Encouraging Girls to Speak Up, Moms to Listen

Not long ago a book-club mom wrote in with a question about an issue that came up in one of my book clubs and many others I have heard of. She said a difficulty she had encountered was “when the mothers are present, the girls seem apprehensive to join in the discussion for fear they will say the ‘wrong’ answer in front of their moms. Or the moms will pressure the girls to answer, when my goal is for the club to be strictly fun with no pressure.” She also wanted to know what I though about creating girl-only book clubs if you can’t find moms who are willing to commit to reading.

Here are a few a my thoughts that may be helpful to others facing similar situations.

It is difficult sometimes for moms to shift their thinking, but part of the beauty of a book club with both generations is that girls and moms should feel more like equals than parent and child when it comes to group discussions. That’s how you really get to know each other and hear each other’s opinions outside of the normal routine of life. If girls feel like they are expected to respond a certain way they will usually clam up.

One of the things I noticed when I was sitting in on my daughter’s elementary school club, is that the emphasis really does need to be on fun. This group started with games and snacks, then moved to book discussion. By the time they sat down to talk about the book, everyone was warmed up being around each other and they seemed to talk more freely.

As for whether girls can have a great book club on their own, they certainly can. And the moms who are interested can still benefit by reading the same books and having time at home to talk about them even if they don’t get  group time. Also, moms can look for ways to bring up the book in a different way. For instance, they could cook a recipe together that goes with the book, even if they are just serving it to family members and not a book club. Any kind of activity like that is likely to generate book discussion in a casual setting.

I guess the bottom line is I believe any kind of group that gets kids reading for fun, and has parents involved somehow, is a good thing in the long run.

As for getting more girls to talk, and sometimes getting the moms to be quiet and listen, you may want to try a few techniques that will help even out the participation. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Implement  a round-robin questions and answer time. So you (or  your daughter) as the host would ask a question, then everyone would take turns answering as you go  in a circle. You can add an item like a baton or fairy wand or some other symbol to pass around that indicates who has the floor at the moment. This
    tends to have everyone focus on the speaker for a moment. You can ask everyone to keep their answers brief until you’ve gone completely around, then open
    it up for more comments afterward if people want to say more.
  • You could also make up an equal number of questions for the members in your group, put them in a bowl, and have everyone take turns pulling a question and
    answering it. Then others can respond once the reader is finished.

These kinds of games encourages everyone to participate without putting the spotlight on the shyer members or openly curbing the more talkative ones. You could also keep a few things ready to say if needed, like “let’s hear from everyone first, then we’ll open it up for more discussion,” or “that’s a great story (for something that seems to be going off track), can we here more about it once we finish talking about the book?”

No one thing will be perfect, and you may have to search for what will work in your group, but creating a safe environment for everyone to speak up will be a big benefit for your group in the long run.

One other thing you could consider is to ask the girls to respond first, then have the moms chime in. You could also play a game like telephone, (where
you whisper a line from the book and have it go around in a circle until the last person says what they hear. It’s usually not close to the real version.) This is a good reminder for everyone to give their attention to the speaker when she’s talking.

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