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School psychologist offers Christian-centered parenting advice

There is no shortage of parenting advice books, nor is it hard to find a book with purported solutions to the mental and emotional health issues faced by today’s children and teens. “Unshakable Kids” is different from most advice books in that it takes a distinctly Christian perspective to child-rearing and acknowledges the existence of limits – limits on what anyone can have in this life, and on what we should expect our children to have.

Author and Lehigh Valley resident Lauren Gaines earned her B.A. in psychology from Bucknell and her master’s in school psychology from the University of Delaware. She is an adjunct psychology professor at DeSales University, as well as the force behind the online community “Inspired-Motherhood.com.”

“Unshakable Kids” focuses on parenting skills during the early years – from birth through age 5 – based on the premise that neural connections formed during that time frame are the basis for the rest of the child’s life. Gaines grounds her parenting advice in academic literature and in the Bible, and offers pointers on how adults should build their own lives in order to be good parents to their children.

Not everything in the book rang true for me. The book’s theme of “capture every thought” felt both unrealistic and not always helpful; there are times when Gaines’s examples of mental refocusing exercises seem out of place, and I found myself outlining the physical solution I would have attempted to address her kids’ problems.

There are other times when Gaines falls prey to the ever-present modern temptation to “have it all,” without recognizing it. For example, when her toddler wants to get out of the stroller and walk, but Gaines wants to get in more steps for her own powerwalk, it seemed obvious that the child needed the exercise more than the mother, and that no post-walk talk about appropriate behavior would have been necessary if she had just met her child’s physical needs in the moment.

Gaines does acknowledge limits, however, and encourages families to do the same. She points out that just because there are ultracompetitive sports leagues for 5-year-olds, and many families participate, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for your family, or that you should feel bad about making a choice that gives your family, for example, more mealtimes together or more prayer time.

Perhaps more important, she doesn’t aim to paper over the real losses, both big and small, that are part of life. She talks about a time she had to cancel her children’s plans with a friend because she herself was ill, and notes that she told them, “It’s OK to feel sad,” and brainstormed with the children to find something fun for them to do.

She returns to her advice to find inspiration in Scripture when she advises parents to show children the many promises that God kept to His people, so that they will know that their ultimate happiness is not jeopardized by adversity, even when the pain – such as the loss of a pet – feels tremendous.

For me, the best aspect of the book was the from-the-heart straight talk Gaines delivers to parents. If you want some time to yourself, get up earlier. If you want a meaningful relationship with your family, don’t bring your phone to the dinner table. These pieces of advice are not only useful for parents, but they are also important tools in modeling the behavior that parents will want their kids to exhibit when they enter their teen years.

What parents do during their children’s early years does have an effect on how their children act when they are in their teens, and beyond. Gaines offers both a framework and details on how to pass traditional values to the next generation.

“Unshakable Kids” offers parenting advice for the early childhood years and is available at bookstores and online.
PRESS PHOTOS COURTESY LAUREN GAINS Lehigh Valley resident Lauren Gaines is raising three children with her husband, Darryl, as well as teaching psychology at the postsecondary level and running an online community, “Inspired Motherhood.”