The problem with "parenting experts" and parenting books is that every kid is different, and general advice often does not work with specific kids.
Besides, no "expert" knows your kids like you do. When it comes right down to it, YOU are the only expert on YOUR kids.
When we have a discipline problem with a child, when a daughter won't do homework or is performing way below her ability, when a son is constantly disrespectful or when you just get worried about whether you are giving a child the opportunities or exposure he or she needs — it may be that what you need is not the thinking of some expert, but just the real thinking of your own brain.
As parents, none of us have a crystal ball that reveals to us every aspect of who our children are and what they can be, but we do have a certain stewardship over them and some instinctive insights that can open a bit of inspiration about what they need and how they are doing in the various facets of their lives.
With a little "thinking time," we can often come up with answers and methods that are better suited to our individual child than anything a parenting book could teach us.
The best way we have found to look for these answers is in a regular, scheduled, "five-facet review." All this means is to set aside one evening a month to go to dinner someplace — have a date, just the two of you — and talk exclusively about your children. If you are a single parent, do this with one of your kids' grandparents or someone else who loves your children. If you have a blended family, this will be an invaluable exercise as you listen to what the genetic parent knows and what the "new parent" perceives about each child.
Just sit there in a quiet restaurant and go through the five "facets" of each of your kids: physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual.
Here is a brief example of how the conversation might go:
_"How is Brandon doing physically?"_ Talk through any issues — from weight to teeth or eyes. How about exercise, sports, activity level — any health problems? If there is an issue, focus in on it, brainstorm about it. If it's all good, move on.
"How is he doing mentally?"
Talk about school, about how he learns, where his mental gifts are. Take notes about concerns and about what you intend to do about them (and about who will do it.)
_"How is he doing socially?"_ Discuss friends, how he interacts, isolate areas that need attention.
Danger signs? How does he handle things? Moody? What upsets him?
And finally, _"How is he doing spiritually?_ How is his heart, how is his faith, his character? Where is he doing well and where does he need help?
Take notes as you talk and think together. When you discover and isolate a concern, decide who will do what about it, knowing you will revisit that issue in your next five-facet review in a month.
It is amazing, once you have focused in on something, how ideas and solutions will come to you. Give each other assignments (for example, Mom to Dad: "Can you read with David twice a week this month? You'll see that he isn't on grade level with his reading skills.")
If you are a praying couple, pray together either before or after your Five Facet review in which you seek insights about the needs and worries but also about the gifts and potential of your child.
It usually turns out you know more than you think you do, and your spouse knows more than you think he or she does about each child. It just takes a discussion and some questions to pull out things you didn't even know you knew.
You will come up with specific things to work on each month, and they will be your own thoughts. The things you think of and the inspiration you receive will be much more useful (and much more specifically geared to your child) than anything you will ever find in a parenting book or an advice column (including this one.)