Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor
A recent episode of the OWN network reality docudrama Flex and Shanice--which chronicles episodes in the lives of actor Flex Alexander and his wife Shanice, an R & B music artist--included a story line about their pre-teen son being bullied by kids from his school. Flex first notices a problem when his son comes home from school one day and is withdrawn, refusing to engage in normal banter and conversation with his father. Ultimately, they decide to see a therapist as a family to help each and all of them cope with the anxiety and sadness of having to experience this reality. This dramatic slice of life from a black celebrity family reflects the intense challenges parents face daily. Any parent watching this episode would feel assured to know that they are not alone in their struggles to raise successful, stable, and healthy children. But life in the parental trenches requires actionable strategies and accessible resources to positively impact a child’s life for the long haul. A new book by psychologist Dr. Nakeshia Hammond might help.
The most noteworthy aspect of this book is that it specifically focuses on emotional (and sporadically, mental) health. There is no shortage of books and advice for parents on how to raise physically healthy children. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign targeting reduction in obesity rates among children has, by all accounts, been a solid success. Mothers are instructed on the physical benefits of breastfeeding, and there are organic baby and toddler food brands with devoted followers who insist on ‘the best’ foods to ensure their child’s growth and development. Far less advice, support, and resources are focused on parenting behaviors and approaches that yield mentally and emotionally healthy kids.
Dr. Hammond is clear about what she hopes to accomplish with her book. In the introduction she states her goals: ease the burden on parents and encourage them; provide practical strategies; and suggest resources. Parents looking for an easy-to-read, intellectually accessible resource will benefit from the concrete suggestions offered. And often the suggestions are complimented by real-life scenarios that provide context in which to apply the suggestions she gives. In Chapter 2—How Can We Listen?, she begins by giving scenarios that involve a child experiencing a problem that should be communicated to the parent but the parent’s incorrect approach to listening hinders the process. She then points out specific behaviors parents should be aware of: lecturing instead of letting a child develop his own conclusion; interrupting; distraction and divided attention; and showing visible discomfort with what a child is saying. Next comes tips on ways to listen that will enhance, rather than hinder communication with children, especially related to delicate and sensitive topics kids might already be reluctant to discuss. The approach comes full circle by restating the earlier scenarios replacing the unhelpful behaviors with active listening skills. This is the kind of information so many parents seek as they do their best to help their children develop strong minds and hearts.
Some parents and caregivers might have benefitted from more detailed information about what behaviors and characteristics constitute mental and emotional health. There are places in the book that mention qualities like taking responsibility for one’s actions and not shifting blame, being able to make one’s own decisions, and not comparing one’s life to others’ lives in a way that produces envy and resentment; nonetheless an explicit identification of recognized mental and emotional health markers would have enhanced the book’s presentation.
Something else worth noting: though Dr. Hammond is African American, the book is not specifically targeted to black parents and children. In some ways, this might leave black parents wanting more because there are intense issues surrounding black parenting right now, and that particularly relate to the mental and emotional health of black children, that many parents would have liked to see addressed. How to keep a positive outlook on one’s ethnic heritage when it is under attack, providing safe outlets for young people to discuss fears related to their navigation of this world as black people, and additional strategies and resources for those raising African-American kids are a few topics that would have been a great addition to the book’s content.
Over 128 sources are listed at the end of the book as ones Dr. Hammond used in writing the book. Many of them are government-sponsored websites or other resources, but the list also includes nonprofits and corporate entities’ websites and can function as a valuable reference to which parents can turn as needed for information related to the topic of each chapter.
Dr. Nekeshia Hammond’s book can be purchased at major book retailers and online: