Holding on Too Tight: A Review of Homesick and Happy


Blog_Homesick-HappyThis month I’m featuring Homesick and Happy by Michael Thompson in honor of my older daughter attending sleep-away camp for the first time.  With helicopter parents becoming more and more prevalent, I picked this book to reassure me that time away from parents can help a child grow.  I’d been to camp when I was in middle school and had a great time so I desperately wanted the experience for my daughter.  But I’ll admit it was difficult accepting it was time to let her go.  In my eyes, she’ll always be my baby.

Thompson blends practical advice with his expertise as a clinical psychologist to prove why it’s important for children to go to sleep-away camp.  Thompson was motivated to write this book not only by his own childhood but also by the growing apprehension among parents to question letting their children go, even when it’s an overnight field trip run by their child’s school.  Therefore, Thompson visited nineteen camps and talked to hundreds of counselors and kids in the hopes of convincing parents that “character” camps, as he calls them, benefit our kids more than “skill” camps.  Think places that build community as opposed to places that help kids master a sport or an instrument.

“When I ask for the sweetest moments without parents, 80 percent of adults tell variations on a similar story that always have the same four or five elements: The child is away from adult supervision, out-of-doors, with friends, facing a challenge and doing something a bit risky,” Thompson writes.  Interestingly, many parents who shared just such a moment were still reluctant to send their own kids away, believing we live in a “scarier” world.  But in actuality, Thompson argues, “Rates of violent crime are at historic lows in the United States.”

While I’m not worried about violent crime, I could relate to this idea of putting your kid in a risky situation.  My daughter will be going to horseback riding camp with a friend, whose mom was extremely worried about them being safe.  I kept remembering all the days I spent when I was my daughter’s age, riding around bareback on my friend’s horse, usually both of us at the same time, through the fields near her horse, unsupervised for hours on end.  It was wonderful, and while I certainly don’t want my kid to get hurt, I couldn’t help feeling like, “Surely, our kids could handle a couple of hours in a corral with a riding instructor.”

Thompson writes, “In my conversation with parents, they are often surprised and relieved to learn that developmentally speaking, there is a limit to what they can and should do for their children.  More specifically, there are eight fundamental things parents want to do for or give their children, but cannot:”

  1. We cannot make our children happy.
  2. We cannot give our children high self-esteem.
  3. We cannot make friends for our children or micromanage their friendships.
  4. We cannot successfully double as our child’s agent, manager, and coach.
  5. We cannot create the “second family” for which our child yearns in order to facilitate his or her own growth.
  6. It is increasingly apparent that we parents cannot compete with or limit our children’s total immersion in the online, digital, and social media realms.
  7. We cannot keep our children perfectly safe, but we can drive them crazy trying.
  8. We cannot make our children independent.

The reality is while being away from home can be scary for kids it can also make them happy.  “Sometimes they have to get away from us and experience a little suffering in life, along with the full range of feelings in life – boredom, anger, giddiness, romance, et cetera – to get the hang of it on their own,” Thompson argues.  My older daughter’s second family resides at the gymnastics center, where she trains, and I’ll admit it caught me a bit off guard the first time she referred to them as her gymnastics “family.”  My knee-jerk reaction was, “Aren’t we enough?”  Well, we’re not.  And we shouldn’t be.  As a parent, it’s hard to admit, but it’s true.  Don’t worry.  It’s not a bad thing.  It’d be like saying your kids are enough; you don’t need any friends.  I don’t know what I’d do without the ladies I “lunch” with.  My second family growing up was ACT II, a theater school I practically lived at during productions.  Some of my happiest childhood memories happened there.  I’m grateful gave me the opportunity to spread my wings.

Thompson claims, “As long as a parent is standing by watching, the child is going to interpret his or her experiences through the parents’ reactions,” which is why kids need time away from parents to grow.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Homesick and Happy, particularly the chapter “’Childsick’ and Happy.”  Because just as much I want my 11 year old to experience “The Magic of Camp,” I also don’t want to be one of those moms who have nothing to share on Facebook but her children’s accomplishments.  So whether you’re looking to justify the cost or needing reassurance to let your child go, check out Homesick and Happy if you want to know more about how the real danger of childhood is parents holding on too tight.




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Less is More: A Review of Creating Innovators


Blog_CreatingInnovatorsTony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators, is upfront about how his book wasn’t intended to offer parents advice; rather, he hoped by focusing on a couple of key questions, such as intrinsic motivation and risk taking, he could help parents and educators see how innovators evolve.  For this book, Wagner interviewed parents and innovators alike in order to illustrate what it takes to raise a child into an innovative adult.  Therefore, the majority of Creating Innovators is anecdotes.  Through powerful tales of STEM and Social innovators – like Jodie Wu, who designed an affordable maize-sheller for use in Tanzania fashioned from a bike and Zander Srodes, a young environmentalist who wrote a book at age eleven about sea turtles that was translated into six different language – Wagner convincingly conveyed why I need to nurture my children’s creative impulses.

Wagner argues, “’Tiger moms’ such as Amy Chua don’t believe in play and won’t allow their children to fail,” and “Helicopter parents [who] indulge and insulate their children from failure at all costs” are doing little to produce innovators.  If you want your child to develop a passion for something, you must start by encouraging play.  Wagner is quick to clarify that that’s not to say kids don’t need limits because they do, but as Semyon Dukach of Global Cycle Solutions explains, “Too much of teaching them to be obedient can kill the creative impulse.  The challenge is to balance respect for authority with constructive engagement and constructive rebellion.”

According to Wager, parents of innovators are unanimous in terms of one thing: less is more.  “Fewer toys, and toys that encouraged imagination and invention, were seen as essential.”  LEGOs and K’Nex were popular toys for innovation, but Wagner also includes anecdotes from parents, whose children enjoyed cardboard boxes for hours on end.  What Wagner is really clear about is that “The ‘less is more’ philosophy was also reflected in these parents’ views on technology and screen time.”  Wagner explains that the parents resisted buying their children electronic devices, keeping computers and televisions out of children’s bedrooms.  I realize during the summer time it can be difficult to limit screen time, but the reality is that the creative mind doesn’t typically kick in until it gets bored.

Finally, Wagner maintains, the parents viewed reading as play.    Many of them required an hour of reading daily with children choosing their own titles.  The point being to offer an alternative to schools, allowing kids to move at their own pace and reading what most interests them.  Wagner explains that in his experience, “The discipline of reading develops the muscles of concentration as well as the habit of self-motivated learning.”  As an English teacher of 22 years, I concur.  (Have you signed your kids up for summer reading yet?)

Wagner recognizes the difficulties in what some might see as a different approach to parenting.  He points out how parents of innovators never said raising them was easy.  Wagner claims, “Dealing with their children’s schools, creating space to let their children fail, and being ‘different’ parents were recurring themes in my conversations.”  For example, there is often a conflict between “learning for a test or a grade versus learning as an expression of their children’s intrinsic interests.”  But according to Wagner, we “different” parents must stay the course.

Wagner explains being a parent of an innovator requires confidence and courage.  He writes, “Ultimately, to parent in the ways that I have described requires trust: First, trust in yourself as a parent.  Then, trust in your child.”  As far as Wagner is concerned the future of innovation depends on our deeper understanding of the importance of innovation.  We need to stop seeing learning as such a passive experience.  Children are not ours to “fill up” with knowledge.  Rather, according to Wagner, we need to focus on developing a set of skills – such as solving a problem, creating a product, or generating a new understanding.  That’s why Pultizer Prize winning author and journalist Thomas Friedman believes, “CQ (curiosity) plus PQ (passion) is greater than IQ.”

So let your children dabble in a variety of things this summer.  Stop pushing for early mastery.  And resist the temptation to schedule every moment of your child’s day.  If you have any doubts along the way, read Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner; for as he explains, “Increasingly in the twenty-first century, what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know.”



Need a refresher on why it’s good to limit screen time.  Click here to read “Not. So. Much: Why Limiting Screen Time is More Important than Ever.”


Click here to learn more about Jodie Wu’s company, Global Cycle Solutions.


Click here to listen to Zander Srodes TED talk for teens.



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Creating Innovators


Blog_CreatingInnovatorsInnovation comes in many forms, according to Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators.  Therefore, in his latest book he attempts to give parents a peek into a variety of twenty-something innovators childhood’s so similar behaviors can be encouraged in the next generation.  Quoting countless industry experts and building on his previous book, The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner begins by outlining what he calls Seven Survival Skills:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
  5. Accessing and analyzing information
  6. Effective oral and written communication
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Then, Wagner gives parents a primer on innovation, explaining the importance of establishing it as a habit by asking good questions and developing a desire to understand things more deeply.  Unfortunately, this is something that is often “educated out of us,” according to Sir Ken Robinson, author of The Element and Out of Our Minds, which I blogged about a couple of years ago on PBB (Read Blog One and/or Blog Two).  Wagner offers up the easily identifiable example of the preschooler, who won’t stop asking questions, and compares her to the high school student, who fails to show inquisitiveness.  And suddenly the point that creativity is a habit that can be discouraged is crystal clear.

What can parents do about this?  Wagner stresses the need for action and experimentation.  Of course, Wagner acknowledges, “You cannot innovate from nothing.  You must have expertise;” however, he maintains while acquiring new knowledge is crucial, without creative-thinking skills, students won’t “ask the right questions, make connections, observe, empathize, collaborate, and experiment.”  Therefore, creating innovators requires a delicate balance of expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation, which is why teaching to the test is so ineffective in the long run.

Wagner claims the one thing that emerged most frequently in his interviews with innovators was the desire to “make a difference.”  In order to do so, young innovators, according to Wagner, follow a progress from play to passion to purpose.  “Their play was far less structured than most children’s, and they had opportunities to explore, experiment, and discover through trial and error – to take risks and fall down,” Wagner argues.  Therefore, if you’re interested in creating innovators, you must do what most modern parents struggle with – give them free time to fail.  Wagner believes that if you take the less conventional path as parent, teacher, mentor, you’ll be more likely to raise a child who thinks about things differently as well.  If it helps, draw inspiration from some this “Famous Failures” video – Walt Disney was fired from his job as a journalist for “lacking imagination” and Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a news anchor for getting too emotionally invested.

In Creating Innovators, Wagner uses anecdotes to illustrate to parents what this creative approach to parenting looks like in day-to-day life.  For example, twenty-nine year old Kirk Phelps was both a high school and college (Stanford) dropout, who came to work on the first iPhone for Apple.  Apparently, while his parents gave him clear rules related to reading time, screen time, and bedtime, Wagner explains, “They were adamant about children using playtime as an unstructured opportunity to discover, explore, and experiment.”  Translation: Unlike the rest of the moms in their suburban neighborhood, his chose not to “fill up her children’s out-of-school time with additional classes and lessons, preferring that they have more unsupervised time playing outside.”  Wagner maintains Phelps’s mother believed he needed to learn to entertain himself, whether it be with LEGO blocks or climbing a tree.  Ultimately, despite the risks parents typically associate with free-play, Phelps discovered his passion for science, which ultimately gave him a purpose in life.

So with summer on the horizon, try to resist the temptation to schedule activities for every week of your child’s vacation.  Set some screen, reading, and bedtime boundaries.  Read my posts on The Overscheduled Child if you need help (Blog One, Blog TwoBlog Three, and Blog Four.)  Then focus on discovery through trial and error.  Like Wagner explains, for Phelps’s parents, “Learning was not a means to an end – a way to get into a good school or job – it was an end in itself.”  Therefore, start creating your innovator by keeping that end in mind.



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How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World


Blog_EskimoBabiesWarmDespite growing globalization, parenting techniques around the world continue to vary widely.  In How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood, she blends research, interviews, and personal experiences to prove there are many ways to be a good parent.  In my first blog on this book, I looked at the following chapters:  “How Kenyans Live Without Strollers” and “How the Chinese Potty Train Early.”  While most of the title is directed towards moms, the chapter, “How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World,” ended up captivating me the most.

According to Hopgood, the Aka are a community of approximately 30,000 people living in the forest that border the Congo and the Central African Republic.  Hopgood explains, “They are among the last true hunter-gathering people on earth.”  Hopgood references the work of anthropologist Barry Hewlett, author of Intimate Fathers: The Nature and context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care, when she relates how Aka children spend equal time with both parents.  Apparently, “Aka dads harness their babies in infant slings and take them on hunts, babysit when moms need to set up camp, and bring them along when they let off steam with the guys at a palm-wine happy hour,” Hopgood explains.

Hopgood reports how Barry Hewlett claims, “There’s a level of flexibility that’s virtually unknown in our society.”  And as far as Hopgood is concerned, “The Aka have become living proof that fathers can and do participate evenly in child care, if called upon, if expected, and if given the right circumstances and support.”  So why aren’t more fathers like this?  Hopgood explains that according to anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Tribes and nations that expect their men to go to war tend not to let their men get too close to their young.”  The Aka are an example, Hopgood points out of a non-warring tribe.  Hopgood also explains how “expectations feed the way we behave.  If we assume that men shouldn’t be affectionate with children, they won’t be.”

While more and more research is showing how children benefit from time spent with their fathers – more sociable, adaptable, and better performing in school – Hopgood reports, according to the Fatherhood Institute, of the 156 cultures studied only 5% helped fathers be closer with their little kids.  A perfect example of this is paternal leave.  Hopgood relays, “The United States is one of the stingiest of the world’s wealthy countries when it comes to any kind of paternity leave…placing last with zero weeks of paid leave required by law and twelve weeks of upaid leave only for employees of firms with more than fifty employees.  By contrast, Sweden offers dads two months paid leave, according to Hopgood.  She writes, “If daddy didn’t take it, the family would lose it.”  As you might imagine, 85% of Swedish fathers take paternity leave.

When my first daughter was born, I was teaching in New Jersey and able to secure my pension if I finished out the school year, so my husband, a Federal employee, took paternity leave.  He still considers those months as some of the best in his life (and will frequently tease that all her achievements stem back to their time together ;-).  While our declaration that my husband was on paternity certainly turned a few heads, it’s something I wish every dad and child could experience.

As far as Barry Hewlett is concerned, “Our value of children has to increase.”  Hopgood admitted that her and her husband negotiated daily over who would take care of their daughter.  Ultimately, she came to wonder if they shouldn’t be arguing over how they could spend more time with her.  This idea really resonated with me, especially with summer approaching and so many families making arrangements to busy their children so they can get their work done.  What if American parents abandoned their quality versus quantity mindset and took a lesson from the Akas?  Anthropologist Barry Hewlett argues, “The Aka relationship is special not because of how a father interacts or plays with his child but because father and child know each other exceptionally well because of the time they share together.”

So if you’re up for experimenting with your tried-and-true traditions, check out Mei-Ling Hopgood’s How Eskimos Keep Their Babies War.  Her chapters on “How Polynesians Play without Parents” and “How Mayan Villagers Put Their Kids to Work” are really interesting as well.  You might not be ready to adopt all of their practices, but at the very least, you’ll have a world of new ideas.



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How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm


Blog_EskimoBabiesWarmEvery May, I like to feature titles specifically with mothers in mind.  Some previous titles highlighted at Parenting by the Book include The Balanced Mom by Bria Simpson, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, and What Happy Working Mothers Know by Cathy Greenberg and Barrett Avigdor.  So when I found out about How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood, I thought it’d be the perfect fit to continue this trend.  While there is a chapter on “How the French Teach Their Children to Love Healthy Food,” which I already addressed when I blogged about one of my favorite parenting titles, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, for the most part Hopgood’s book offers news moms, in particular, a lot of great possibilities.

There are a few chapters in the first half of Hopgood’s book that really stood out to me.  I probably enjoyed “How Kenyans Live Without Strollers” because I always felt my kids lingered in strollers way longer than they should have.  I remember a trip to Water Country U.S.A. when the friends we were visiting the water park with left theirs in the trunk, on purpose.  The mother remarked, “Isn’t the point for them to get exercise?”  Of course, it was.  Granted, it can be easy to forget when everyone else’s kid is kicking back in a stroller and yours is whining about walking, but how had I missed that?

In the case of Hopgood’s stroller example, she’s actually referring to the first year, when mothers in Kenya carry their babies instead of pushing them in strollers.  Hopgood combines anecdotes with interesting research that indicates American babies spend 2/3 of their days out of the reach of a caretaker versus Korean babies, who in stark contrast, spend less than 8% of their day alone.  According to Meredith Small, author of Our Babies, Ourselves, this is why American babies cry more than others around the world.

Hopgood also explains strollers were actually invented not to take the load off women in terms of carrying babies but “rather as an aesthetic indulgence for English royalty during the 1730s.”  This has had long-term implications.  According to Hopgood, “In 2002, the National Association for Sport and Physical Activity (NASPA) task force on infant and preschoolers physical activity warned that too many children were being confined in ‘containers,’ such as strollers, baby seats, and playpens for too long.”  Hopgood describes how the NASPA believes this has contributed not only to the growing weight problem among children but also delays in children’s physical and cognitive development.

In “How the Chinese Potty Train Early, ” Hopgood explains how “many Chinese parents have their children potty trained to some degree before the age of eighteen months, if not much sooner.”  She explains as far as some Chinese parents are concerned, “Waiting until a child is ready can be an expensive, if not absurd, notion.”  Hopgood goes on to remind readers that American parents didn’t always wait until two or three to train either.  It was the rise in disposable diapers that made it possible.  With manufacturers happy to offer large sizes and extra absorbency, the necessity to potty train just becomes less and less.  But when you consider that, according to the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Protection Agency, it takes about 450 years or more for a disposable diaper to decompose it certainly seems like a change that benefits us all.

All in all, I think Hopgood’s observations of parents around the globe are fascinating ones.  I look forward to reading the rest of How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm and blogging about her chapters on “How Polynesians Play without Parents,” “How Mayan Villagers Put Their Kids to Work,” and “How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World” later in May.



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No Video Games During Dinner


Blog_ElbowsOffTableI was looking for a modern guide to teaching children good manners so I decided to read Elbows Off the Table, Napkin in the Lap, No Video Games During Dinner by Carol McD. Wallace.   Wallace offers parents advice for what to teach and when.  Breaking it down to three stages – basic training, the age of reason, and the young sophisticate, Wallace helps parents nurture civilized behavior without turning their homes into boot camp.

Interestingly, although part of the book’s title pertains to video games, they are never actually addressed.  While one might be inclined to think it’s because the book’s a bit dated, the reality is handheld devices have been around for decades.  Mattel offered the first one in 1977, and children have been tempted to play with them during dinner ever since.  So why doesn’t Wallace mention them directly?  Well, in the “For Parents Only” section, she explains, “The point is that families should be dependent on each other for entertainment during family meals.”  This can’t happen if your child is glued to their DS or, worse yet, you can’t stop checking your phone.  Therefore, no video games during dinner is a given.

Wallace argues, “If you’ve gone to all that trouble to carve out family time, why let the Little League coach interrupt it? Let the machine catch the calls and turn down the volume to eliminate any temptation to pick up the phone.”  This advice undoubtedly applies to all the electric devices competing for your family’s time – cell phones, iPods, televisions, computers, and the like.  So silence all devices and take the first step to teaching table manners, which is “helping your children appreciate that mealtimes are as much about communication as they are about eating,” according to Wallace.

I’ve started limiting social outings with friends, who can’t tear themselves away from their phones while they’re with me.  If I’ve set aside time to visit, enjoy a cup of coffee, or have a meal, and the person I’m with can’t stop checking her texts or responding to emails, I not only find it rude but also believe it sends the message that I’m not worth their time.  So I’ve simply stopped scheduling dates with them in favor of get-togethers with friends who act more respectfully.

In some ways, it’s worse with other parents, as they are perpetually acting under the pretense of making sure something hasn’t happened to their child.  I get that, I do, but thankfully, real emergencies are far and few between.  Besides, have we forgotten people tracked down parents, long before the dawn of cell phones, when there was a real emergency?  If it’s that important, the person will find a way to reach.  If not, then it wasn’t worth interrupting you anyway.  But unfortunately, we’re all so worried we’re going to miss out on the something we’re actually missing out on the moment.

I apply these same rules of etiquette to my children’s friends.  While Wallace recognizes at the end of her book that there’s “not a whole lot” you can do about other people’s children, you don’t have to have them over the house.  When my 11 year old has had friends over, who can’t put down their phones long enough to actually play, they just don’t get invited back.  My daughter’s smart.  She gets it.  Who wants a friend who treats you like that?

Unfortunately, there’s not a chapter in Wallace’s book on managing cell phones during non-dinner hours.  In our house, we have one spot, where all the electronic devices get docked.  This makes it easier for me to enforce our rule of only one hour of screen time a day.  My ideal would be for friends to leave their devices there too, much like our family leaves its shoes at the door.  And some of them do, which is always a good sign.  I compare this practice to one in the 1989 film Say Anything.  A character, Lloyd, is the key master.  He’s in charge of collecting everyone’s keys at the beginning of the party and determining whether a person is sober enough to drive home at the end.  Why not handle electronics the same way?  Until you have proven that you can handle them responsibility, someone should be monitoring their use.

So if you’re looking for more insights into when manners are a must, check out Elbows Off the Table, Napkin in the Lap, No Video Games During Dinner by Carol McD. Wallace for tips on raising cool yet courteous kids.




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Elbows Off the Table, Napkin in the Lap, No Video Games During Dinner


Blog_ElbowsOffTableIn many ways, our modern age has become more casual than ever.  People wear jeans to church.  Kids greet adults by their first names.  And meals often consist of fast-food, which doesn’t require utensils.  While I certainly do not wish to return to the formalities that Downton Abbey has made famous, the truth is I would like my children to have good manners, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m not sure what to introduce or enforce when.  Therefore, this month I’m blogging about Elbows Off the Table, Napkin in the Lap, No Video Games During Dinner by Carol Wallace.

What I love about this title is that it’s a step-by-step guide that’s broken down by ages.  In other words, I can turn to the section on “The Age of Reason” to find out what to do about my 8 year old, who still forgets to use her napkin, and then flip to “The Young Sophisticate” for how to advise my 11 year old, who still forgets to offer her friends food and drink before serving herself.  Now, of course, the book builds off of the “dawn of civilized behavior” and I’ll admit I read through “The Basic Training” for children 3 to 5 just to make sure my kids had mastered them.  For the most part we were on track.

But let’s face it, as Wallace points out, “Teaching manners is a long-term project,” and the modern parent is busy juggling a million different things so it’s easy to see how enforcing good manners can fall by the wayside, except Wallace makes a convincing argument.  She believes, “Good manners are an essential part of our children’s education…It’s an important for a basic, if cynical, reason: People with good manners are more likely to get what they want.”

While modeling good manners is an important part of the equation, as far as Wallace is concerned, manners need to be taught.  She maintains, “A large proportion of manners – particularly those concerning eating – involves going against your instincts.  Waiting to be served, waiting to eat, tasting things you don’t like the looks of, taking small bites, and chewing with your mouth closed – this is the behavior that civilized Western society expects.  These manners don’t come naturally.”

Wallace wrote this book because she believes parents are having a hard time defining politeness since we live in an age that’s discarded old-fashioned behavior.  That’s why she’s provided a gradual introduction to the new habits.  Everything from how to greet people to telephone manners to audience participation is repeated, increasing becoming more complex as your child ages.

Since my 8 year old had just celebrated her birthday, I found myself combing through the “Thank-You Notes” chapters.  Nothing irritates me more than sending a present to someone and then having to follow up to make sure they got it because they didn’t have the decency to acknowledge the gift.  So what is the protocol?  Well, at my daughter’s age, since she opened her presents in front of her friends, it was acceptable to simply give a verbal, “Thank you.”  However, for people who aren’t present when the gift is opened, Wallace argues a written thank-you note is a must.  I ended up sending a picture of my daughter opening presents to as many relatives I could via my phone and email.  For those older members of our family who can’t be reached that way, my 8 year old either wrote a brief note in a card or a message on a picture she’d already made.  In both instances, the task was manageable and the results will certainly brighten someone else’s day.  After all, as Wallace points out, “People like children who write thank-you notes.”

I’ve always been a stickler when it comes to meeting people, never allowing my children to play too shy to speak, believing as Wallace does, that it’s rude behavior.  And when it comes to playdates and table manners, I pretty much know what I have to nag them about.  Therefore, the part of the book I’ll be turning to the rest of the month is “Good Housemates,” for picking up after themselves is not my children’s forte.

As far as Wallace is concerned, by age 6 they should be able to meet these intermediate rules:

Pick up what you leave around the house.  Put the cap back on the toothpaste tube. (Mine avoid this like the plague.)  Rinse the toothpaste out of the sink after brushing your teeth. (Mine’s got hermit crab food sprinkled all over the toothpaste since that’s wear my younger daughter replenishes its water supply every morning.)  Put your dirty clothes in the laundry hamper.  (Oh, don’t get me started on this one.)

Thankfully, Wallace recognizes that many of us will look at her lists and think there’s no way we could get our kids to do these things.  She writes, “I wouldn’t be able to either.  Not all of it.  There will be things that just don’t take.  I am still, in spite of all my efforts, quick to interrupt.”  Since I could relate to the interruptions in particular, I knew exactly what she meant.  What Wallace wants readers to take away from her book, however, is that our children can learn most of it and that we’ll be glad once they do.




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Read my other blog Befriending Forty.

Mastermind & Wingmen – A Manual for Parenting Boys


Blog_MastermindsSince I have two daughters, I asked Lindsay Horne, a veteran middle school history teacher and mother to two young boys, to write this month’s second blog post on Masterminds & Wingmen by Roaslind Wiseman. Reading has always been one of her main passions and Lindsay enjoys blogging about her reading adventures on her blog, Every Day is an Adventure.  


Lindsay Horne writes…

Masterminds & Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman is above all else a fantastic read.  After perusing through it over the last few weeks, one thought immediately comes to my mind – if you are someone who has any interaction with boys, this book should be continually clutched under your arm as a guide to how to navigate the shark-infested waters otherwise known as “raising boys.”

What I love most about this book is its reference manual style.  This is not something that you have to read in its entirety from cover to cover but more a book you can use as a reference point for a particular problem or situation.  Son comes home tight-lipped and you suspect it is an issue with friends?  No problem, grab a cup of tea and flip to chapter three – Popularity and Groups.  Having an issue detaching your son from the ever tightening grip of social media? Chapter nine, “Social Networking,” should help direct your intervention.  I am a huge fan of parenting books in this style.

One of the more appealing aspects of this book is that it is based in the absolute true reality of day-to-day parenting of boys.  This book offers no pretenses and no illusions about just how hard this can be for parents and is quite frank about the lack of support parents of boys get from our modern day culture.  I like it…and find its honesty quite refreshing.  She really encourages parents to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and start finding solutions since after all, it’s all up to us.

If I had to choose a favorite chapter it would be thirteen, “Redemption and Reconciliation.”  Many parenting books focus on the surface stuff.  For me, this chapter reaches the depths that parents really need to go.  Teaching our young boys that they will sometimes fail, mess up, or find themselves in situations which will require them to really dig deep to get out of.  I like that Wiseman encourages parents to teach their young men about how to respond to difficult situations – and everything is in the way you respond.  Responsibility, redemption, and reconciliation are the key to her message and I think parents everywhere would do well to really digest that message.

The most applicable chapter for parents today is definitely chapter nine on social networking.  Because of social media, parenting today is harder than ever before.  The entire universe (literally) seems against us and it is a scary place to just throw our children without adequate preparation.  Since cutting them off completely is very unlikely, Wiseman really encourages earning trust and building skills so that they are prepared.  As a middle school teacher, I see firsthand on a daily basis the negatives of social media and how that can impact our young boys.  It is an entirely different world than we grew up in and this book really discusses how to prepare your son for that world – it is something no parent can afford not to do.

If you’re interacting with young boys, this book would be the perfect addition to your parenting arsenal.




Masterminds & Wingmen


Blog_MastermindsAdmittedly, as a mother of two daughters, I don’t read a lot of books about boys.  However, two of my favorite titles, Real Boys by William Pollack, and The Courage to Raise Good Men by Olga Silverstein have been my go-to shower gifts for parents expecting sons.  These books helped me not only understand my husband better but also made me more sensitive to the issues men face.  Therefore, when my publisher, Margaret Thompson, asked me to read Masterminds and Wingmen by Rosalind Wiseman, I was more than happy to do so.

Wiseman begins with the typical comparison between raising boys and girls.  I heard it myself, countless times, when my daughters were young.  Girls are easier to parent when they’re toddlers; boys are easier to parent when they’re teens.  However, the reality is parenting children of any age is a nuanced art, regardless of the child’s gender.  Wiseman writes, “After twenty years of teaching and working with teens, I realized that we often make the mistake of believing that if a boy doesn’t come to us with problems, then he doesn’t have them.”

In order to save boys from spending their lives misunderstood, Wiseman argues we need to do a better job of addressing boys’ needs.  “Because even if you don’t have boys,” Wiseman contends, “You don’t want girls having to put up with insecure, intellectually stunted, emotionally disengaged, immature guys.  Then we’re dealing with guys who believe that the right to amuse themselves by degrading girls is more important than behaving with common decency.”

I found Wiseman’s take on why Batman never smiles fascinating for two reasons.  The first was her explanation of how if male characters, depicted as heroes, fail to show human emotions, then boys grow to believe they must limit their own emotions.  Her other observation that struck me related to “Six-Packing,” which she defines as the unhealthy masculine images our society bombards our boys with.  As if Barbie’s controversial, voluptuous figure wasn’t enough, action figures, such as G.I. Joe, have bulked up tremendously over the years to satisfy our image conscious society.

However, Wiseman is quick to point out that these media images aren’t the only ones to blame for boys being misunderstood.  She claims, and I concur, that adults reinforce and nurture these limitations when they say things like “Get yourself under control” or coaches accuse kids of acting like “little girls” if they get upset.  Wiseman is clear on the fact that “When our boys see that we aren’t saying anything in their defense, they believe that either we agree or we’re powerless to stand up to this kind of treatment.  Either way,” Wiseman continues, “If a boy is growing up in this atmosphere, why would he ever ask us for help?”

Wiseman explains that boys are groomed to fit into the “Act-Like-a-Man” box, a paradigm originally dubbed by Paul Kivel.   While every boy reacts differently to these prescribed ideals, they all must contend with them when trying to belong to a community.  According to Wiseman, there are eight different roles men play – Mastermind, Associate, Bouncer, Entertainer, Conscience, Punching Bag, Fly, and Champion.  She defines then and offers suggestions for how you can break through the Boy World wall in this fascinating book.  You’ll appreciate Wiseman’s advice, as the first few chapters of Masterminds and Wingmen addresses everything from no longer embarrassing him to oversharing about his life to no longer interrogating him as soon as he gets in the car.

As far as Wiseman is concerned, “The stakes are so high.  Our boys deserve meaningful relationships, the freedom to pursue what interests and challenges them, a feeling of belonging and social connection to others, and a sense that they’re contributing to something larger than themselves.”  If you’re ready to challenge the assumptions we make about boys, then check out this great book by Rosalind Wiseman.  Masterminds & Wingmen is the first step in a happily-ever-after for us all.




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Read my other blog Befriending Forty.

Too Much of a Good Thing – The Seven ‘Deadly’ Syndromes


Blog_TooMuchGoodThingNo one is perfect.  We know this.  Yet we often feel guilty about not being perfect parents.  Dan Kindlon, author of Too Much of a Good Thing, claims “We think that we owe our children everything and we feel bad when we can’t provide it…Kids sense this guilt and use it to their advantage.”  In my last blog post on this topic of raising children in an indulgent age, I only scratched the surface of what Kindlon calls “The Seven Deadly Syndromes.”

Interestingly, Kindlon looks at anger, based on the sin of wrath, and argues parents are so focused on violence that they miss opportunities to address other related issues.  Kindlon claims, “The most dangerous and prevalent forms of anger in our kids are those that they keep deep inside themselves.”  He maintains it manifests itself as meanness, depression, and low-self-esteem.

What do kids these days have to be angry about when they have so much?  According to Kindlon, “The number one concern expressed by kids was not having enough time together with their parents.”  While Kindlon recognizes parents are working harder than ever to provide for their children, he encourages us to strike a balance somewhere in between “the mother who warms up her son’s mittens before he goes skiing and parents who are so preoccupied with getting and spending and advancing their careers that they neglect their kids,” as both parenting styles as problematic.

Perhaps, it’s the hurried, worried child who inhabits your home.  In that case, Kindlon examines drive and tries to help parents navigate the murky waters of envy.  Along the same lines of Race to Nowhere, Kindlon encourages parents to ask, ‘What is it all for?’  He claims looking for role models is natural but urges parents to help their children look beyond the rich and famous.  As Alvin Rosenfeld in The Overscheduled Child, Kindlon maintains, “Trying to keep up with enormously busy schedules and the demands they place on themselves takes a tool on our kids, psychologically as well as physically,” and often makes happily-ever-after that much more elusive.

This is why Kindlon, like Po Bronson and Ashley Werriman in Nurture Shock, argue for the importance of sleep.  He states, “According to a number of key reports, teenagers need 9.5 hours of sleep.  But studies have shown that many of today’s teenagers are ending up with as little as six hours of sleep on most nights.”  Therefore, Kindlon believes before parents look elsewhere for the cause of their children’s problems, they should make sure their child is getting enough sleep.

While Kindlon addresses the unmotivated child, I found his take on eating problems, based on the sin of gluttony, to be most fascinating.  “As a culture, we are obsessed with food, eating, not eating, and our appearance,” he contends.  Parents contribute to this obsession, Kindlon claims, by failing to guide their children toward better eating habits.  The scene he describes comes as no surprise: the child insisting on peanut butter and jelly, the tired parents giving in, anxious to keep their child happy during the precious time they have together.  This kind of indulgence, Kindlon feels, leads to a host of problems.  Whether it’s anorexia, bulimia, or obesity, eating disorders are becoming more prevalent than ever.

“Like all other omnivores, humans are neophobic when it comes to food; we don’t like to sample strange foods, especially when we’re young…But we humans can learn,” argues Kindlon, and it’s our responsibility to expose our children to healthy foods so they grow to understand the nutrients their bodies need.  He suggests you avoid contributing to the situation by stocking your pantry with junk food and help your children determine when they are truly hungry or simply eating because they’re bored, lonely, or angry.  Kindlon believes, these things will go a long way to eliminating whatever’s eating your child.  (See my article on “Fit Kids” for more ideas.)

So while, Kindlon admits, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that can be offered up here, if we maintain a critical eye of ourselves it’ll be easier to raise children of character in this indulgent age.  Still not convinced?  Check out Too Much of a Good Thing.  It’ll help you gain a better understanding of how sometimes love means setting limits in a world that’s full of endless choices.




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Read my other blog Befriending Forty.