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Book Review
Hidden Messages:
What Our Words and Actions Are Really Telling Our Children

by Elizabeth Pantley
Reviewed by Nancy Walters
Raleigh NC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 221

The theme of this book is clear: thoughtful parents, choose your words carefully because they truly affect children. The author Elizabeth Pantley makes this point through a series of vignettes. Each chapter presents a story and dialogue, followed by the hidden message that reveals how the parent's words affected the child. The last sections, "Think About It" and "Changes You Can Make," encourage parents to find ways of improving communication with their children.

Hidden Messages covers many ages and situations, from helping siblings adjust to a new baby, to discipline tips for single parents, to getting teenagers to help around the house. In the chapter "Baby Love," one story tells of a regular day in the life of a mother with an infant girl and toddler boy. Through singsong, cheery prose the reader reads about the group's wake-up, breakfast, trip to the grocery, and afternoon naps. All sounds peaceful and happy until Pantley dissects the scene. She points out that the baby has barely been touched all day -- she's been moved from bouncy seat to wind-up swing to stroller to playpen. The "hidden message" is revealed; "Why should I carry you when I have all these modern baby contraptions to put you in?"

Pantley then writes about the importance of touch, quoting studies and books including The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff and Attachment Parenting by Katie Allison Granju. She recommends, "Pick up your baby. Smell her hair, kiss her butter-soft cheek. Hear her breath in your ear. Wrap your arms around her, and sense the sum of her, this living, breathing expression of life." Many breastfeeding mothers instinctually understand that babies are delicious if one can surrender to their needs for the relatively short time of their infancy and young childhood. Pantley suggests a baby carrier as a practical tool to promote physical contact while also allowing a mother to complete the errands and housework.

Other chapters include the importance of talking positively about children in their presence (even when they seem busy with other things) and the power of telling children what to do rather than what not to do ("use a quiet voice" instead of "don't yell"). In the chapter "The New Baby," Pantley points out a simple change in wording that she believes can have a big impact in an older sibling's life. Don't blame everything on "the baby" by saying, "We can't go now; mommy has to feed the baby," "Don't wake the baby," or "Don't touch the baby." Instead, try, "My hands are busy right now," "We'll go later, after lunch/nap," "Yes, we will, in about 20 minutes," and "Not right now."

It's challenging to summarize Pantley's parenting philosophy through these stories and snippets. Clearly, she cares about children and their feelings. She seems tough but empathetic, advocating straightforward discipline: "A parent...sets boundaries, creates rules, and -- whether the child is happy about it or not -- enforces those rules." At the same time, she has compassion for the child's point of view: "What your child wants most from you...is to have you listen to her concerns and acknowledge her feelings."

Pantley is a parent educator and a mother of four. Her popular book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, is familiar to many parents searching for sleep-filled nights without allowing their child to cry to sleep. Her other books include Kid Cooperation and Gentle Baby Care. Pediatrician and prolific author William Sears, whom Pantley calls "my parenting hero," wrote the foreword to Hidden Messages. According to Sears, Hidden Messages is "sure to gently tweak the consciences of even the best parents."

Reading this book will lead parents to choose their words carefully and then to pause, bend down, and look into the faces of their children and imagine what they are hearing. Busy parents can read a story or two at a time while nursing a child to sleep or waiting to retrieve a little one from dance class. Readers are sure to find a nudge toward gentle and clear communication.

Last updated Friday, September 1, 2006 by njb.
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