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STAR Parenting Tales and Tools
by Elizabeth Crary, M.S.
Elizabeth Crary

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Feature story:
Parent Educator Takes "How-to" Approach to Teaching Problem-Solving Skills

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Feature Story
Parent Educator Takes
"How-to" Approach to Teaching
Problem-Solving Skills

Got a problem? Take it to Elizabeth Crary. She won't solve it, but she'll help you find a way to solve the problem yourself.

For almost 30 years, Crary's been teaching parents, teachers and child care providers how to handle all sorts of child-rearing issues, from tantrums and toilet training to fibbing and food fights. Now this veteran parent educator is bound and determined to make sure that kids also get introduced to problem-solving skills.

In "Kids Can Choose," a new series of choose-your-own-ending books, Crary provides a framework for resolving such issues as teasing, lunch box theft and bothersome younger siblings. The first books in this series, Amy's Disappearing Pickle, Heidi's Irresistible Hat and Willy's Noisy Sister, demonstrate how kids can generate ideas, evaluate strategies and predict the consequences of their actions when faced with problems. These are extremely important life skills, believes Crary, who blames the isolation of modern children for their inexperience in solving social problems. Many children don't have opportunities for unstructured play with other kids, she points out, so they don't have daily practice in working out problems and reflecting on possible scenarios before they take action. The situation is exacerbated by video and computer games, movies and television, which often lead children to believe that problems can be solved quickly and with physical violence. All too frequently, Crary sees kids who can think of only two responses to a problem: grab or do without.

The more ways a child can think of to handle a problem, the better prepared he or she is for social situations of any kind, believes this well-known speaker and the author of such best-sellers as Without Spanking or Spoiling: A Practical Approach to Toddler and Preschool Guidance and Pick Up Your Socks . . . and Other Skills Growing Children Need!

"Some of the strategies discussed in my books are not good choices for a particular situation—or for any situation, for that matter," points out Crary, "but each story line clarifies that we always have choices."

This nonjudgmental approach is the hallmark of a Parenting Press book: Crary doesn't tell anyone—child or adult—how to solve a problem. Nor does she let the Press's other authors dictate how issues should be resolved.

"Our books are respectful," Crary says. "Our goal is to help you identify what you want rather than telling you what you should do."

Her mission has been a success: Parenting Press has published dozens of child-guidance books since its founding in 1979. Like Crary's first book, Without Spanking or Spoiling, all of them are still in print a decade or more after the first editions were issued. In total, the Press has 1.2 million copies of its books in print. Consistently praised for offering a sense of perspective, no-nonsense analysis and practical suggestions that work in real life, Parenting Press books are so carefully written and field-tested that they are standbys on bookstore shelves. "Modern classics," Crary calls them, "books you can go back to again and again."

Best-selling books seem like a long way from food poisoning, which is where Crary started her career. A home economics graduate, she earned a master's degree in nutrition and biochemistry from Louisiana State University before beginning work for the Food Research Institute in Madison, Wisc. But almost as soon as she finished school, she was leading Girl Scout troops—and researching parenting so she was better prepared for her groups of pre-teen girls. And, after her research on food poisoning, Crary went on to run food taste panels—a variation on field testing.

After her son was born in 1971, Crary found that her traditional home economics training—and the parenting classes she'd been taking for her Girl Scout work—helped her research the answers to her own child development questions. Conversations with other new parents made it clear, however, that not everyone had her problem-solving, skill-based approach. That led to her leading parenting classes and support groups. In 1976, after the birth of her second child, Crary moved to Seattle, where the handouts she created for parenting classes became the basis for a book. Eager to try out its concepts, she field-tested the draft through a parent education class at North Seattle Community College. By 1979, Without Spanking or Spoiling was ready for publication. Unwilling to give up control of the book design and aware that she would be responsible for marketing the book, regardless of who published it, Crary chose to self-publish her guide. It was an instant success; less than a year later, every one of the 5,000 copies was gone.

Today Crary still teaches parenting education, both at NSCC and in her own workshops. She's a popular speaker at professional conferences and on television and radio talk shows. Without Spanking or Spoiling, revised and expanded a few years ago, has more than 170,000 copies in print. And the woman who claims she "hates" to write has produced 30 more books. Each one, as you can imagine, is packed with problem-solving suggestions.


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