if you'd like to know more about well-being and flourishing as opposed to just 'happiness'. You'll find out about the research done and how findings are being applied in education, the army, and in health.
Matt Ridley: nature and nurture
(The US title is 'The agile gene', while the UK title is 'Nature via Nurture'.) We know that eating disorders have a significant genetic component. So we parents need to understand what it means to have genes for something. We need to appreciate how the environment and what we do is part of what will determine whether we are stuck with an illness or whether we even get it. This book explains it all. I found the chapter on schizophrenia particularly helpful when thinking of eating disorders. Note also that the buzz word now is 'epigenetics': how genes are turned on or off, or dialled up or down, depending on how we live and what we're exposed to.
What are your favourites?
Feel free to share your favourite books or resources on the subject of parenting, wellbeing, or communication, by posting a comment.