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.