Recently I sat down to interview Annie Fox about her new book “Teaching Kids to Be Good People.” Annie is many things, she’s an internationally respected educator, award-winning author and trusted adviser for teens and parents. She’s also the author of the delightful and helpful series of children’s books called The Raymond and Shelia Stories. Annie is a prolific gardener and wonderful friend. Here’s the conversation we had discussing her new book and the many ways parents will benefit from it’s contents.
What is your favorite part of the book and why?
When it comes to my writing I’m a perfectionist. When it comes to other things, like house cleaning, and nail care, not so much. But a book, well, it’s a permanent piece of you, out in the world. That’s why I agonized over the structure of Teaching Kids to Be Good People, making sure that every concept and word flowed exactly the way it needed to in order to be most accessible to the reader. When I read non-fiction, I learn the most (and retain the most) when the author creates an emotional “hook” via anecdotes or personal narrative. So, to answer your question, the essays in my book are my favorite part because they’re so personal. The feedback I’ve received from readers and reviewers, indicate that the essays resonate with them as well. For that I’m grateful. It’s always my intent to connect, heart to heart, with my readers. To do that, I need to write from the heart while balancing the larger objective: to offer useful ideas and tools for this long, crazy and delicious journey we call parenting.
2. What do you think are the most helpful aspects of the book that parents can use?
The Real World Assignments that follow each essay are the most helpful because they answer the question: “How do I actually teach my kid to be a good person?” As I wrote in the first sentence of the book, “All teachers are not parents, but all parents are teachers.” Teaching is a doing thing. To be an effective teacher who helps your child develop a moral compass you have to understand how your own emotions drive your behavior. You also would do well to understand the legacy you inherited from growing up. In addition you need to be mindful of what it might take to consciously parent your children differently from the way you were parented. My Real World Assignments provide my readers with opportunities to think about many of the experiences they had as kids and teens. I provide pointed, yet open-ended questions for self-reflection (no right or wrong answers!) For example: following an essay about good listening as a sign of respect, I encourage the reader to:
Think about a relationship in which the other person is often “distracted.” What is it like being with him/her? Contrast that with someone who is normally “there” with you. Now think about the level of “there-ness” you give to your family. If you could do a better job focusing on your children/partner/parents, set a goal for the next week: Be with your family when you’re with them. Do not allow distractions to get in the way. Observe what happens.
Through my Real World Assignments I’ve included Fuel for Thought “prompts,” along with guidelines for parent and child to have Conversations That Count. Parents motivated enough to buy a book called Teaching Kids to Be Good People, appreciate the “how to” part of it!
3. The terms “good and bad” are subjective. Can you share why you chose those words, how you would define them, other than the traditional definition, and their relevance to daily parenting.
Starting out, of course I had my own idea of how to define a “good” person, but I didn’t want to rely solely that. Too narrow! So I crowdsourced this question, “How do you define a good person?” and received hundreds of thoughtful responses. Surprisingly, or maybe not, it quickly became clear that there seemed to be universal agreement about what we mean when we say “S/he’s a good person.” The top eight character traits that nearly everyone included in their answer: Emotional Intelligence (understanding emotions and managing them in responsible ways), Ethics, being Helpful, Empathy, Forgiveness, Compassion, Open-mindedness, and Social Courage (doing the right thing with zero support). Reviewing the data it became clear that while some of us might be born with a “compassionate nature” or “sense of social responsibility.” Our character isn’t simply a genetic crapshoot. These eight character traits are teachable skills. What’s this got to do with parenting? Well, the way I see it, a parent’s Job#1 is keeping your kid safe and healthy. Job #2 is helping your child become a person of good character. We need more good people in the world. Where are they going to come from? From the homes of parents who
a) prioritize treating others with respect, compassion, and the rest.
b) walk the walk daily when it comes teaching their kids what it means to be a good person.
4. Does your book address those parents and children already in crisis, or is the book more about prevention?
My book does not offer therapeutic solutions for families in crisis. Thankfully there are many valuable resources for troubled families. I urge anyone who wonders “Could my family use professional help dealing with a situation that is negatively impacting the well-being of my children?” to reach out to a school counselor, a health provider, or a national support organization, and start the ball rolling in a new, more positive direction. That said, my book is a guide for parents to strengthen and/or reclaim the heart connection with their children through consciously teaching moral values. And yes, there is a “preventative” aspect to helping kids develop a moral compass. As our kids move forward, to middle school and beyond, their relationships with peers become more complex and the pressure to be accepted increases tremendously. As result, many adolescents are peer approval addicts, willing to do or say whatever it takes to fit it (including stuff they might not be proud of.) By rededicating ourselves to teaching our kids to be good people, we provide them with the tools to do the right thing while we’re right there beside them and when they’re on their own. Whether they actually do it, is their choice. But at least we’ll know we’ve done our part well.