Ellen Galinsky’s latest book, “Mind In The
Making” may well be the next iconic parenting manual, up there with
Spock and Leach and Brazelton, one that parents turn to for reassurance
that all is more or less okay, reminders of how to make it better and
glimpses of what’s to come. Lisa Belkin, NY Times
Recently, I was asked to review Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky, a child education expert, and the founder of The Families and Work Institute.
The seven essential life skills include:
- Focus and self-control;
- Perspective taking;
- Making connections;
- Critical thinking;
- Taking on challenges;
- Self-directed, engaged learning.
For each of the skills, Galinksy shows what research has proven, and provides concrete things that parents can do to strengthen these skills in their children. I'll highlight one in particular:
Teaching our children to take on challenges
In high school, I avoided calculus, sticking to what I thought I could do, in order to get ‘A's, and reinforce the view that I was smart. The problem with my childhood approach, and with fostering it in our children, is that if we only stick to what we can do, we will never really take life on, a skill that is essential to dreaming.
Ms. Galinsky explores this topic not by tackling perfectionism, but by examining how children learn to manage stress. Citing the research of Megan Gunnar of the University of Minnesota, an expert on stress and coping in children, she writes “if you never allow your children to exceed what they can do, how are they going to manage adult life — where a lot of it is managing more than you thought you could manage?”
Galinsky proceeds to enumerate how we can teach our children to manage stress. They include, among others: 1) Manage your own stress; 2) Turn to others who can help you manage your own stresses; 3) Take time for yourself; 4) Don't shield your child from everyday stresses; 5) Know that a warm, caring and trusting relationship with your child make you a stress-buster; 6) Understand your child's temperament — observe what your child does to calm down, and build on his or her strengths.
Galinsky then explains, “when I first began contemplating this skill, I saw it as managing stress. As I thought more deeply, I saw it as the skill of resilience. But now it is clear to me that the real essential skill is taking on challenges–being proactive rather than reactive when difficulties arise. My mother always called it “getting back on the horse after falling off. And with so many of her Mom-isms, she was right.”
There is so much more; here are a few snippets.
1. How I felt — When I first started reading, I felt myself bristling, defensive, guilt-ridden. My children are 13 and 9, old enough that I am aware of my mistakes. The magic of this book is that gradually I came to see that I am doing many things right, to feel more love for my children, to see there is still a lot I can do to teach them these essential skills, both didactically, and by modeling change in myself. Sometimes it feels like the parenting game is over, but it never is.
2. Lemonade stands — All of our children need something that matters to them. It may not be what we would choose for ourselves or for them. It doesn't matter. “Every child needs lemonade stands, Galinsky's metaphor for something children really care about, throughout childhood; caring strongly about interests beyond oneself engenders focus.” Adults need lemonade stands too.
3. 13-yr olds and homework — Galinsky's simple explanation of how the brain works helped me recognize that when my son is not managing his homework load well, there may be sheer laziness, but it is also that developmentally he doesn't yet know how to project plan. This learning significantly alters my approach when I ask what he needs to get done for homework this weekend….
4. Favorite skills – a clue to our strengths? — I drank in the chapter on Making Connections, perhaps because this is one of my strengths. Could it be that the chapters we like most are those where we are particularly strong, and/or those we most want, hence I chose to write about Taking on Challenges.
P.S. When approached about a review or giveaway, I'm naturally cautious, but because the recommendation came through Chrysula Winegar at Work. Life. Balance, who sets the bar rather high when it comes to thoughtful voices, I agreed. I'm glad I did.
What are your thoughts?