Book Review: "Teaching Kids To Be Good People" by Annie Fox

When my friend Annie Fox asked me to review her new book, I said yes without hesitation. I learn a lot from Annie’s blog, and really enjoy her perspective on parenting and life. She is one of those people that no matter what she puts out there, it is excellent and makes you feel like you’ve got this parenting thing under control.

Annie’s new book, “Teaching Kids To Be Good People” is a topic that has been on my mind recently. I am watching Amelia and Benny grow up so quickly, I feel like it is going by in a blink. While each day I feel like I am doing a good job and raising them right, I sometimes wonder if I’m doing the correct things to ensure they grow into teens and young adults of whom I am proud.

I loved the book, and asked Annie some questions I had after reading it. I hope you pick up a copy because this is the kind of stuff that all parents should be thinking about — Who do we want our children to be?

And guess what? April 1-5 TKTBGP is available for free download! Here is more info on that offer.

1. A theme I found present through the book was Emotional Intelligence, which is something I don’t think we talk to parents about enough. How do parents recognize and encourage emotional intelligence in their children, especially young children?

Emotional Intelligence (aka EQ) is simply an understanding of emotions… your own and those of other people. Humans are social animals. We live and learn and play and work in  groups. We can also be very emotional. Obviously we need to learn how to get along with each other. That’s why it’s essential that we learn to communicate effectively. And in order to do that, we’ve got to figure out how to deal with those pesky emotions of ours! Specifically, each of us has to learn to manage our destructive emotions (anger, hostility, jealousy, etc.) in responsible ways.
We parents need to help our children, from a very young age, speak the language of emotions (by speaking to them about feelings… our own and theirs.) For example, when a toddler is having a melt-down, instead of putting all our energy into quieting the child or distracting him/her with a bribe (“Stop crying and I’ll give you a cookie.”)  we could better serve that child’s EQ development by helping the child understand what’s going on. For example, get down to the child’s eye level and speak directly and compassionately to him: “You really want to play with your sister’s toy. You feel very angry that she won’t let you have it. You’re frustrated. I understand.”
Speaking to a child in this way, helps him or her understand what’s going on inside! So that the next time that child is better able to talk himself through a melt-down. EQ development is also helped by teaching your young children re-centering breathing, a simple calming breathing technique that lowers the heart-rate and helps us get back in control of our rational mind.
2. The words ‘the power of social courage’ jumped off the page at me. I think that is so important for kids to demonstrate today, can you talk more about that?

A lot of my readers respond to the term “social courage” in the same way. I love the term, because it really describes the challenge of doing the right thing when everyone’s watching. Like I said before, we’re social creatures. Part of our need to “get along” with those around us includes getting their approval. In middle school, for example, conformity wins high praise. But being “different” in any way can bring on all kinds of teasing and bullying. When I talk to students about social courage, I acknowledge that it’s not always easy to stand up for yourself or to support someone who is being picked on, even though we know it’s the right thing to do. We may feel stuck, afraid what will happen if we go out of our way to speak up. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It is doing the right thing in spite of being afraid. My book helps parents understand just how much social pressure our 21st century kids feel at times to go along with the crowd (online and off). That’s why it’s especially important for us to teach our kids about social courage and to model it in our own lives.
3. I love the analogy you give of all parents being teachers. What are you most proud of teaching your children?

My daughter and son are all grown up. The way they live their lives honors the parenting/teaching they received from their dad and me. Knowing the kind of people they are, as adults, I’d say I am most touched by their kindness. Both of them are very compassionate people with good hearts and generous spirits.  I am, of course, very proud to be their mom. Of course I have influenced them with my teaching, but they are who they are, in their own right.
4. I think your idea of authentic Happiness Quotient plays hand in hand with our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies’ says ‘Full of Awesome’. With life being so hectic and crazy for families today, how do we stay focused on achieving or coming close to our authentic happiness?

Life is hectic and many of us spend most of our time (even our family time) checking things off a mental list. Is dinner made? Is the table set? Are the hands washed? Is the homework done? Are the teeth brushed? check check check.
The idea of a Happiness Quotient is something that I made up. The word HapQ makes me laugh! Seriously though, one of the most direct ways I know to raise your HapQ and connect with our ‘authentic happiness’ is to unplug and go outside and play. What, the weather is crappy? OK, you can stay inside and play, but you still need to unplug. By using our imagination, our hands, our creativity, our bodies, our sense of humor… this is how we connect with what truly brings us satisfaction and joy. See how the word “joy” is in the word “enjoy?”
And when we are ‘relaxing’ as a family, what are we doing? And how are the things we’re doing helping us and our kids bring more joy into our lives? How are our activities helping our kids discover their authentic happiness… their path in life?
This weekend, make time to do something no-tech, together as a family. Walk, hike, bike, play, build, do art, bake, garden, cook, read stories, sing, snuggle, laugh. Enjoy… in joy.
5. Your book has so many valuable thinking points and lessons for families, I actually took notes while I read it! My kids are still pretty little right now, and sometimes I wonder if I’m doing a good job of laying the right foundation for them to grow into good people. What lessons to you find needing to reteach to kids as the years go on?

I think the lessons of what it means to be a real friend vs the other kind are the ones that need reinforcement as our kids move through the grades. Their peer relationships become more and more complex. They need our guidance as they navigate the waters of friendship. Because the lessons they take from their friendships are the basis of what they will, eventually take into their romantic relationships. For that reason we want them to understand that healthy relationships (the only kind worth having) are a 2-way street based on mutual respect, trust, honesty, shared values, and open communication.

Annie Fox, M.Ed

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected educator, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for teens and parents. Her life’s work is helping t(w)eens develop the social courage it takes to do the right thing (online and off).

21st century children require 21st century parenting and mentoring. Annie’s live events and her “Family Confidential” podcast series teach adults how to give teens what they need for healthy social/emotional development in middle school and beyond.

 

 

“One of Us” – Book Review and Interview with Lyn Mikel Brown

"One of Us" by Peggy Moss, Illustrated by Penny Weber

On June 1 Peggy Moss’ engaging new children’s book “One of Us” will be published to the delight of parents and educators everywhere. It is a story about fitting in, standing out, and being yourself. Navigating elementary aged friendships and trying to figure out as a kid who you are can be awkward.  The message of “One of Us” will leave with you and your child as you read together is to “bravely be you”.

The story is centered around a girl named Roberta. She is new to the school and spends her first day trying to determine where she fits in. Roberta has a successful first day at school as she moves in and out of several social circles and finally finds the one that accepts for just the way she is. Hair styles, monkey bar ability, choice of footwear, and even the menu inside the students’ lunch boxes determine who is friends with whom. Roberta makes this all for nonsense and opts to sit by herself, only to find, she isn’t alone.

The day the advance copy arrived in my mailbox was exciting. I’ll admit I’ve never seen an advance copy of a book and when I opened the package, I felt like I was holding someone’s newborn. I’m sure Peggy Moss and Penny Weber would agree that I was. I fell in love with the story on my first read. Then I went back to really study the story line. A third “read” allowed me to soak in the rich illustrations that accompany this tale of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. I highly recommend this book for families of grade school aged children, but I will say my preschooler understood much of the story and really enjoyed the artwork.

Robert and Anna discuss being different from each other. "One of Us"

These days it is difficult to raise a child who believes in authenticity and being true to oneself. Media influence and peer pressure, especially during upper elementary and middle school years, is intense. Parents can consider “One of Us’ as an excellent tool and conversation starter with their children. Here to talk more about that is our special guest Lyn Mikel Brown.

Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. is a professor at Colby College in Maine; an expert on gender, girls’ development, and media literacy; co-author with Sharon Lamb of two of our favorite books “Packaging Girlhood” and “Packaging Boyhood”; a popular speaker and activist; and a mom. We did a little happy dance when Lyn agreed to share with us her insights here on the importance of the message “One of Us” delivers to parents and students.

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1. Hi Lyn, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. I’m really excited about “One of Us” because the story and the illustrations do a wonderful job of showing kids it is okay to be different, and that there are so many ways we are different from each other. Why is it so important for boys and girls to be allowed to explore various interests and become involved in a wide array of activities as they grow  up?

Thanks so much Melissa.  Happy to be here.  I’m a big fan of Pigtail Pals!

It’s important to offer children to a wide range of options quite simply because we don’t yet know what they’ll be excited by, or want to pursue and explore on their own. This is the gift we can give them as parents; the ability to discover and choose what they love.  It’s also really good for them. We know from research that children’s brains are impacted by the opportunities for exploration and engagement they’re given—so the best thing we can do as parents to stimulate their minds and interests is to give them a rich array of possibilities.  We also know that media limits those options, by telling girls and boys way before they know what they like or can express their own interests, what being a girl or boy SHOULD be about.  It does children a real disservice to be channeled down such narrow and limiting pathways at a young age.

2. I thought it was both subtle and powerful that Peggy Moss’ story includes girls that liked car racing and baseball over ballet; boys that liked origami and flower lunch boxes. As the parent of a girl who loves dinosaurs and jellyfish, I find it difficult to get gender-neutral toys and books and clothes for her. What are some easy steps parents can take to encourage their kids to break out of binary gender stereotypes assigned to them by marketers and the media?

We all find it difficult!  That’s because marketers and media deem it cost-effective to sell products using gender stereotypes.  If you can sell little girls on pink, princess, shopaholic fashionistas and boys on over the top violence, superheroes, risk taking and winning, it becomes easy to market to them.  Media also operate on the assumption that girls will watch or read about boys but boys will not watch or read about girls.  In fact, research tells us that if the stories are interesting, gender isn’t a big deal for boys or girls.  Boys loved Dora The Explorer, for example.  It’s only when Diego was introduced and Dora started selling pink princess stuff that boys got the coded message that Dora wasn’t’ for them.

Clearly it’s important to keep an eye out for books like One of Us.  You can also help your child do more than just accept what the media hands them.  Even when they’re as young as four or five, you can develop a vocabulary that will set the conversational stage for years to come.  What better way to introduce the word “stereotype” to your daughter or son than by walking through the girls’ and boys’ departments of any clothing store, or the “blue” and “pink” aisles of any toy store?  Model a way of seeing and talking about the different choices presented to your children.  If you question, they’ll question.  For example, you might ask if he or she can imagine another way a movie, TV show, or book could end? Ask her to imagine stories other than romance, shopping sprees, or saved by the prince versions she’ll see over and over.  Ask him to imagine stories other than superheroes or guys that need to fight to teach someone somewhere a lesson.  Help your children notice when their world is becoming smaller and more limited, so they can step back and say, “That’s silly. That’s a stereotype.  Real girls and boys aren’t always like that.”

And speaking of introducing them to a world of possibilities, how about increasing the time you spend trying new activities that challenge your child’s imagination.  Seek mind-opening books, TV shows, and music that aren’t marketed to “boys” or “girls” but to all kids.  Offer girls and boys the possibility of action without violence, pretty without sexy, and also, the full rainbow of colors!

3. In this story, the main character Roberta is new to her elementary school and tries to makes friends while also trying to stay true to who she knows she is. I found her character to be confused and confident at the same time. I view self-confidence as a muscle you have to exercise. You founded an organization, Hardy Girls Healthy Women (HGHW) with this same ideal: to create strong and healthy girls by developing safe places to explore life and push the limits. Tell me more about HGHW and how we need to train our girls to be strong and confident.

Thanks so much for asking.  I think of Hardy Girls Healthy Women as “the little nonprofit that could.”   We’re committed to workingwith girls to change the culture in which girls are growing. Whether it’s our elementary Adventure Girls program, our middle school Girls Coalition Groups, or our Powered By Girl media literacy and social action project for teens, we provide the scaffolding and the platform for girls to do their best social change work. We connect girls with the people and resources that help them transform their surroundings into safe havens; and we empower them with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a platform for activism. As an organization, we have spent the last ten years finding out what happens when you really listen to girls and take them seriously, when you empower them instead of treating them like victims, and when you work side by side with them to challenge media messages that pit girls against one another, promote unrealistic body and beauty ideals, and sexualize girls from a very young age. Our mantra:  Girls aren’t the problem, they’re the solution!

4. I am a huge fan of your research and the books you have written. Before I launched Pigtail Pals, I had made lots of observations about the state of childhood, and then I read ‘Packaging Girlhood’ and it was like finding my Holy Grail. What was a message from your parents or lesson during your girlhood that led you to become who you are today?

I grew up working class in a small town in “downeast” Maine.  My parents valued relationships, humor, and a sense of place. They didn’t limit themselves and they didn’t judge or box in other people.  That had a big impact on me.  But maybe even more than that, they never saw me as anything but smart and capable.  My dad never went to college, and so maybe I was his chance.  But it never felt that way.  It just felt like confidence in me and support for what I was passionate about.

5. I found “One of Us” to be brilliant. The story was written perfectly for grade school kiddos to relate, the illustrations are delicious, and the representation of diversity warmed me over. It broke down racial barriers, gender barriers, and had a strong girl at the center who didn’t need a boy to solve her problem. My favorite part was towards the end, at the lunch table, when Roberta tells her new friends “But we aren’t the same” and her pal Anna reassures her, “That’s the best part.”  What was an image or message from the book that stuck out for you?

I’ve loved all of Peggy’s books, but this one is truly special. My favorite point is when Roberta recites just “what” she is.  I really feel her in that moment.  Her expression and stance say it all:  I’m done playing around.  Like it or not, this is me.  I am who I am.   One of Us is an invitation to children to embrace their quirky originality and to find the people in their lives who can appreciate their unique, joyful, and infinitely interesting selves.

I would like to thank Peggy Moss and Tilbury House Publishers for inviting Pigtail Pals to be a part of the book tour and launch. We are proud to participate and wish Peggy much success with her wonderful book! Thank you to Lyn Mikel Brown for your insightful answers for our readers.

Catch us on twitter on June 1st for a book party. Follow the #bravelybeyou  hashtag for more info! We’ll update you with more info as the date approaches.