Book Review: You’re Not the Boss of Me!
My husband and I have always agreed on our vision of success as parents: children who are kind. Really, bottom line. We would feel we have done the world well if we raise kids who are generous and thoughtful, who help others and think beyond themselves. We don’t need ivy league grads or sports stars, just nice people, who preferably are generally happy in their lives as well.
Now that we actually are parents, we are learning that, for us, sometimes it feels harder to raise the kind, happy kid than the one on the dean’s list. Recovering overachievers we are, we know the road to higher education well. The road to higher consciousness, well, that is the part we are constantly working on! And, with young children, who are figuring out the boundaries of the world and their place in it — ohhhh, sometimes they are NOT so nice! What to do with that??
Well-known parent educator Betsy Brown Braun tackles just this issue in her new book, You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-year-old Child. So, when Mom Central asked for reviewers for the book, I jumped on it. Brown Braun hit paydirt with her last book, Just Tell Me What To Say, which offers parents much-desired scripts (“what to say”) to kids and tips for dealing with everything from nose-picking to divorce.
This new book is similar in that it includes a lot of bulleted lists (tips) and scripts — both what to say, and what not to say in various situations — but this time focused specifically on antidotes to what many would consider “bratty” behavior. Rather than sitting down with this book for one long read, Brown Braun suggests reading the intro and the first chapter about “how to talk to your kids” (general tips for respectful communication with children), then selecting chapters in whatever order appeals or whenever needed.
Each chapter focuses on one “brat-proofing” skill and how parents can develop that skill in their kids: empathy, indpendence, responsibility, respect, honesty, self-reliance, gratitude, having enough (my words — she calls it eliminating the “gimmees”), and humor. The appendix includes an example of an “ethical will,” as well as “52 Cures for AFFLUENZA.”
I was a little uncomfortable with the whole “brat” terminology before I began reading this book, but I felt better when I read her main argument in the intro: “Essentially, what every parent needs to know is that the brat is a child who doesn’t feel significant, who doesn’t feel as if he plays a meaningful role, and who needs to feel that he has a purpose in the life of the family.” Touche! This is the crux of what my husband and I learned in our parenting program (Parenting on Track), based on work of psychologists Adler and Dreikurs, and the key idea I am now running into everywhere I look (which tends to be a good sign for me that I’m on the right track).
Brown Braun echoes this concept: Kids act out (or act “bratty”) when they are discouraged, and the quickest way to encourage them is to give them something meaningful to do so they can feel capable and significant.
She goes on to explain that brattiness has become more common in modern times because kids have less meaningful work to do — no longer are most kids today responsible for helping the family farm survive, nor do they have elders living with them to care for. In times past, she writes, “it was real life, not a lecture or wagging index finger, that taught the lesson. When a responsibility wasn’t met, the system broke down, and everyone suffered. … Meaningful consequences followed irresponsible behavior.”
Drawing on her professional experiences as a “teacher, a preschool director, and now a child development and behavior specialist,” Brown Braun has concluded that for children to grow up without that annoyingly common sense of entitlement we see nowadays, certain character traits need to be encouraged, namely the ones I mentioned above, which she focuses on in each chapter. She also knows that even though many people blame the media culture for this widespread entitlement (“affluenza”), it is us parents who make the most difference in our kids’ values. She encourages parents to start early — the younger the better — in modeling “anti-brat” values and encouraging children to be “active agents in their own lives,” though she says “children as old as eleven can still be turned around.”
Reading through all of her scripts and tips, I felt mostly relieved, as most were was familiar to me and things I am already working on and doing. I got a few new ideas, some gems, and a only a few of her tips did not resonate with me, but generally I found her advice helpful validation, and I like that she is specific in how she would word certain phrases to encourage the values intended. (For example, from the gratitude chapter, in the tip on being specific: “Thank you for cleaning up the family room. I am really tired today, and you saved me from having to do one more thing.”)
I agree with Brown Braun, this isn’t a book to just sit down and read, it gets overwhelming with all of the lists and tips. But it’s a nice go-to or refresher guide if you, as we do, have the goal of raising children who grow up to be kind, to think of others, to appreciate what they have, and to act as if they have something meaningful to contribute to the family and the world.
** Full Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of HarperCollins and received a copy of You’re Not the Boss of Me to facilitate my review. Mom Central also sent me a gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.
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