Education Quandary

'Our daughter has asked for a good book on parenting. She seems to be struggling with the demands on her'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

This is a minefield in which you need to tread very carefully. By all means honour her wishes and make sure that she finds something helpful under the Christmas tree, but avoid like the plague anything that sounds even remotely bossy or guilt-inducing.

And so many parenting books are exactly that. But if you go for Margot Sunderland's wonderful The Science of Parenting, you will be choosing not only the most useful manual any parent could have on their shelves, but also a book that is glossy enough to make a beautiful present.

Her message is that parents have the most enormous influence on how their children's brains develop, and that new findings from neuroscience are showing exactly how and why nurturing parenting helps children to thrive. Her book illustrates just which parts of a child's brain are activated by emotions such as fear and anger, and how security, hugs and stimulating play work to develop healthy responses.

Sunderland is the director of education and training at the Centre for Child Mental Health, and an experienced child psychotherapist. Her book makes a fascinating read, but is also warm and accessible, with lovely photographs and masses of practical suggestions for how to deal with everything from bedtimes to bullying. There's also a great section for how worn-out parents can look after themselves, which your daughter should appreciate.

For parents with children at school, or coming up to school age, there is also Quandary's own Help Your Child Succeed At School which, despite the title, is not a manual for pushy parents, but shows exactly how the right support from home helps children enjoy school, make friends, seize the opportunities available there, and fulfil their own, unique potential.

Readers' advice

This seems like a cry for help. It is difficult to comment without knowing the circumstances but, as a new grandparent, the gift of time seems to work.

Christine Weaving, Sheffield

Consider buying your daughter What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen. It will give her a greater understanding of the value of what she does as a mother, and the confidence to find solutions that work for her and her family.

Helen Albans, Sheffield

Forget books on parenting, the solution is simple: stay at home with your children. Your children should not be part of the juggle between home and work. They are far too important.

I have no idea what the daughter-in-law of your correspondent does for a living, but the expectations upon anyone in the world of work today are far too great to be accepted alongside those of child rearing.

Children need our time and undivided attention, not a few "quality" moments every day. Financial matters are an issue for many people. The family may miss out on a new car or a foreign holiday for a few years, but the children will benefit immeasurably.

Fran Shaw, Nottinghamshire

Next Quandary

Dear Hilary

Will more spending on schools really make as much difference as Gordon Brown seems to think to educational standards? Haven't we already had millions and millions of pounds spent on schools since Tony Blair came to power without any real effect? And if it isn't money that raises standards, what is it? Does anyone actually have a clue?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.