Book Review: Stop Reacting and Start Responding by Sharon Silver

I promised the review of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be right after Christmas, but what I discovered is that I can't read ebooks on my computer. As soon as I got a paper copy I started whipping through this book, and here's my main takeaway:

Buy it.

As those of you who have been reading here for awhile know, I love Sharon Silver not only because she's been such a friend to us here, but because she's the only one I've read who seems to really get, deeply, the toddler/preschooler age. Even my very favorite parenting books* are great for the theory and mindset switch that puts you and your kids on the same team, but they don't help you with the "what do I do in this exact moment?" for kids under 5. Sharon does. She knows what words are going to inflame the situation and what words will ease it. So I've been waiting for her to write it all down for us.

Sharon's book is absolutely in the same parenting philosophy that I think most of us are trying to work toward: Setting boundaries in a firm and loving way gives your child the tools to be successful and frees you up to just love them unconditionally.

Just writing that made me feel good, and I hope it made you feel good to read it. Thinking about having such a large part in creating an adult human being who is such an asset to the world is kind of thrilling. But then the problem is that all those pre-adults are 16 months and 27 months and 3.5 years and 4.5 years, and it's not so easy and inspiring. Sometimes it felt like a war zone, like a constant battle, to me, and I can feel the weariness in your voices at the struggles of those ages.

In reading Sharon's book, what hits you is that that feeling of being in a constant battle with your toddler or preschooler comes from the fact that you're reacting to each new situation as it hits. Sharon's goal with the book is to give you the tools and specific words to use so that you can respond, not react, to a situation. When you respond calmly once, it gives you a little emotional space, and then you can get your feet under you a little bit and respond, not react, to the next one. Every scenario she lays out is individual, so you can go into just that 2-page chapter and get the words you need for the situation in front of you. But if you read all the chapters, and start using the words whenever you can remember to, all those sets of words are going to work together and pretty soon your whole perspective on the interactions will change.

This is NOT a quick-fix book. Notice that the words "magic," "instant," "miracle," etc. do not appear in the title. This is about showing up and being right in the middle of it with your kid. As I said earlier, I've been waiting for Sharon to write this book, and I felt a little sad that I missed the preschooler years to use the techniques with my own kids, who are now almost-9 and 5.5. But as I started reading it, even the very first page (page 17) hit me like a ton of bricks. That one page alone is worth the cost of the book in explaining what's going on when we discipline our kids and why we think it's not working exactly when it is. Then I started reading the other chapters and understanding what had been happening, what mistakes I'd made (but not blaming myself, because Sharon writes it somehow so you feel like you can learn from your mistakes), and what I could say to my own much-older kids to turn around some current situations that were bothering me.

Takeaways:

1. Buy the book. It's absolutely worth the $12.95, no matter what age your kids are.

2. If you buy the book and are somehow worried about reading it (I've been there–sometimes you just don't think you can hear what you "should be" doing), read page 17. Just page 17.

3. Sharon gives you the exact words to say in any given situation, but somehow they're structured so you can still be yourself within those words. You're still the parent, and Sharon's just giving you the tools.

4. There is no free lunch. Parenting is hard, y'all. But you're doing a good job and you can catch a breath and do an even better one.

Has anyone else read the book yet?

 

* My favorite parenting books, besides Sharon's, are Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott and the two best spin-offs from Ginott–Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen and How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. You'll want to read all three at some point, for sure.

42 thoughts on “Book Review: Stop Reacting and Start Responding by Sharon Silver”

  1. It sounds like a great book and I look forward to reading it!Thank you for acknowledging the whole ‘magic’ and ‘miracle’ thing that is rampant with parenting books. I am a psychologist, and there are few problems that can be resolved with a quick fix. And when it comes to children, especially – progress is inch by inch.

  2. I bought the book and it’s been sitting in my inbox untouched for weeks. Thanks for giving me the impetus to make time to grab it off the shelf and crack it open.

  3. Reading it right now (downloaded the PDF) and this struck me as SO profound:”When parents yell, children tend to retreat
    emotionally in order to withstand the yelling. The yelling prevents your child from feeling how firm you really are because she’s busy protecting herself from the intensity of it.”
    I’m not *always* a yeller, but when my 3yo is particularly trying, I go through periods of time when yelling happens too frequently. I remember being yelled at by my super scary Dad and the notion of the child protecting herself from the intensity the parent is exhibiting really matches my experience. And when *I* yell, my daughter gets this look on her face – she looks like she’s checked out and scared. And it is crystal clear to me that all learning, compassion and communication between us have stopped. It is so helpful to have Sharon explain what is happening. So now I remember it, I see it on the 3yo’s face, and I’ve read it in this book. So, now I feel like I have the pieces I need to understand, even in moments of extreme frustration, what happens when I yell vs. what happens when I choose another method of communication.
    YES.

  4. Can those who have read it give a few more examples from the book (like Joanna just did above)? I’d like a good book on discipline, but I can’t afford to buy another dud, and just Moxie’s enthusiastic recommendation (though important!) isn’t enough to make me feel sure it would be worth the purchase.

  5. Moxie,I just read the review and I’m beyond honored that you liked it so much. This book has been in the making for a very long time. I got the idea of how to structure it about 10 years ago. Hubby is a very patient man!
    You and all the readers here at Moxie have groomed me for this. You’ve all been kind enough to let me share my take on parenting and received it well, which gave me what I needed to go forward! Thank you, to all of you.
    The things that Moxie picked up on are so important to mention.
    There’s no magic in parenting, like BiteSizeTherapy said. It was so important to me not to present anything that would make parents think I have “the answer.” The truth is parents have the answer, this book is just meant to be a reminder, a possible new perspective in which to view things.
    I’m also especially grateful that Moxie saw that this is NOT just a book for parents who have kids 1-5. It’s actually for parents raising kids 1-10. The foundation created by responding to your kids will serve parents extremely well when dealing with the highly emotional years 12-18.
    Thanks everyone.

  6. thank you thank you thank you for including number 2, moxie. i totally feel like that sometimes! maybe a throwback from when i couldn’t stand reading books that told me i shouldn’t get the epidural when i knew i probably would, or books that told me i should have breastfed for longer (my kids self-weaned, i swear), or books that told me how much my babies should be sleeping but weren’t. i will pick this up! but i just loved that number 2.

  7. Can I just say that Sharon has been a huge help to me personally through the years. She may (or may not) remember a frantic email from me about 3 years ago about my oldest son’s “reluctance” (read: full out refusal and horrible reaction) to starting preschool, and my (then) husband’s declaration that he will not be able to do drop off because of it (even though we NEEDED him to do this). She responded via email to me, was SO accessible and gave me the tools to not only deal with my preschooler’s issues, BUT MY HUSBAND’S ISSUES AS WELL! Obviously, it all worked out but since then I have purchased her podcasts, subscribe to her newsletter, and there is ALWAYS something relevant to my kids in there. I cannot recommend her highly enough. She’s not just an expert, but she’s a friend who is there to help when you need it. I will for sure be buying her book, and will for sure be recommending it to friends. Thanks Sharon!!!

  8. I bought the book as soon as Moxie posted that it was for sale! My DS toddler had just started spitting at us, and I needed help! I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but just this morning I was reacting and reacting and reacting, and I couldn’t quite stop myself, except to think, “I’m reacting, not responding! I need to read Sharon’s book!” I can see so clearly how reacting, especially in frustration or anger, only makes bad situations worse. *Nothing* provokes terrible behavior in my toddler like me getting angry and reacting to him.

  9. i just ordered it.our daughter just turned four and last night i said to my husband that i feel like i need some new ideas about how to handle this new place we’re in. it feels like our girl is suddenly in a very stubborn phase that is fueled by a new awareness of the world and her place in it – which is great, and exactly where i want her to be… without the stubbornness, or at least, without how frustrated i get when she’s being defiant or just. so. stubborn. so… i can’t wait to read it – moxie has been such a lifesaver for me, so i’m trusting that this is going to be great as well. it sounds like it will be. thank you, again.

  10. Please tell me there is a chapter on how to deal with a three year old who wants 10 (not 2) fig newtons and is willing to stage a sit-in in the kitchen until his demands are met…

  11. mom2boy – How funny. You’re raising a radical! No, there’s isn’t a specific fig newton sit-in chapter. Maybe next book. LOL!Come on my MomTV.com show tomorrow at 1 EST, and share how it went. Snickering and thinking if my 2 ever did anything like that, and what I’d say. With my mouth I’d probably say, “Sweetie I’ll be right back. I need to go find the warmest blanket we have so you’re warm, since you’re sleeping here! Cause I’m only giving you 2 fig newtons!!”
    Hubby laughed and added, “How many pillows do you want!?”
    Kidding people!

  12. I have the book (ordered it when Moxie posted it was available), but haven’t read it yet (the early part of the year is just crazy for me, because I send out tax forms for work). I really need to get on it though, because my 3.25 year old is, well, being 3.25.Thanks for the reminder…maybe I’ll get started on it tomorrow.

  13. Sharon, love your take on my gal pal, DD. Thank you for you! Also reading “The Primal Wound” about adoptees. WHoa. I love it, but Whoa. ANyone else heard of it? Um, I think this is what’s called “highjacking”. forgive me…

  14. @Sharon – can the book be shipped internationally? I’d like to get the print edition because every time I fire up the computer, my son expects to see Elmo.This sounds like it may come at the perfect time for me, since my 3.5-year-old and I are locking horns more than I’d like. Toothbrushing, table manners, even just walking home from school can be such battles. I want to learn how to deal with these situations that so leave me at a loss before they start overshadowing the rest of our relationship, you know what I mean? I’m on maternity leave this year with my second, and I’d love to be able to look back on the year as a special one spent with my first-born as well.
    And oh, the strange workings of the mind of a three-year-old: yesterday my son went into the kitchen and carefully spread yogurt on one of the cabinets, then went to get me in the other room with a big grin to show me what he did. As in, “Look! Look! I know this is not something I’m supposed to do, Mommy.”
    Oddly, I didn’t get mad — not one of the situations that pushes my buttons, I guess. Instead, I was at a total loss as to how to react, much less respond, so I just handed him a sponge and shrugged!

  15. So it says the kindle edition is production – any word on when that will come out? I want to buy the book but was waiting for that. If its not going to happen for months I’ll just get the pdf I guess, even though I don’t like those as much. Thanks!

  16. I just finished reading my copy yesterday. While I’ve read all of Moxie’s other book recommendations, none of them really helped me be as firm as I think I need to be. Some of Sharon’s words actually seemed harsh to me but only because they were so firm. That was helpful.I also hope this will be the one book my husband deigns to read. I think he can go with it because compared to the others, you don’t come away feeling like you’ve totally emotionally damaged your child with your reactions. I have to say, I felt pretty heavy after reading Ginott, especially, and Faber & Mazlich. I think if you have a lot of your own issues going on that you are not ready to deal with, those could be very difficult books to read.

  17. I ordered it, but haven’t read it yet. (See @Moxie’s item #2 above: “sometimes you just don’t think you can hear what you “should be” doing.”)

  18. I haven’t made my way through the whole book, and I hate to start a comment with a negative note, but I just don’t agree with No. 34 — the “thank you bite” rule/scenario.I’ve heard of this rule so many, many times, and I don’t think it’s respectful. At all. If you go to a friend’s house and she puts a bunch of dishes in front of you, which you don’t want to eat, would you feel respected when she tells you must take a “thank you bite” or “no thank you” bite?!
    In our house we do this: we teach “No thanks, but thank you for making it.”
    We approach food more from Ellyn Satter’s divisions, yes, and we don’t focus/dwell on the bites, the food, trying/making an effort, pushing or cajoling. You can introduce new foods by putting them on the table and by eating them yourself in front of your kids and showing a genuine reaction.

  19. I’m slowly making my way through Sharon’s book, and I have to say I love the format. I have a few other parenting books with a similar format, and I usually find myself going back to them again and again because they are so easy to reference.I also love that (from what I can tell so far), she gives you a few options depending on where you are at with your kid. Just having that acknowledges that sometimes you need variances in techniques to meet your (and your kid’s) needs at any given time.
    Like @Jennifer, the only tip that hasn’t resonated with me so far is the one about the “thank you bite”, for exactly the same reason – we use the Ellyn Satter approach. But otherwise, I can tell that I’m going to be re-reading these tips over and over again as DS gets older.
    @parisienne mais presque, “every time I fire up the computer, my son expects to see Elmo.”…oh how I feel your pain! Same thing here. Needless to say, I don’t really go on the computer when DS is awake.
    @lisa, thanks for the book rec about adoptees. My brother and his wife recently adopted a 10 year old girl and I’m interested to know more about where she’s coming from emotionally (other than what I can deduct from what I know and what I see on the surface).

  20. Reading it and LOVING it. Bought the pdf version 3 days ago, and am about halfway through. Have only tried to implement a couple of the things and am already noticing a big difference. The best tip for me so far is to consider my own tone of voice: think Mary Poppins. Seriously, disciplining with cheerful but firm and matter-of-fact tone of voice (with a vision of Mary Poppins floating in my head) is helping me stay calm and the 3 year old really seems to be responding.I actually do like the “thank you bite” tip because we were already doing that (i.e. you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to, but you do have to take one bite to know whether or not you like it). Seeing this tip phrased as the “thank you bite” has helped me articulate why this is important to us. Also, many times the boy has turned up his nose with “Yuck” only to try his one bite before being allowed down from the table, and then say “oh, this is yummy”

  21. I’m on tip 42 right now, and I have to say this book is *well* worth the short money to buy it. Like others, I love the formatting, the brevity, and the SENSE that the tips make. One can nitpick a thing or two here and there – but overall, I think it has some fabulous suggestions for how to handle common problems. I will be reading and re-reading, and hopefully getting my husband to read as well. And recommending to all my friends.I also really really like the fact that unlike many other parenting advice books/columns/blogs, nothing I’ve read yet has made me feel like the horrible mom that many of these media do.
    Thanks Moxie for sharing, and Sharon for writing!!

  22. To Jac and Nico. DH read me what you wrote while I was getting ready for a private phone session. Your words touched us both so much. What was amazing was he got all choked up when Nico wrote “I also really really like the fact that unlike many other parenting advice books/columns/blogs, nothing I’ve read yet has made me feel like the horrible mom that many of these media do” For what ever reason that made him tear up. Thank you it was very sweet.I’m touched beyond words at all the love, encouragement and praise I’ve experienced this week from all of you at Ask Moxie. Sales have been amazing. I hope all of you enjoy the book and thank you to those of you who are posting about it and telling friends!

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  25. AWH I love Ashley’s card. I ran out of cat ones by the time I wrote up yours. I thought the pkgcaae I bought only had cat ones but they tricked me the meanies! Paw Humbug! ahaha I love it.

  26. I am one of Billy and Sharon’s students @ The Northridge 24 Hour Fitness. I go on Tuesdays rgieliously and Thursdays when I can. This is the BEST class I’ve ever taken. It’s the best workout EVER. This class doesn’t even feel like a workout, actually. It’s high energy and super fun, there’s NO WAY you wouldn’t break a sweat in this class. Billy and Sharon are PERFECT instructors; not only are they amazing at what they do, they actually care about you, always offering a smile and/or a hug. Thank you Billy and Sharon for reminding us that exercise can be fun! xoxo

  27. Oh Cathy, you crack me up but little dogs do need setrweas sometimes. Especially when she’s a little white dog while visiting Utah in the winter. I’ve lost her in the back yard three times. I wish I had brought her dark coat instead of her pink one. But she really loves pink! *giggle* She really does love pink. She picks out her pink toys first!!!Blessings,Christine

  28. I love the silhouette keithcn cling stamp set. For some reason I have not seen this set from Hero Arts. Thanks for the chance to win all these stamp sets.

  29. I am your #1 fan!!! I found the show accidentally one evienng while chanel surfing. Since, many of my friends & relatives have joined also. We have popcorn & wine night, with friends watching all our taped episodes. This 2011 season imagine our disappointment, w/ all the drama of a possible break-up and the stress of issues w/ the farm. I have bought the book, the soaps, receive the e-mails andhave not lost my gusto for the show. I even watch the goat cam. Fellas what now you r done??????? NO! The joy just seemed to go away. I watch all the original older shows and get my Beekman fix .

  30. LOL, so much for Doug’s modesty strap on his new fingdnis of his new heritage Wow, this is like 60 Minutes, TMZ and Extra all-in-one publication! It was so great meeting all of you at the festival! BTW, have you used any of that bar-be-que sauce I gave you guys? I also gave some to Doug and Garth, Farmer John and Jason and Tony at the Black Cat. Looking forward to any feedback on it and your uses with it!Fondly yours,Ed and Heidi ;D

  31. Thanks for the photo’s. Looks like the town had a great turn-out and everyone had a teifirrc time. It was great to read about all the international countries that enjoy your program too it’s just amazing and now you’re world famous! How you gonna keep em down on the farm . Miss you guys and hope you’ll be on next season.It’s wicked hot here in Boston!!Raeann

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