Category: Book Reviews

7 Things I Learned {And One Thing I Ignored} From ParentShift

I recently read a parenting book called ParentShift. This book describes a positive approach to parenting that the authors call “heart-centered”.

Some suggestions in this book are ones I completely and strongly disagree with—such as the opinion that all punishments and rewards are bad disciplinary tools. I am still a proponent of 1-2-3 Magic, which I have found to be very practical and effective for my family. {We use time-outs, removing privileges, logical consequences, as well as verbal corrections and praise}.

However, what I did love about ParentShift is the focus on children’s emotional needs.

It can be easy to forget that children have emotional needs that look different from adult needs. Many times, unwanted behaviors stem from unmet needs, or a misunderstanding of where children are developmentally and what they really need. This book does a wonderful job of creating awareness in this area.

Here are some of the helpful insights and tools I learned from this book:


1. Children’s emotional needs can be boiled down to the acronym SPECIAL.  

S stands for smile, which represents fun, laughter, and play. Children need to play and laugh to be emotionally healthy. Silliness is part of being a well-balanced kid!

P stands for power, which represents children having choices, gaining competency, and being given responsibilities. Allowing children to make some of their own choices, and create their own personal boundaries, is powerful and important. Training children to do things for themselves, teaching them skills, and expecting them to contribute to the family’s chores are all important ways of not only meeting children’s emotional needs, but raising productive individuals.

E stands for exploration. This represents allowing children to follow their interests, try new things, experience life, and experiment with the world around them. In young children, exploration is a need to see, touch, and taste things. In older children, it may look more like trying different sports or hobbies, choosing their own electives in school, and forming their own worldviews.

C stands for connection, which essentially means having meaningful and engaged relationships with family members, particularly parents. High-level connections are created when we actively engage with our children. Parents can foster strong connections with their children by meeting their emotional needs, being supportive, and of course, being loving.

I stands for important. Children need to feel that they matter, and that their opinions are important to their parents. While parents may often know what’s best, there are also times when we simply have our own opinions, which are neither right nor wrong. Taking our children’s feelings and views into account helps them to feel important, which they are!

A stands for attention, specifically quality attention and listening. Giving children some undivided, focused attention each day—think eye contact, loving touch, and active listening—helps to meet their emotional needs. 

L stands for love. Children need unconditional love, affection, and acceptance. They need to know that they are treasured and cared for no matter what. As a Christian, I believe that our unconditional love is a reflection of God’s love for us and our children, and teaching children how valuable they are to God is the best foundation for a healthy self-esteem.


2. Parents should keep an eye on the balance of their children’s emotional bank accounts.

When we meet children’s emotional needs, we make deposits into their emotional bank accounts. When we have conflict with our children, we make withdrawals. It can be helpful to remember that while every parent will (and must) make withdrawals at times, we are also able to make many more deposits. Fun, affection, focused attention, and active listening are all great ways to fill up a child’s emotional bank account.


3. There is a difference between reacting and responding.

When parents simply react to their children, they often lack intention and do or say things that they later regret. But when we take time to respond thoughtfully to our children, we can feel more confident in our parenting. In stress mode, the brains of both children and adults are reactive, rather than responsive.

It serves us well to use a technique called Pause-Breathe-Ask when we find ourselves, and/or our children, in stress mode. This simply means that we stop before saying or doing what we immediately want to say or do. Then we breathe deeply a few times, which helps our brains to disperse those stress hormones and lets our reasoning abilities come back online. Then we ask ourselves, what does my child need in this moment? Doing Pause-Breathe-Ask allows us to better do our jobs as parents, rather than simply reacting impulsively. It also models self-regulation for our children.

*This part is my opinion, and not in the book. I would add that when it comes to tantrums, children are already in stress mode, and they are unable to be reasoned with at that point. Allowing children to express those emotions {have that tantrum} is necessary before offering comfort or discussing feelings. We don’t need to give them attention or attempt to punish them, we can simply ignore them until they are calm. It’s also okay to calmly and gently help them move to an appropriate location when they are expressing their emotions loudly.


4. Children’s developmental stages and individual temperaments are important

Understanding where a child is developmentally means being educated about what behaviors and abilities are typical at their specific age. Understanding a child’s individual temperament means learning about who that child is uniquely, in terms of eight key characteristics: emotional intensity, persistence, sensitivity, distractibility, adaptability, regularity, activity level, and approach to new things. There are no “good” or “bad” temperaments—we are all created different, and that’s okay! Having a clear understanding of a child’s stage of development and individual temperament is helpful for parents to create realistic expectations.


5. Parents must set limits and boundaries.

Limits are rules set in place that are based on health, safety, respect, and responsibility. They vary by family, but there are many universally accepted limits as well. Boundaries are our personal limits of what we will and will not accept. Limits and boundaries should be reasonable, age-appropriate, consistent, and explainable. That means that there should be a reason for each limit and boundary—even if that reason is simply, “I am not comfortable with that.”

We should also allow our children to set their own personal boundaries. Children should be allowed to decide what they wear (within reason), how much they eat, how they feel, whether they want to be touched, and what interests/hobbies/sports they want to participate in. Children’s privacy should be respected, with agreed-upon safety measures in place.


6. Sibling rivalry can be managed with many tools.

Parents can prevent sibling rivalry as much as possible by meeting each child’s needs, treating children uniquely for who they are, avoiding comparisons, avoiding taking sides, encouraging teamwork, making “sharing” fair and respectful, teaching children how to calm themselves down, and being aware of triggers {such as too much screen time, not enough sleep, too much sugar, etc.}.

When fights between siblings do happen, parents can simply ignore bickering, squabbling, and other minor (though annoying) fighting. When fights heat up to involve name-calling, bullying/intimidation, or are about to or have become physical, parents should intervene.

 *This is my approach, and not in the book: for sibling rivalry that goes beyond bickering, I use 1-2-3 Magic and count them both.


7. Power struggles can also be managed with many tools.

Prevention is the best medicine, and power struggles can often be prevented by offering choices, adding fun, keeping limits and boundaries reasonable, and maintaining a strong connection with our children.

When conflicts arise, we can simply state the limit or boundary in a friendly tone. We can use “do” statements instead of “don’t” statements—”please use a quiet voice in the house,” instead of “don’t yell.” We can use one-word reminders—“shoes,” instead of “put your shoes away”—or even a simple gesture (such as pointing to the shoes). We can also let our children save face; allowing them to have the last word or display of attitude is fine, as long as the rules are followed and everyone moves on afterward.

*In 1-2-3 Magic, this is also discussed. As long as the child isn’t trying to rub their attitude in your face, like following you around with a pouting expression, then just let it go. A little door slam, eye-roll, or exasperated sigh never killed anyone. We aren’t raising robots, we’re raising human beings. 


Those are the gems of wisdom I discovered in the book, ParentShift. I didn’t find the entire system to be practical for my family, for the ages and stages of my kids right now. And I didn’t appreciate the heavy-handed message that parents are essentially ruining their children by continuing to use other systems.

However, I can definitely see the benefits of using many of the concepts and tools in this book. Especially as my children get older, I hope to move away from punishments and rewards more and more, and be able to use only positive discipline tools—but for young children, internal motivation is not very powerful, and parents often do need to create external motivators.

Even in my preferred parenting book, 1-2-3 Magic, an emphasis is placed on the goal of gradually moving from a “dictatorship” to a “democracy.” By the time children become teenagers, they are much more able to be active participants in their own discipline—they are able to feel strong intrinsic motivation, help decide on family rules, contribute meaningfully to the running of the household, accept responsibility for their mistakes, and brainstorm and follow through with making amends when necessary. The goal is ultimately raising adults, not children. {Adult kids may always need their parents, but they can also be responsible, competent, critically-thinking, and self-motivated. This is the goal!}

Book Review – The Selection, The Elite, and The One

*This review is written to include as few spoilers as possible, so if you haven’t read these books yet, you still can read on without ruining them.

The Selection Series is a series of young adult fiction novels. The series has four books now and a fifth and final book coming out next year. The first three books are called The Selection, The Elite, and The One, respectively, and were originally written as a trilogy. The fourth book, The Heir, was released last month and I recently wrote a review for it. I decided to review the first three books together, since there is no time gap between them and the story flows continuously from book one to book three.

This series is about a sort of dystopian future, in which the main character named America Singer, lives. Her country is called Illéa— it was formed after the Fourth World War and includes all of North America. The social system is organized into eight numbered castes, with “eights” being destitute and “ones” being the monarchy. A person’s caste, which is inherited at birth, determines what he or she is able to do as a profession—for example, Twos can be athletes, celebrities, armed services, and so on, while Sevens are manual laborers, and Fours hold intermediate jobs such as businessmen, farmers, and factory workers. A person’s caste, and therefore their job opportunities, sets a limit on the quality of life they are able to have. People can buy their way up to a higher caste, though that’s not usually possible financially. They can also marry into a different caste, with the woman always taking her husband’s caste. The lower castes, especially sixes and below, often struggle to survive and live in varying degrees of poverty.

Laws in Illéa are strict, and include harsh penalties for crimes such as stealing, breaking curfew, and premarital sex. The monarchy reigns with complete sovereignty, and treason against the throne is a crime punished by death. However, the monarchy is not hated in Illéa— many citizens view King Clarkson, Queen Amberly, and Prince Maxon with adoration.

The monarchy holds a special event when the time comes for the next heir to the throne to find a mate—the Selection. It is a competition of 35 girls from all over the country, within an appropriate age range, who are “randomly” selected after willingly entering their names into the drawing pool. Basically, it’s like The Bachelor, but with a prince and 35 potential princesses. The Selected are paid for their time, trained in the art of being a princess, and weeded out by the prince on an undefined timeline until he eventually chooses one to marry. All girls chosen for the Selection are automatically upgraded to the caste of Three, and the top ten, which are called the Elite, obtain an even higher status in society. Obviously the girl who is chosen in the end becomes a One, as a member of the royal family.

The main character, America, is from a family of Fives, which are artists and performers— as her last name suggests, she is a musician (but not a famous pop-star, which would be a two). She is within the accepted age range when the Selection for Prince Maxon is announced, but does not wish to enter because of her secret two-year romance with a boy in her town, a Six named Aspen. However, both her mother and her boyfriend pressure her to enter, because though the odds of her being chosen are slim, it would be a huge opportunity for her to improve her life financially. She enters, and against all odds, is chosen.

Throughout the first three books, we follow America’s journey through the Selection process. The books are driven by her struggles in four main areas: her feelings for Aspen, her feelings for Maxon, Maxon’s feelings for her, and her feelings about potentially becoming the Queen.

Like many popular books in this genre, there is a love triangle, which I personally find annoying. I feel that many books written for young adults in recent years glorify love triangles and make it seem exciting to have two guys fighting over one girl. Teenaged girls in particular are encouraged to believe that having multiple boys pining over them is something to aspire to, which can set them up for overly dramatic romantic relationships that aren’t healthy. It also sets a double standard for women and men in romance; women who lead on multiple men and break hearts are seen as heroines, or at the very least victims of their own irresistibility, whereas men who are romantically involved with more than one woman are seen as pigs. The whole theme is a reflection of our society’s unrealistic view of romance, love, and relationships. It over-emphasizes the thrilling feeling of falling in love and acting on impulses, and ignores the reality that true lasting romantic love involves commitment, compromise, and choosing to love another person even when it’s not easy.

Though I dislike the love triangle aspect of these books, it is a more interesting setup than some others I’ve seen, because there are multiple factors at play. America’s conflicting feelings for Aspen and Maxon are just two of the issues—she also feels uncertain about how Maxon feels about her. Since he is essentially dating several other young women at the same time, she has to come to terms with his varying levels of feeling for them as well, and what that means for her relationship with him. This makes it even more difficult for her to choose between him and Aspen. Her uncertainty about whether she wants the huge responsibility of one day ruling the country beside Maxon is another variable. It all combines to make a strangely compelling story-line. I found myself wanting to keep reading to see how it would all turn out!

There are other themes in the book as well, relating to social inequality, justice, and mercy. America is a compassionate young lady who believes in right and wrong, yet also has seen the many difficulties that people in the lower castes face. In the real world, criminality frequently stems from poverty, and finding a balance between justice and mercy can be a challenge. This book explores this topic through the fictional world.

I enjoyed these books, enough to re-read them and enjoy them a second time.


And now, my book review checklist:


Plot: Compelling, has exciting developments, but is not the main driving force of the books.

Characters: Well-developed; the struggles between them drive the story.

Audience: Predominantly female, as it revolves around princesses and romance. Also predominantly teen to young adult, because the main character is in her teens and is written to be relatable to that age group.

Length: Each book is about 130 pages, a fairly quick read.

Compulsion to read: High, though some might not find it as interesting as I did.

Ending: Each book ends in a way that leads quickly and smoothly into the next one, and the third one ends in a satisfying way.

Quality of writing: Good; I didn’t “notice” the writing, which I generally feel is a good thing.

My rating: 8/10 stars

Book Review – The Heir by Kiera Cass

I’ve been wanting to add a Book Review section to my blog for a while now, and the time has finally come! I’m an avid reader of fiction, especially young adult fiction, and I’m excited to share my thoughts on the books I read. I decided to just start with the book I just finished, and go from there. I often re-read books that I’ve enjoyed, so I plan to write reviews for them as I do so from now on.

The Heir is a brand new book by Kiera Cass, released on May 5, 2015. It’s actually the fourth book in what was originally written as a trilogy, The Selection Series. I’ve read the other three books, of course, and since it’s been a while, I plan to re-read them next. The books in the series are called The Selection, The Elite, The One, and The Heir, in that order. There will be a fifth and final book coming out next year, but it doesn’t have a title yet.

The series as a whole is about a future country called Illéa in which a monarchy reigns, and the main character in The Heir is the princess and future queen, Eadlyn. She is the first female heir to the throne. In the past, the princes of Illéa would hold a competition called the Selection as a way to find their mate, who would become queen and rule beside them one day. The process involved selecting 35 random girls of the proper age from around the country, and bringing them to the palace for a months-long competition for the prince’s and the country’s affection. In The Heir, the princess is asked by her parents to hold a selection of her own, as a way to win public approval in a time of political discontent. She reluctantly participates, and invites 35 young men to the palace to try to prove their worthiness.

I’ve enjoyed the entire series so far, but this book is interesting because it switches main characters from the original three books. The first three books are about a girl named America Singer, who is a contestant in the Selection for Prince Maxon, whereas this book is about the next heir to the throne, King Maxon’s and the Queen’s daughter. I found America to be a compelling character, flawed of course, but overall a kind and compassionate and a worthwhile person to root for. In The Heir, the main character is Princess Eadlyn, and from the start her character is a bit hard to like. She’s a princess through and through, and has been badly spoiled by her upbringing. She’s selfish, inconsiderate to others, and ungrateful for what she has. She complains about silly things, tends to be dramatic, and seems blind to the fact that the world is not actually revolving around her. Okay, so this description probably could fit many teenagers, but still—most protagonists, teenaged or not, have more redeeming qualities than Eadlyn seems to have. But interestingly enough, this is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book, because I believe that her character is going to evolve and improve drastically by the end of the series. In the course of this book, she already starts to show more concern for others and realize her flaws. Watching that change happen in such a believable way is one reason this book is very interesting to me.

One of the overarching themes in the book is the struggle of vulnerability in love. Is loving others worth the potential pain you would face if you lost them? Does love make us weaker or stronger? This question has a personal place in my heart, because I struggled with this fear early in my marriage when thinking about having children. It’s been said that having children is like choosing to have your heart walk around outside of your body—and it’s so true. Having a child can bring unimaginable joy and love to your life, but it also makes you incredibly vulnerable. If anything were to happen to that child, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by others or just some random tragedy, it would completely and utterly destroy you. Yikes! That’s a scary thought. In my case, I can only overcome this fear through my faith in God, and my complete trust in Him to protect my precious child.

Love can make us vulnerable in other ways too—when we love others, we give part of ourselves away to them, and they have the power to hurt us. Loving others also means that our lives are not completely our own. We are accountable to the ones we love. I know that for some people, this struggle can keep them from letting love into many areas of their lives, whether it’s romantic love, loving friendship, familial love, or even the love of God. This book addresses this struggle in a way that’s entertaining, fun to read, and yet still meaningful.

One of the most memorable quotes for me in the book is this: “I kept thinking that I couldn’t live my life for other people, that love was nothing but chains. And maybe it was, but so help me, I needed these chains… These things didn’t make me weaker; they held my soul to the earth.” Beautiful, am I right?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I am eager to read the next one.

In closing, here is a book-review checklist that I’ve made up to cover the basics.

Plot: Fairly compelling, but some events can feel forced or unnecessarily dramatic at times.

Characters: Definitely the driving force to the book, they are well-developed.

Compulsion to read: Fairly high, and no parts were “slow” or hard for me to get through.

Ending: Cliff-hanger, adding allure to the next book.

Quality of writing: Good, felt smooth and well-written, though not as mature or sophisticated as other books.

My rating: 8/10 stars