When Kerry Kovick emailed me awhile back to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing a book she co-wrote with her husband called Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children, my first thought was that it wasn’t the right fit for my blog audience. A parenting book? But I read on as she explained why she had contacted me: “The concepts I write about include character development and social-emotional skills in every element of a child’s day, whatever the curriculum design.” Consider my interest piqued.
Kovick continued by saying that she and her husband are child psychoanalysts and founders of the nonprofit Allen Creek Preschool in Ann Arbor, Michigan: “We believe that young children are capable of much more than they are given credit for, but the best way to foster growth is by building what we call emotional muscle. Our book takes educators and parents through the first 5 years of a child’s life, offering opportunities for emotional muscle-building at every stage.”
My hope was that the book would address the increasingly common concern teachers have about the vast numbers of students coming to school without critically important emotional skills. We marvel at the way many students lack qualities like perseverance and give up quickly when things are hard, or fly off the handle when they feel the slightest injustice. We want desperately for our students to have patience, self-reflection skills, a sense of personal responsibility, a tolerance for discomfort, and a keen sense of empathy, but we’re often at a loss as to how to develop these qualities in our students. I’m certain that many parents feel the same way. With all of the other skills we need to develop in young children, how do we tackle these difficult, abstract concepts? I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Emotional Muscle is the book we’ve been waiting for.
When Kovick sent it to me, I was pleased to see that the book was organized very simply: one chapter for each age group from babies through five year olds. Each chapter describes the characteristics and challenges of that particular age group with real life examples drawn from the Kovicks’ own parenting and their experiences with running the preschool. There are some major themes for each age group: babies learn trust and adaptability, 1-year-olds develop empathy, 2-year-olds learn resilience and mastery, 3-year-olds can work on persistence, 4-year-olds can develop internal controls and realistic standards, and 5-year-olds learn cooperation and competence. Within each of those themes are a related set of skills that parents, teachers, and caregivers can help children develop through the way they respond to and interact with them.
Each chapter also devotes a considerable amount of space to discussing the emotional muscles that parents need to learn for each age group (such as integrating love and separateness with 3-year-olds, and understanding 5-year-olds’ misbehavior as an attempted solution). Emotional Muscle really does an amazing job of explaining what parents and teachers need to do for their children in an empathetic yet firm way.
Everything I read really rang true with my experiences as a pre-kindergarten teacher years ago. What I love most about the book is that the Novicks have found ways to build children’s emotional muscle in simple ways. There’s no prescribed formula, no pressure to spend hours a day on special techniques, and no sense of fear that you will hopelessly screw up your young child if you don’t follow the Novicks’ advice precisely. The Novicks are simply sharing a really amazing way of relating to the children in your life: one that respects both children’s innate needs and development as well as parents’ needs as adults with separate and unique identities.
After reading the book last winter, I recommended it to a friend who recently had a baby. She devoured the book and immediately began using some of the techniques with her daughter. We had dinner together last week and the book came up yet again, as she observed that her one-year-old is experiencing exactly the stages the book described, and the responses suggested by the Novicks have been incredibly useful for her.
This book is geared toward parents, but it’s really very useful for early childhood teachers, as well. More detail is available at BuildEmotionalMuscle.com. If you’d like to win a free copy, enter the Rafflecopter form below. The contest closes at midnight EST on Friday, November 16th.