Book review: Calm and Compassionate Children – A Handbook

As a fledgling collective, Binky is all about collaboration. I’m happy to introduce this guest blog post from Katrina, who I first met when I lived in Taiwan. Our boys are born days apart and we bonded as fellow Southern Hemispherians (Katrina is from New Zealand) as well as over our shared parenting experiences. Hope you enjoy this comprehensive review. And if you’re interested in writing a guest post, let me know. Leonie


Now, being a little skeptical of spiritual movements in general, and having had some experience with Ananda Marga in Taiwan, I must admit I was a little hesitant to read this book when I saw that the author has worked in Ananda’s Living Wisdom Schools system since 1984. I am very happy I pushed my prejudices aside and read the book, cover to cover and then again. This book is my number one “come back to” book when I need practical ideas or a philosophical reminder when sharing time with my own two children and in my different classrooms.

Living Wisdom schools aim to “teach the whole child, to develop self-control rather than conformity, and to allow growth in children’s calm compassion”. Dermond admits that the formative years of the school were a bit of “trial and error”. She has collated the successes into this handbook. As a mother, teacher, and director, Dermond knows what it is like to look for methods that work, and has presented a book full of material that is easy to digest, understand, and implement into daily life.

The book is divided into four parts: Awakening the Heart’s Feeling; Calming Body and Mind; Surrounding Influences; and Appendices of self-inventory and resources. Each chapter within the first three sections succinctly covers some theory and real-life examples. At the end of each chapter, there is a list of practical steps that parents and teachers can implement quickly into their routine at home and school.

The book list at the back of the book provides ideas for families to share with children ages 3 through to 15. The list is a mixture of mainstream, easy-to-find books and books that you will have to order directly from the writers. I could tell Dermond has worked as a librarian. Her descriptions are very helpful for those of us with limited time or experience searching for books for our children.

As this blog is about gratitude in particular, I want to share the biggest lesson I got from this book and why I am grateful for it. On pages 80-81, there is a description of how a teacher uses “Noticing” to bring the smallest, most wonderful things into focus. The teacher and her students will share things they have noticed, such as “a flower blooming by the parking lot, the way the clouds look in the sky, or the smile on someone’s face.” During the day, the teacher will bring children’s attention to things happening around them. “Let’s notice the beautiful sound the rain is making on the making on the window.” “I notice everyone is smiling because they like this story.” I now use this with my own children. It has really helped us all to slow down and remember gratitude for the smallest moments of joy around us. I am grateful for this lesson, because implementing it always reduces the amount of conflict between my children on a day-to-day basis. It seems to give them an attitude shift, toward noticing the positive contributions each of them make to our family unit.

I am going to give this book a 5 out 5.
Calm and Compassionate Children – A Handbook by Susan Usha Dermond
Celestial Arts, Berkeley, 2007

Click here for link to book on Amazon

Katrina Brown is a mother of two, a teacher, and a writer. She keeps a blog about life in Taiwan with children.

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