Book Review: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times For Teens

By Anita Matthews

Published in Parenthots, The Star on June 10, 2013 as
Stories offer comfort to teenagers

By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Amy Newmark
Publisher: Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times for teens

Chicken Soup For The Soul Tough Times For Teens captures 101 stories about the hardest parts of being a teenager. It is a candid display of what teenagers go through daily. The storytelling is rich and personal, peppered with heart-wrenching truth of what teenagers really go through behind the facade of pimples and puberty.

The 362-page book is a rollercoaster of emotions, ranging from delightful joy to utter grief. Anger, pride, confusion, insecurity, frustration, self-esteem issues, teen wisdom and worry jump out as I thumb through the pages. Deep down I wonder if my two teens have the same insecure thoughts of being ostracised or battle confidence or weight issues. Worse, could they be suffering from some untold, yet to be discovered, syndrome?

The book comes with an introduction by one of the editors. Amy Newmark states clearly that the book is meant for older teens as some of the content is about sexual abuse, mental illness, gender identity issues, eating disorders and untimely death.
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Book review: The Five Love Languages of Teenagers

By Anita Matthews

Published in Parenthots, The Star on April 1, 2013 as
Learning to speak the love language of teens

By Gary Chapman
Publisher: Northfield Publishing

L-O-V-E is a four-letter word that definitely bears repeating and it is the recurring theme in Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages Of Teenagers. Here, Chapman explains the different types of love and provides practical advice and sound rationale on when and how each love ought to be practised. His is the voice of experience.

Five Love Languages of Teenagers

The guidance Chapman provides is timely especially in this current era of information overload. Both parents and teenagers are inundated by information from numerous sources. Moreover, parents may not necessarily approve of the type of information (including entertainment) that their teenagers are exposed to. Instances of negative exposure on the Internet include violence, underaged sex, drugs and trash talking.

Here’s where this book is very useful.

As teenagers struggle between independence and dependence, parents can rely on the techniques and strategies that Chapman provides to guide them on how to respond the adolescent behaviour. My 16-year-old son told me the other day that the English test included questions related to an essay on adolescence. When I asked him what he understood from the essay, he said: “Parents can’t cope”.
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Book review: I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens

By Anita Matthews

Published in Parenthots, The Star on January 7, 2013 as Learn to communicate with your teen

What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens
By Anthony E. Wolf, PhD
Publisher: Harper

The book’s title offered no comfort. The words “parent” and “shut up” were more than a reality check. I barely “shut up” when talking to my kids. More often than not, I overstate and overcompensate long after the kids have tuned out.

The title of Wolf’s book embossed in bright yellow on a red cover sent pangs of guilt through me. The sunshiny coloured text belied the blaring alarm bells that scream through my head with every interaction I have with my teens.

Parenting teens

Thankfully, Wolf’s book did come to the rescue. Through it, he lays the foundation of why teens behave the way they do. He provides frustrated parents solace and solutions to the messy parent-child communication style as he astutely captures nuanced conversations. Parents can begin to see a different perspective, or as in my case, come across many light bulb moments.

For one, I often forget that adolescence is a rite of passage. As the book progresses, it becomes very clear that parents can and should manage their conversations with teenagers. Parents should also be guided by a mantra not to take their teens’ whiny, crabby, snotty or angry behaviour personally.
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Book review: The Sibling Effect

By Anita Matthews

Published in Parenthots, The Star on November 12, 2012 as Learn about sibling relationships

What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us
By Jeffrey Kluger
Publisher: Riverhead Books

This book, by Jeffrey Kluger, opens like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller where he recalls the game of how he and his brothers hid the youngest in the fuse box. With the oldest at eight and youngest at four, the older boys had no idea of the danger they posed to the youngest. The following tale is about his father breaking into the house to deliver the divorce papers to his mum. Sibling Effect

On that premise, Kluger who is a senior editor and science writer at TIME magazine, takes his readers down memory lane with anecdotes of his childhood, growing up in a household of boys, a messy divorce, the extended family and the impact of his parents’ behaviour on how he and his brothers turned out.

Kluger’s book is an informative read as he examines the relationship between siblings – the disputes, jealousies, favouritism, the birth order, extended families, separation, sex, the teen years and more. He draws on scientific research, with every other page citing a finding or expert to rationalise or perhaps demystify the mysteries of siblinghood.

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Book review: What’s eating your child?

By Anita Matthews

Published in Parenthots, The Star on June 25, 2012 as Behaviour problems that start with the diet

By Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND
Publisher: Workman Publishing

The adage “you are what you eat” is true and the more I thumbed through Kelly Dorfman’s book What’s Eating Your Child?, the more I agreed with it.

Dorfman is a nutritionist who has turned her career into a vocation as she guides picky eaters into proper diets, better behaviour and improved lifestyles. But take note that not all the stories that Dorfman tells have a fairytale ending.

What we, and our children, eat does have an impact on how we behave. Most of us are familiar with children who suffer from lactose intolerance or are allergic to nuts; but to realise that the common flour, rice or meats too impact behaviour is alarming. The sad news is the finding from the American Medical Association – chronic health conditions, obesity, asthma, behaviour and learning problems among children increased 14% between 1994 and 2006.

It is no secret that some form of flavouring, colouring or chemicals enters the food chain before it arrives at the dinner table. While it is widely perceived that the level of such inorganic content is minimal, its consumption over a period of time does affect the body. Regularly consuming snacks and fizzy drinks among toddlers are instances that have found links with obesity.

The situation is compounded as parents not only need to deal with obese children but also behavioural issues caused by artificial sweeteners, dairy and gluten content in food. Substitutes like soy milk do not provide the answers, either.

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Book review: Amazing Minds

Amazing Minds

By Anita Matthews

Published as Academic writing makes book tedious in ParenThots, The Star, Feb 20, 2012

Amazing Minds: The Science of Nurturing Your Child’s Developing Mind With Games, Activities and more
By Jan Faull, MEd with Jennifer McLean Oliver, PhD
Publisher: Berkley Books New York

This book held much promise and its foreword opened to an exciting read ahead. Unfortunately, after the 30th page, a slight irritation set in and by the time I hit the 50th page, I realised it would not get any better. So, I threw it aside and went on to re-read some fiction from my bookshelf.

A week later, I went back to Amazing Minds. Surely there must be something worthwhile to new parents who harbour a million dreams for their darling children. Is it possible for parents to shape their infants into perfect children? I found it in chapter four where Faull discussed imitation and memory of babies and how our actions shape their early journey from contentment and distress in babyhood to differentiating anger from joy in their interactions or within different environments. The author argued that babies who are disturbed by patterns in adult behaviour would avoid provoking similar behaviour even though they are curious to explore. This is useful as we, parents, often forget how observant babies are.
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Book review: You – The Owner’s Manual for Teens

By Anita Matthews
Published in ParenThots, The Star, Sept 19, 2011

A Guide to a Healthy Body and Happy Life
By Michael F Roizen, MD; Mehmet C Oz, MD; and Ellen Rome, MD
Publisher: Free Press

I had reservations when the editor emailed a snapshot of the book cover to check out. What do two men who found fame largely through talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s largesse know about teenagers? Furthermore, the third author’s name – a woman’s – was half the font size compared to the men. All the more reason to pick up the book and find out what the two men had to say about happy and healthy teenagers.

Nice bits

The book is large with decent-sized fonts and double spaced lines. It was easy on the eyes. The chapters are divided into sections that matter most to teenagers: Skin, sex, sleep, stress and more. The book discusses the biological changes in teenagers and how that affects the way they think when armpit hair, breasts, pimples and erections physically manifest on their young frames. That the information is presented simply without the typical jargon found in textbooks earned You a big plus on my list of good reads.
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Book review: Dear Tua Ee

By Anita Matthews
Published in ParenThots, The Star, Aug 8, 2011

By Eng Seng
Publisher: Chiang Siew Lee

This book brought back memories – warm fuzzy ones, painfully sad bits and mostly, how ignorant first parents are, yours truly included. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being ignorant or being parents for the first time. No matter how much parents arm themselves with books, doctors and advice from well-meaning friends and family members; nothing beats the firsthand experience of an infant in a couple’s life.

Dear Tua Ee underscores the turbulent journey parents embark on when their first-born arrives. Authored from an infant’s perspective, the book charts Eng Seng’s parents experiences in attending to his needs from diaper changes, bottle feeds, baby food, toys, teeth, hair, fever, rash, lullabies that work, and more.
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Book review: Philosophy from real mothers

By Anita Matthews, published in ParenThots, The Star, April 3, 2011

The birth of wisdom
Edited by Sheila Lintott
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

MotherhoodThe word “philosophy” drew me to Sheila Lintott’s compilation of essays written by academics (women mainly) on motherhood. Marrying motherhood and philosophy is akin to mixing oil with water. You can moralise the joys and pains of motherhood to the ends of the Earth and still end up at the crossroads where the journey first started.

But this book was an awesome read. I loved it! Even though I had cast a wary eye on first sight, these philosophical ponderings were engaging, honest and warm. The writers challenged their belief systems both hypothetically and theoretically. They unpicked, scrutinised and discussed their deepest convictions and fears openly. They squared the ideas of famed philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, Descartes and even Job of the Old Testament against their personal experiences to deconstruct what makes a mother. And, that is refreshing.

Many a time, philosophical discussions tend to be indulgent and are self-fulfilling prophesies of what is sought or challenged in the hypothesis. This set of essays did more.

Clearly within the pages of Motherhood – Philosophy for Everyone, the presence of a child in the mix had had a humbling effect on a majority of the writers. I think all mothers – upon hindsight – do realise that they have lost some control over their lives (and offspring) during the early years following childbirth. I don’t see that to be a setback but simply a reality of choices made.

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Book review: 151 WAYS To Help Your Child Have a Great day at School


Published in Parenthots, The Star on July 26, 2010 as Handy tips for parents with schoolgoing kids

151 WAYS
To Help Your Child Have a Great day at School/ To Start the School Year off Right
By Robin McClure
Publisher: Sourcebooks
151 ways

Mother Robin McClure struck a chord when she came up with the 151 Ways series of books. Two landed on my desk – 151 Ways to Start the School Year off Right and 151 Ways to Help Your Child Have a Great day at School.

The wallet-sized books are packed with suggestions and ideas on what parents can do to prepare children for the school year and to send the children off to school with a happy and positive mindset. Both books may be a decade old but the ideas contained in them are very much current. The ideas are tried, tested and true from teachers and educators who have spent plenty of time with children of varying personalities.

151 ways

Any parent, employee or employer can relate to dealing with a myriad of personalities on a daily basis – it takes sheer skill to keep everything running like clockwork. But all that people management does get to even the saintliest of parents and it is a matter of time before we run of out ideas, hit a brick wall or are simply exhausted.

The ideas in these books are not in any specific order and one can simply thumb through the books at random; which was what I did.

A mother to two boys and a girl, McClure’s daily plate is stacked and she has to figure out how to keep the children mostly happy even on a bad hair day and ensure they have a good day or school term ahead of them.

The 151 ways listed in each book are largely practical tips on morning hygiene, healthy breakfast habits, getting the school bag sorted, books ready or activities listed out for the day, month or year. It also includes useful ways to keep youngsters occupied in the kitchen, garden, playground or on the computer. Other noteworthy tips such as noting down important phone numbers and not sharing personal information with strangers are vital knowledge we can equip our youngsters with as they start the school year.

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