Book Review: Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky

Mindinthemaking.jpgI have admired Ellen Galinsky’s work for over twenty years…since I was a Sociology undergraduate at U. C. Berkeley in the late 80s. Founder of the Families and Work Institute, she has been a long-time intelligent advocate for work/family balance, early childhood education and so much more. Given how much the work and education landscape has changed during these years, her work is even more impressive.

Her book, Mind in the Making, focuses on children and learning — specifically, the kind of knowledge and skills they will need as they grow. And guess what: it’s not pre-algebra.

Through extensive research, both academic and in the “real world,” Ellen has come up with a list of the seven most important “life skills” kids can develop to help them forge a path in our “multi-tasking, multimedia, modern world.”

  • Focus and Self Control
  • Perspective Taking
  • Communicating
  • Making Connections
  • Critical Thinking
  • Taking On Challenges
  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

If you’ve spent much time here, you know that I’m suspicious of a) “expert” parenting advice, and b) multi-step, one-size-fits-all lists of “essential” anything when it comes to raising kids. This book doesn’t fit into either category. What Ellen’s talking about here is bypassing the expensive, high-tech “educational” product market in favor of simple games and activities you can share with your kids that build these skills. She’s advocating balance between academic “achievement” and personal growth. Between learning for grades and learning for life. This is heady, important stuff — fertile ground for Parenthackers!

What life skills have served YOU best so far?


  1. Courtey says

    What life skills have served YOU best so far?

    The ability to admit I am wrong and try something else!

  2. Elizabeth says

    Perspective taking.

    If you can see someone else’s point of view, you can usually understand why they did what they did, which makes everything much simpler and easier.

  3. says

    The ability to work well with various types of people. My parents taught me early that you have to learn to get along with people, even if you don’t always like them, which has served me SO well throughout various points in life (school, work, social situations).

  4. Mimi says

    Being able to clearly communicate the rationale behind my decisions. Even if people don’t agree or you turn out to be wrong everyone is understand if you can show that you thought through your decisions.

  5. JennB says

    The ability to read and learn on my own. I have been able to jump into something new and try it out, without benefit of formal education.

  6. Sarah S says

    Communication in stressful situations. I saw the value of it early on in life, and have worked hard to become better at it.

  7. says

    Keep trying- but try different angles. This is something I work on with my kids. If you don’t get it right on the first time, you can’t give up. You can’t reach the toy alone, don’t just stand there. Find a way to ask for help, try moving a chair, try using a stick to reach it- don’t say “I can’t”. Holds true for practicing things. My daughter would get so mad about not writing her letters perfectly. It doesn’t just magically get easier, we make it easier by practicing and trying different ways to practice. Being creative but never giving up. Looking back at everything I am proud of- from simple things like buying a short sale house at a great price, or writing a book, or even having kids- they all circle back to never taking no for an answer when something was important, but trying a different road. (Of course that different road sometimes takes you somewhere amazing you never thought about, but that’s another story!)

  8. Cecilia says

    The ability, and willingness, to see things from another person’s perspective. I think it also helps to assume that people generally have good intentions, and then act accordingly.

  9. SoCalMom says

    Sounds like a great book! I think the skill that’s served me best is persistence and resilience… keep on trying, stay strong!

  10. says

    Taking on challenges. As a child on welfare, I was determined to do better for myself as an adult. I eventually went to grad school and became a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in children and women’s issues. Taking on the challenge that you are passionate about will help you reach your goal.

  11. Sara says

    As a parent, my abilities to regulate my emotions and find the positives have been the most helpful. Thanks!

  12. Elizabeth LeDoux says

    My favorite life skills is I know where money comes from (hard work), and where it goes (in our house spending, saving, sharing). It isn’t magic, and it isn’t a weapon and it isn’t a secret…

  13. angela says

    Sounds great! The skill that has served me best so far has been the ability to stay calm and try to roll with what comes my way!

  14. says

    I can’t wait to read this. One life skill that has served me well is the ability to listen, without judgment. In personal and business relationships, this has been my number one tool.

  15. L says

    The ability to calmly handle an emergency. Of course my kid’s just 2-1/2. This ability may be tested…

  16. Jen says

    It took me a long time, but learning to have confidence in myself and my opinions has been huge for me.

  17. Kristina says

    The ability (with my children and others) to admit when I am wrong, apologize, ask for forgiveness and accept the Grace that is given in love.

  18. says

    I think self-control is the number one skill anyone can have. It serves a person well in so many areas. I need to exercise self-control in more areas of my life, but it has certainly served me well in the workplace.

  19. Heather says

    I would say I’m a little TOO good at critical thinking, not good enough at perspective taking; I think just about all of the skill sets listed above have their positive and negative faces, and need to be balanced by some of the other skill sets on the list.

  20. CP says

    A strong work-ethic that my parents instilled in me!

    HUMOR!! If you can get the other person–friend or foe–to laugh with you, it always relieves the pressure. A shared joke is good bonding.

  21. NutellaNutterson says

    Listening to others. It’s still hard to do sometimes, but always worth it.

  22. Elizabeth Hosto says

    Critical thinking – I took a class on this subject in college and it really opened my ideas and mind, forced me to think for myself.

    The other skill that I work on everyday is patience, a valuable tool when dealing with small children and I thank my parents for trying to teach this one by example, they were wonderful at it.

  23. Alexis says

    The ability to identify my priorities has really helped me to gain perspective while trying to solve problems.

  24. Bethany says

    Sincerly caring about others and trying to serve them… “dying to myself” only through the grace of the Lord.

  25. Jim says

    Listening skills. Especially the ability to take the focus off yourself and what you want to say and understand what the other person is trying to tell you.

  26. Celeste says

    Stopping to think about why people do the things they do, especially when I disagree with the outcome or their reasoning. It’s helped me be more diplomatic.

  27. AmandaL says

    Knowing when it’s appropriate and necessary to stand up for yourself, even if it means confrontation, rather than not because avoiding confrontation has been something we’ve been taught all along.

  28. Liz P. says

    Making connections – I often forget many of the other skills I’ve learned, but being able to talk to my friends and family and forge relationships with new people enriches my life, enhances my mood and gets me out of scrapes!

  29. Tracy says

    Focus–and the ability to see things through to completion. Everyone remarks on the fact that when I make up my mind to do something, I get it done.

  30. Cynthia says

    Perspective taking has helped in my job as a special education teacher when working with families. It has helped me build relationships by letting them have a voice in their child’s education

  31. Amanda says

    What life skills have served me best so far?

    Persistence. Never give up. Keep trying and trying and you will find the answer you are looking for or a new path to venture down.

  32. Lydia says

    Perspective taking has served me well in my work life, as a social worker, and in my Mom life. Also, focus and self control I us daily in every aspect of life!

  33. silver says

    A strong work ethic. Having a good work ethic makes employers appreciate you. Having my particular employer appreciate me made it so that they were willing to let me work part-time from home after having a baby.

  34. Luke says

    What life skills have served YOU best so far?

    Intuition and perception. Being able to know what someone is thinking before they have to say it (or don’t want to).

    The book looks fascinating and your post about seriously peaks my inAterest. Thanks!

  35. Johnna says

    A strong work ethic and treating people with respect. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making me work so many Saturdays in the family business!

  36. Christy says

    Subcategory related to communication: being able to use a persons cues to know the meaning behind their words.

  37. M says

    There are so many, I can’t pick one! But, top on the list is the ability to see the world from another’s view. This is key in communication, relationships, negotiations and generally getting things done in life.

  38. TL says

    Gratitude-learn not to take what I have for granted.
    Making connections-I work with teens and children so it’s important that they have someone to talk to.
    Balance-knowing how to prioritize. I work two days a week and a stay at home dad for three days. I’m so grateful to watch my kid grow up but still have two days of adult conversations

  39. Fawn says

    Still working on a lot of these skills, but one that I always want to improve and that serves me the best when I can focus on it, is empathy. The more I can think where the other person is coming from and approach a situation non-judgmentally, the better the outcome is for everyone involved. I worked for a while with survivors of domestic violence and learned a lot from their strength and challenges.

  40. says

    I think planning – and understanding what you are trying to achieve in any endeavor – knowing your goals.

    That and trying to see things optimistically – not letting bad luck etc. flatten you.

  41. EmilyD says

    For me it’s a tie – having a positive attitude and being able to put myself in someone else’s shoes. The positive attitude allows me to not only overcome obstacles but it lets me enjoy life more than someone who dwells on the past or can’t work through a negative attitude.
    I didn’t realize how important empathy until I married my husband :) He does not posses that life skill and it seems to make lots of situations more difficult for him.
    What a great question!

  42. says

    Balancing my own individual quest for achievement with what works best for my team/community/family – learned through many years playing in orchestras and chamber music ensembles. Playing as part of a section, leading a section, playing solos, etc all teaches you this.

  43. says

    Embracing change.

    I am a firm believer in finding ways to improve a situation, process, environment, etc. No matter how well you’re currently handling something, odds are that minor things have changed around you in such a way that your way of doing things can be tweaked into something better/easier/faster. Because I’m always looking for ways to improve, I’m always willing to try new things; and that attitude keeps me open to other people’s ideas as well.

  44. Kari says

    My mom taught me to look around and see what needs to be done, then take initiative and do it. That’s been helpful in my career life especially.

  45. erika says

    Self-directed, engaged learning. I was always a voracious reader as a child – and still, when I can find the time – and that helped tremendously in school. My 5-year-old is already displaying the same tendencies, and we are nurturing and encouraging her love of reading/learning as much as we can!

  46. Tyler says

    What life skills have served YOU best so far?
    Learning how to work, and not being afraid of hard work.

  47. lisa says

    seeing things from different points of view (and knowing when to keep quiet about my own)

    as I watch my preschooler bloom in a montessori school (but not yet know how to spell her name) I am VERY interested in this type of learning

  48. Jessica says

    Focus and self control — my 2 year old has taught me more about patience than any expert ever could!

  49. Michelle Lechnou says

    Self-directed learning! I read a lot, and often read about science or historical subjects. I love learning the newest theories of physics or reading about the latest archaeological finds.

  50. Lisa says

    Living frugally – it does sometimes leave me at odds with my husband who is now learning that life lesson from me, but I definitely learned it from my parents. Also, they taught the importance of hard work and commitment to do the things you say you’ll do.

  51. Alex says

    Listening – the ability to really listen and respond has served me best so far. As a parent, wife, in my work and in life. I still am working on this, especially with my toddler, but it serves us well in our family.

  52. Judy says

    Life skills…just being kind to other people, and remembering that everyone you meet is on a tougher path.

  53. Erin says

    The ability to listen and observe. You learn so much more when you stop talking and truly listen to someone!

  54. Jamie says

    Being able to step up and take responsibility for my actions regardless of being right or wrong and not trying to shift the blame or plead ignorannce.

  55. says

    I have a sensory processing disorder which affects my ability to read and translate maps. Learning to slow down and orient myself before taking off someplace helps. Making my own maps when going someplace new, including clearly marking when I’ve gone the wrong direction or gone too far, also help. These are things I figured out on my own and thought I was a huge freak for doing/needing, but then I stumbled across other people online with similar issues and similar solutions.

  56. dayna says

    For me, critical thinking (in all areas–biological research, home business, and motherhood); as well as self confidence and integrity.

  57. Erika G. says

    Being self-directed has shaped my whole life. It’s a delicate balance between that and being a couch potato;-) I hope this book shows me how to teach it to my kids!

  58. Gina says

    Self-control & focus … 2 areas I constantly work on and I am now trying to teach my 3.5 yr old daughter.

  59. Ed says

    First, taking a very long range view of life. Many of life’s problems are caused or aggravated by short term thinking. Second (actually a corollary of the first) is to live on less money than I earn. So we paid off our mortgage at 58 and retired at 59. Four years later, we watch friends and relatives our age struggling as a result of ignoring these two principles.

  60. says

    The ability to listen with your full attention and not have any background chatter in your mind distract you to be able to fully understand the other person’s perspective.

  61. Jane says

    The skill that has helped me the most is having a positive attitude in the face of adversity – knowing that sunny days are ahead despite the clouds – I try to accomplish this by thinking of the advice I would tell my best friend and then applying it to myself. My youngest son at 3 years of age used to say, “this is my best day”. When he stopped saying it I questioned him and he replied, “I say it in my mind”. He was a huge influence in teaching me to weather storms and look on the bright side!

  62. Pete says

    I rate bull dog persistence as a valuable trait to inculcate in your children.
    I am a project engineer. I have never seen nor taken an engineering course in quiting or giving up on a project, and I do not know how to do that.
    When I was ” working ” full time I had projects that took many dollars and ten years from the initial concept to reach productive fruition.
    Now that I have been ” retired, ” and working for God, unpaid for the last fifteen years, I am in the process of seeing the longest project start up I have ever participated in, coming to astonishing fruition – and which will positively impact thousands or more people. I believe that all my life’s ” work ” was merely God’s preparation for the real project he had for me.

  63. Mim says

    >> What life skills have served YOU best so far?

    Being able to accept when things aren’t going my way and move on. I’m not always perfect at this, but hey, i can accept that! ;-)

  64. Dee says

    Forgiveness – I am always amazed and actually deeply touched when I see the look on someone’s face when I forgive them. It’s as if a burden has been lifted off their shoulders and it always makes me think how such a simple gesture can have such a profound effect. It also makes me wonder why I took so long to forgive.

  65. Janet says

    Learing to adapt and go with the flow. I’m working with my kids to teach them that things don’t always go the way we want them to and we have to learn to deal with the changes in a positive manner.

  66. Swamini says

    to best handle any situation, i always make sure that i knwo what is my back up plan if things do not go well. Before making a decision, i always think what will go wrong and what would i do if it does go wrong. I feel well prepared at all occasions!

  67. says

    A sense of curiosity, in order to keep learning and finding that the world is truly full of fascinating things and people!

  68. Dawn says

    The ability not to throw stones – meaning you never know what the other person is going through so don’t make judgments because you are not perfect either.

  69. Kate Morgan says

    Optimism is my best life skill. Sometimes I don’t always make the best decisions, but there is no reason to beat myself up about it, it’s done, so move on, tomorrow is a new day.

  70. siliconvalleymom says

    Self-control (self-discipline)! It has allowed me to develop, nurture, and augment the six other skills that Ellen writes about in her book. Everything I’ve accomplished flows from self-discipline.

  71. cris says

    The life skill that has served me best so far is being able to think outside of the box and seeing things in more of a gray scale rather than just black and white, to appreciate the journey and where doing things just a little differently can get you.

  72. says


    It has gotten me to where I want to go in life, beating out obtacles, challenges, so-called limitations, and self-doubt. It gives me another chance to succeed, and to believe in myself.

  73. Beth says

    Making deliberate choices. Analyzing the potential consequences of my choices and accepting those that go with the choice I make. Choosing to have faith. Choosing to look for joy. And Choosing to believe that other people have a reason for what they do, even if I can’t see it.

  74. Joyce says

    What life skills have served YOU best so far?

    Taking on challenges – lifelong learning. I just attempted a new thing, and it came out beautifully. I now have a personalized nursing necklace at a fraction of the cost of buying, all because I was willing to try something new and ask questions.