Smart Parenting for Smart Kids

In Recommended Reads by Engagement

Smart Parenting for Smart Kids is co-authored by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, and Mark S. Lowenthal, PsyD. Kennedy-Moore is an author, psychologist, and speaker, who specialises in parenting and children’s social and emotional development. Lowenthal is a clinical psychologist with more than 22 years of clinical experience and a long-time advocate of children’s mental health issues, who has helped to shape health policy in the United States.

In Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal draw attention to a common issue expressed by parents: “My kid is smart, but…” The authors emphasize that parents must look beyond school smarts to cultivate a fulfilling and meaningful life for their children.  They reveal that many bright children face special challenges: some are driven by perfectionism; some are afraid of effort, because they are used to instant success; some routinely butt heads with authority figures; some struggle to get along with their peers; some are outwardly successful but just do not feel good about themselves.

Particularly relevant in Singapore’s high-stakes culture and education system, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids sheds light on why parents need to counter the mind-set that kids must be pushed ever harder to succeed.  The authors note the widespread fixation on developing children’s ‘potential’, arguing that the current view of potential does children a disservice. They explain that this “narrow view of potential suggests that there is some lofty gold ring of success, and our children will either jump high enough to reach it or else fall short” (3).

Instead, the authors urge parents to expand their definition of potential and recognise that life comprises many choices, chances and paths.  In their view, potential must not be regarded as an end point but a continual capacity to grow, learn and evolve.  Smart Parenting for Smart Kids strives to help parents nurture their children as whole people with feelings, ideas, and instill in children the ability to cope with disappointment and setbacks.

Delivered with wisdom, warmth and compassion, this book uses jargon-free language to outline approaches for parents to guide children toward developing inner resilience and outward empathy. Drawing from child psychology research as well as the authors’ clinical experience, this book provides concrete strategies for helping children learn to cope with feelings, build relationships, and embrace learning.  Each chapter of the book narrows in on the essential skills children need to maximise their abilities and find personal satisfaction.

Chapter one, Tempering Perfectionism, drives home an important point that parents must not let children fall into the trap of believing that “they must do everything flawlessly” and that “their self-worth depends on it” (11). The authors make the crucial distinction between perfectionism and healthy striving. In order to help children develop the latter, parents should encourage children to exercise self-compassion and help them identify what went right rather than just replaying and magnifying mistakes.

Another standout chapter, Managing Sensitivity, teaches children a critical skill of how to handle the criticism, conflict and disappointment that they will inevitably encounter throughout life. The authors describe how many bright children struggle with emotional sensitivity. These children seem to display very strong emotional reactions and often feel “deeply wounded by events that other children shrug off” (81). For these hyper sensitive children, “emotions seem like a tidal wave – a crushing onslaught over which they have no control” (81).  The authors’ focus in this chapter is on helping parents to engage in emotion coaching. Emotion coaching entails parents’ displaying empathy to children’s emotion, plus actively teaching children how to process and cope with negative feelings.

Chapter seven, Finding Joy, has a simple but profound message that will resonate with many parents, almost all of which have said or thought this: “I just want my kid to be happy” (238). As the authors express, “no matter how bright or accomplished our children might be, this is our most basic wish for them” (238). This chapter compels parents to reflect on the bigger picture – that every little thing that parents do for kids is ultimately aimed at their present or future happiness. The authors offer parents strategies to support a children’s ability to find pleasure and meaning from life and see the glass as half full. These include expressing gratitude for little joys in life, relieving happy memories, getting sufficient sleep and rest, and reading inspiring stories together.

This book’s concluding chapter, The Pressure to Perform Versus the Power to Grow, reminds parents that while winning can be fun and satisfying, it should not be the focal point of life. The authors warn parents that those who overemphasize achievement “risk placing [their] children on a treadmill of constantly having to prove their worth” (272). They encourage parents to take a different approach, to speak to their children using “the language of becoming”, which is “a way of speaking to children that enables them to see themselves as continually evolving and changing” (274). This helps parents and children change how they think about the child’s personality on a very fundamental level and develop a growth mind-set in children.

Smart Parenting for Smart Kids is a must-read for Singaporean parents who live in a society where children’s academic performance is put at the forefront, often at the expense of cultivating other valuable qualities such as kindness, humour, curiosity, determination and compassion. This book will empower parents to take a more holistic approach to parenting and help their children reach their full potential – socially, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.

Get hold of a copy of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids from Singapore’s Public Libraries.

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.