Part of the parental job description, at least during the early years, is "expert book reader." Once your child is in elementary school, you have probably logged hundreds of hours turning pages, using silly voices, and reading "just one more" story.
If you're anything like me, you have your favorites and your not-so-favorites. I love to tackle a nice page of Dr. Seuss and practice my rhyming and alliteration skills, and I could do without ever stumbling through the pronunciation of obscure dinosaur names in my son's three-inch thick encyclopedia ever again.
Beyond having a favorite, the children's book Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth is a story that I hold near and dear to my heart as a parent. I remember reading it to my son for the first time and being struck by the beautiful pictures and simple, peaceful language. But as the story unfolded, I quickly realized that this was much more than a set of pretty pages donned by an adorable panda.
Muth's story includes three simple but powerful life lessons that can help you navigate common parenting traps while helping your child build healthy coping skills.
If your kids still sit and listen while you read, dust this book off and add it to the top of your pile. If your kids are older, maybe in middle school, see if they'll tolerate a read along with you. If you have a teen, especially one who is about to launch to college, hit the bookstore and pick up a copy ASAP.
For a preview, here are the life lessons of Zen Shorts, in a far less poetic fashion than you'll find in Muth's book, along with how they relate to your parenting experiences:
1. You don't need so much stuff in order to be happy.
People and circumstances can result in you losing physical things, so if you're dependent on them for happiness, it's going to be a tough, long haul through life.
This lesson is great to reflect on when you're being asked to buy another fidget spinner, pair of designer sneakers, or updated smartphone. It often helps me keep my sanity and gives me the confidence to say no despite the temporary upset that might ensue.
2. Luck is overrated.
Instead of waiting for luck to set in and for the world to provide things according to your plan, it makes more sense to try and accept things that are not within your control. This prevents you from wasting time and energy on worry and over-thinking.
If your child or teen is ever stuck in a negative mindset and feels that the world (or your family) is out to get him or her, this lesson takes center-stage. Helping your child shift perspective and accept that "good" and "bad" are relative terms makes it easier to tolerate the inevitable growing pains of childhood and adolescence.
Spoiler alert, #3 is my absolute favorite!
3. He who holds the longest grudge loses.
Muth artfully demonstrates how holding onto even small bits of anger and resentment chip away at the goodness that exists.
How many times have you wanted your child to just get over it? Whatever it is, the art of feeling and acknowledging anger and then moving on takes practice and requires a good deal of parental coaching and patience. This story is one of the best references I've ever come across for teaching the importance of letting go, and I can safely say that I've benefited from it just as much as my kids have.
If I were creating a reading list for all ages, this book would definitely make my top three. I have a copy perched on the table in my office and it's worth reading yourself even if you think your kids won't be interested. Trust me, if you declare that it's yours and they can't have it, it will instantly be the hottest commodity in your house!
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Stephanie O'Leary, Psy.D.
Sharing practical strategies that help parents rediscover joy in their children (even when someone's crying, the phone is ringing, and it smells like the house may be burning down)