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StorkNet's Bookshelf
Hidden Messages
What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Children
by Elizabeth Pantley

Once again, Elizabeth Pantley finds a fresh approach to writing about parenting, and her warmth and gentleness shine throughout Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions are Really Telling Our Children. Instead of lecturing, Elizabeth uses stories - some true, some compilations of anecdotes - to teach the lessons. This is a book that can help all parents become better parents, in small ways and in dramatic ways. She has written a book that will help parents understand how what they say and do impacts what their children think and feel, and often in ways we might not first realize. In her own words in the introduction, Elizabeth says, "It examines the seemingly healthy everyday interactions between parents and children to find the surprising problems lurking beneath."

I think every parent who reads this book will see herself (or himself) in at least one of these stories, even parents who truly believe they are doing a good job. And that's not to say that they aren't doing a good job; the lessons presented in this book, however, provide the framework to help parents do an even better job. Here is how the book works: First, there is a story to read, involving parent(s) and child(ren). After the story comes "The Hidden Message" - the message that is unknowingly being conveyed through the words and actions of the parent(s). After the message comes "Changes You Can Make." As usual, Elizabeth offers real-life, doable solutions to the parenting challenges that she presents.

Hidden Messages deals with eight topics: responsibility and independence; thoughtfulness and kindness; annoyance and anger; relationships; discipline and behavior; listening, caring and love; time and priorities; and, parenting styles. Some of the hidden messages that Elizabeth addresses include:

"I can talk about you all I want, and since you're just a child, you're not listening to what I say anyway. You're not worthy of the same respect I'd give another adult. Besides, this is how I really feel about you, and I don't care about your feeling - you're just a kid, so your feelings aren't important."

"Don't worry about any of these tasks. I'll do them for you. I'll always be there to do them for you. You're not very capable, and you'd never catch on, anyway, even if I did try to show you."

"If you want our attention, all you have to do is yell and fight. One of us will be right there to solve the problem for you."

"The new baby is a special, fragile, precious person - much more important to us than you are. From now on, everything you say or do will be affected by her presence. From now on, she comes first."

"What you have to say is not important enough to justify my complete attention."

"I demand that you obey me, and obey me you will.but since I always tell you what to do and when, and since I've not taught you how to make your own decisions, or encouraged you to think for yourselves, or helped you develop self-discipline, I would be shocked to know what's going on behind my back."

If you read these messages separately from the parables, they seem hostile, absurd, ridiculous. And yet, when you read them after reading the associated story, they make perfect sense, and it is easy to see how a child might internalize these messages based on how they are treated and spoken to. As I read some of these stories, my own memories of being a child came flooding back to the surface, and I saw my own parents and childhood in the stories. It is fascinating to read Elizabeth's book and see where we as parents might be doing the very same things that the characters in the anecdotes are doing. But as Elizabeth gently reminds us, "As with so many situations in life, half the battle is discovering the mistake; the other half is fixing it - and becoming aware of the potential for error can sometimes prevent it altogether." These parables are excellent tools for helping parents become conscious of what they are doing and saying and aware of how their children might be reacting to these deeds and words. Without taking away any of a parent's authority, she helps us see things from a child's point of view and helps us learn to talk to and treat our kids with love and respect.

I am very pleased to include this book in my personal collection and would happily recommend it to any friend or family member. The style of the book - relating stories rather than simply saying what to do and what not to do - makes this book so much more effective in getting the points across. Dr. William Sears says in the foreword, "This unique book is sure to gently tweak the consciences of even the best parents, inspire them to raise their children in a more conscious and sensitive manner - and tug at their heartstrings as a reminder to give constructive messages to their children." I can't say enough good things about Elizabeth Pantley's books in general, and Hidden Messages is no exception. It is an inspiring book.

Book review by Jennifer Thompson

To Purchase:
   • Hidden Messages at Amazon.com
   • Hidden Messages at Amazon UK
   • Hidden Messages at Amazon Canada

Also on StorkNet by Elizabeth Pantley:
   • Interview with StorkNet members
   • Articles on StorkNet
   • Kid Cooperation review
   • Perfect Parenting review
   • No-Cry Sleep Solution review

Visit Elizabeth's website

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