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Book Reviews

200 Ways to Raise a Girl's Self-Esteem
by Will Glennon
Conari Press, 1999
Softcover, 272 pages

200 Ways to Raise a Boy's Emotional Intelligence
by Will Glennon
Conari Press, 2000
Softcover 272 pages

Reviewed by Stephanie Mattei
New Jersey USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2002, pp. 183

In current theories of child development, self-esteem is high in girls during early childhood, and then plummets at puberty. Boys undergo two separate crises: the first one at about age five or six and the second one at puberty. For them, the process of "fitting in" triggers a progressive distancing from their inner emotional world and a weakening of their bonds with those they love.

These different crises mean that girls need a strong self-image to get them through the early and mid-teen years, and that boys need to grow with their emotional centers undamaged and accessible. Will Glennon, in these easy-to-read, easy-to-use, and well-organized books, clearly communicates how parents can empower their children to weather these transitions.

"Discipline, love, and self-esteem are all connected," Glennon explains. Children need to feel fully loved, even when they are being corrected. Loving guidance is all about finding a balance between permissiveness and rigidity. Simple ways to do that, writes Glennon, are to give reasons behind rules, develop reasonable expectations, and make sure that children never feel that they are a disappointment.

The author explains misbehavior as a cry for help. Basically, misbehavior is a failure of self-concept or self-understanding. For example, a misbehaving daughter may be unable to see herself as capable. Rather than being harsh with her, her parents need to help her believe in her own competency. In contrast, boys may misbehave due to an inability to express their hidden emotions. Boys are not genetically out of control!

Wording makes a difference. Rather than using admonitions such as "be nice" or "be a good girl," we can help girls create healthy boundaries by teaching them the difference between respectful assertiveness and plain submissiveness. With boys, we need to dwell patiently with their feelings before helping them address the issue that upset them in the first place. Once we dealt with our children's feelings in a compassionate way, we can respectfully let them know how their behavior affected our emotions.

Boosting integrity includes inspiring girls to be true to themselves, and strengthening them never to give themselves away sexually or emotionally. When dealing with boys, integrity needs to be understood in terms of inner strength. Comments regarding our boys' physical strength should be totally avoided as all too often they are translated as violence and anger.

Glennon calls for a keen assessment of the roles we model to our children as spouse and parent. As women, we need to address our own self-esteem issues: do we model self-worth by taking care of ourselves, honoring our interests and our friends, celebrating our bodies, and cultivating our inner beauty?

Do fathers concretely get involved with the care of their children, take their children's emotional needs seriously, and show respectful behavior for women at all times? Do they clearly communicate their love; own up to their mistakes and apologize; admit they do not know all the answers; and recognize that they also need help sometimes? A father himself, Glennon reminds other fathers that weakness, pain, and sadness are gifts to be experienced rather than feelings to be avoided.

Parenting is very much like coaching: asking good questions is essential. "How do you feel?" helps keep awareness of the inner emotional world. "What do you think?" invites discrimination. "What do you want?" aims at clarity of mind. "How will you get it?" empowers children to set goals. "How realistic is it?" carves up the difference between reality and fantasy. "What will be the consequences of what you do?" promotes thinking of the future.

The balance between pushing our children and over-protecting them is found in discriminating between the comfort zone (which does not foster growth), the stretch zone (which invites growth), and the danger zone (which is hazardous). Glennon reinforces what we have so often heard at La Leche League Series Meetings: helping a child to become independent does not entail forced separation, but requires emotional support and, indeed, reinforcement of the emotional bond, although some may see that as paradoxical.

Both books are excellent for parents with children of all ages, and especially for those who want to equip their children in advance for the critical periods of school age and puberty. They are invaluable reminders that being a parent is more than an overwhelming job: it is a sacred undertaking, a privilege, and a miracle.

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