ROR Carolinas + Strengthening Families

Guest blog post by:
Dr. Martha Edwards
Rock Hill Pediatrics

As pediatricians, we become comfortable talking about uncomfortable things.

Pooping? I have been christened the Queen of Poop because I excel at addressing problems associated with stool withholding and constipation. Acne? Toenail fungus? Let’s chat.

But talking with a parent about how she should discipline her child?

Just… whoa. Sacred ground. Private stuff.  I could never, wouldn’t ever try to tell someone how to do THAT.

Then, Reach Out and Read Carolinas came into my life and into my clinical practice.

Initially I understood Reach Out and Read as a tool to get books into the hands of children, especially those who had little access to them in their homes.

I have matured as a parent and as a pediatrician, and as I have begun to learn more about how adverse childhood experiences or “ACEs” affect mental and physical health over a lifetime, my understanding and use of Reach Out and Read has matured as well. I now use books as a tool to help me talk about that most uncomfortable subject: discipline.

The word “discipline”, after all, stems from the word “disciple” which means “to teach.”  What better way to discipline, or teach, a child than with books?

Supporting families in their knowledge of appropriate child development is a critically important part of the well-child visit.

Babies and children don’t come with an instruction manual.  The book gives me a tool, an opening, to talk about parenting and discipline. For instance, a typical 9-month-old, for example, is just learning how to crawl, just starting to make decisions about how to manipulate his world. He crawls up to an outlet and starts to pull on the power cord. The parent tells him “No!” or “Stop!” He stares back, familiar with the word no, knowing he should stop, but his 9-month-old brain is not yet capable of generating a list of better alternatives within seconds. So, he smiles and returns to what he was just doing.

Bad child? Not at all; normal behavior. Appropriate discipline should include an alternative activity: “No! Let’s read about Baby Faces instead!” the parent might say, as he settles in next to the child with a book in hand. This is known as Positive Parenting, in which a parent models or tells the child what TO do rather than constantly yelling about what the child should not do.

Not all of us know that a developmentally normal 15 or 18-month-old should be having some tantrums here and there. I reassure caregivers, and prescribe books as a great way to parent through these.

A dad might pre-empt a meltdown by pulling out the favorite train book when he is trying to extricate a cell phone or ipad from pudgy, toddler hands. Or, after a major tantrum in the grocery store, a two or three-year-old might read a book about Baby Llama being mad at mama, thus teaching the toddler (and the parent) that emotions are normal and happen to us all, and that all of us struggle to gain control from time to time.

I remind parents that, as parents and caregivers, our ultimate goal is not so much to control our children as to teach them self-control. Books are the perfect tools to teach not just language literacy, but emotional and behavioral literacy as well.

I integrate books into my anticipatory guidance at every visit, along with book-associated, age-appropriate parenting strategies.

Check out one of our newest online courses, Strengthening Families.

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Take a story walk around your neighborhood.  Make up a story to go with each house.