Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids by Michael W Anderson, LP and Timothy D Johanson, MD It has been many years since I have read a book that I recommend as strongly as Gist. I consider it a must-read for today’s parents. Anderson and Johanson, a psychologist and a pediatrician, have written a grounded and remarkable book that will challenge parents to the core. It did me. I loved that early in the book Anderson and Johanson explain how important it is that kids suffer as they grow up. It seems that in our culture, we have lost sight of this. If our kids aren’t invited to a birthday party, we may try to hide it, or call the parents. If our kid doesn’t make the show choir or the Varsity team, complaints are made and coaches are called. This foundational part of the book lays the groundwork for understanding that kids can tolerate painful consequences and actually need those consequences to play out in order to be ready for life.
Regarding self-esteem, the authors begin by defining it as “your journey toward liking who you are” (p.185) and set it in contrast to others’ esteem. While being esteemed by others can be addictive, it does not build self-esteem, which is ultimately what you think of yourself in spite of your performance or what others think of you. Sadly, so many parents believe that their child’s self-esteem will be high if they consider themselves exceptional, that an epidemic of excessive and exaggerated complimenting has spread in families. In fact, Anderson and Johanson suggest that the belief that we are not exceptional is one of the foundations of developing healthy self-esteem along with love, accurate self-assessment, resilience, and achievement. I think of the high school in my town. My friend teaches honors chemistry. Sounds like a class for exceptional students, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. Honors chemistry is regular old chemistry. But we wouldn’t want any student to feel normal or average, so someone decided to call regular chemistry “honors.”
The authors regard shame as a destroyer of families. And imagine my surprise when I read what they think to be the biggest culprit when it comes to building shame in our kids. Talking. The authors have an entire chapter entitled, “Just shut up!” and it is addressed directly to parents. So, all of those good long talks and explanations for punishments and making connections between behaviors……? They produce shame. The authors suggest any talk around consequences for behavior should be about 30 seconds or less. “Honest, straightforward, simple, and brief communications regarding their mistakes is the best way to reduce shame in [our kids’] lives. Keep it simple and to the point. Don’t contaminate it with other issues that are unrelated…..be hopeful in what you say…….convey that it is not the end of the world, and life will soon return to normal.” (p.217) I have already seen this wisdom change my parenting. I can’t believe how easy it is to say way too much.
These are just some of the gems of this book. You will be challenged by their encouragement to let your kids be bored and by their views on technology. You’ll be helped by their very practical suggestions and you’ll be encouraged to love well and love deeply. I urge you to get a copy and read it and share this review on all manner of social media. Let’s get the word out and grow life-ready kids!
“When kids feel average is an insult, they will aspire to being gifted, instead of working to be effective.”
“Wonderful is fulfilling; exceptional is draining.”
“Consequences change behavior and talking fosters shame.”
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