Using picture books to help with parenting challenges

My daughter was not a difficult two-year-old. In fact, as she approached her third birthday, I pretty much brushed off my hands like, "Well, that was easy!"

Not so fast, mama. Turns out, three can be really, really hard. Turns out, there is a phrase that some parents use, which I had not yet heard: three-nager. It's pretty much as it sounds.

My daughter is my only child, so both of us are learning at the same time: her, to be a young person in the world. Me, to parent that young person. I think both of us are confused a lot of the time. But one thing that has helped is books that specifically address toddler emotions.

Last month, my daughter's preschool sent her home with a Scholastic Reading Club flyer, which I was terribly excited about. (I'll note here that a funny moment was when I became a Scholastic customer in addition to being a Scholastic employee.) It wasn't until I looked at a Reading Club flyer as a parent and customer that I realized how helpful it is that tmany of the books are grouped by theme. Sometimes the groupings are holiday-related, or packs of character or author favorites, but there were also packs for social and emotional development, which is what we're really working on now at my house.

My daughter has some preschool separation anxiety, and while she is happy at pick-up, drop-off can sometimes be a little tearful. Flipping through my Club flyer, I noticed the Llama Llama series by Anna Dewdney, and in particular Llama Llama Misses Mama.

When the books arrived, a couple of surprising things happened. The first was that my daughter really responded to Llama Llama Misses Mama, and was able to make a connection to her own life and experiences. I was also surprised that she chooses the book herself--we read it aloud every night--and I don't have to steer her toward it.

When we read Llama Llama Misses Mama, we talk about what's happening in the story and I pause to ask whether she identifies with what Llama Llama is doing and how he is feeling. Do you ever wonder why I have to go in the morning? Do you worry that I won't come back?

I have found that when talking to a toddler about confusing or difficult subjects, it often requires having the same conversation again and again. (Often in the same exact same words.) Reading books about feelings (or new skills like using the potty) provides structure to the conversations, but also allows us to talk in a relaxed way. (Like a teenager, my three-nager does not like to be put on the spot ... or be asked any direct questions whatsoever!)

Seeking out books about new emotions, skills and transitions has really helped us, and I was surprised how smooth and organic our conversations felt while reading, and after. If you want to try this with your toddler at home, Scholastic has a few booklists that can help. (Or make sure your child's teacher signs up for Reading Club!)