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Review of "Praising Boys Well"

By Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer
Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2006
Review by Anthony R Dickinson and Julia Hui on Sep 26th 2006
Praising Boys Well

Aimed at parents and teachers concerned with children of all ages, this book certainly provides the reader with a series of useful, child-centered advice and good-practice, and may be especially welcomed by first-time parents and/or novice teachers in search of initial text/tips on this subject. Firmly grounded in a philosophy which supports the view that it is 'better to praise than to punish' in order to achieve one's desired results without harming self-esteem, Hartley-Brewer presents principles, tactics and practical tips for the effective management of children's behavior, whilst also providing cues as to the more subtle pitfalls of the overuse of praise as a reinforcer. Organized in eleven short chapters, ten sets of 10-point do's and don'ts, each address a different issue (though most are concerned with when and how to use praise effectively) -- with each briefly situated within a short text framing the relevant tips accompanying the different issues raised. Although clear in format and easy to read, it is, however, not always clear to the reviewers exactly which research findings supported the inclusion of any given introductory text, 'tips' or issue (i.e., no evidence is provided for any of the specific claims made, and there are no references/bibliography offered for further reading), but this will likely detract little from the value of this book for the general reader. As for the specific 'tips' section of each chapter, such consist in two adjacent columns marked "Parents" and "Teachers" each containing between one, or as many as six, short sentence cribs on a single page -- and, there is something here for everyone. Parents will find good, solid advice, throughout, though little really specific to the raising of boys in our view (indeed, 83 out of the 100 tips are also included in the companion  volume by the same author, Praising Girls Well). In the tips column provided for teachers, one finds the provision of good, student-oriented advice, perhaps biased towards the affordance of better classroom management (which is not necessarily a bad thing!), and this is cloaked in language (and examples) relevant to the development of most sound teacher's pedagogy.

Further to the gender-specificity issue already mentioned (90% of the text also appears identical in both the 'boys' and 'girls' version of this book), I could not help feeling that the 'Praising Boys' volume was perhaps written from the point of view of helping fathers coming to a better understanding, and thus better handling of, their sons, (and likewise for 'Praising Girls' -- to help a mums' understanding/handling of their daughters), with a surprising amount of reference being made to the use (and even assisted development ?) of gender-specific stereotype activities and interests. This issue is raised by the reviewers here in cautioning the reader against expecting two very different books -- but should not be taken to detract from the usefulness of either book taken alone. Sorely missing from the text, however, was any discussion concerning the relevance of significant context variables which may arise from one's 'boy' also being a member of a multi-sibling family, or being a boy with only brothers, or brothers and/or sisters, adoption, multi-racial sibling families, single-parent families, multiple-births (twins), etc., but perhaps further volumes in this series are still being planned (?). Despite these shortcomings, this book is certainly worth reading by those coming to these issues for the first time, or for those in search of a short list of tips for managing their child-adult interactions for better all-round communications, social and cognitive development. Not a scholarly text, but this is clearly a practical volume for the casual, yet serious parent and/or teacher to 'dip-into-and-out-of' from time to time.


© 2006 Tony Dickinson and Julia Hui


Dr. Tony Dickinson and Julia Hui, PIC (Asia), Hong Kong, September, 2006.

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