Book Review on the Smile Inside Companion Handbooks

Personal Development Education at its best!

This review is for both “Smile Inside 12-13” and “Smile Inside 14-15.” I give both books Five out of Five stars.

Can I just start by saying that reading these books makes me smile? I’m an author of Young Adult Fiction and I really like young people, and have worked with this age group casually on many occasions because I think they really benefit from the extra care. “Smile Inside” is special because it is for them! These books contain such warmth and so many light-hearted activities. Smile Inside isn’t about “work”: it’s really about having a fun experience and growing into a whole human being in the process. This is a loving and much-needed approach to dealing with what can be serious wellbeing issues among teenagers, at a time when schools and governments are seeking to engage resilience training and personal development courses for students everywhere.

What is Smile Inside? It is an exciting resource for adults who work with young people, either generally, or in the areas of health and personal development. It includes detailed, ready-to-use exercises for specific age groups: the first book is “Smile inside 12-13” and the second is “Smile Inside 14-15;” although the right exercises from these books can be used with younger and older children, and even adults. It’s not a self-help book for teenagers.

…Although I do think teen readers could get a lot out of reading it, trying the exercises that can be done individually, and finding someone like the wellbeing co-ordinator of their school to run some sessions.

A highlight in “Smile Inside 12-13” is an entire section on Emotions, identifying them, thinking about them and understanding that we all experience them in the same way. In fact all of the exercises in “Smile Inside 12-13” encourage strong connections with peers. One of the things I wanted and needed most through my teen years were some strong, trustworthy allies my own age. Throughout “Smile Inside 12-13,” this connection-building is encouraged by teaching self-control, how to speak in a kind way, and how to stand-up for self and others. Role play, props, quotes and jokes are used to make a specific skill-targeted exercise engaging, while minimising “lecturing” from the facilitator (some of these exercises only take five minutes to set-up and explain). The approach is intelligent (no inadvertent talking-down) and considers the learning abilities of the group (some exercises utilise visual skills, others movement, others writing and listening, and so on.)

As it says in Smile Inside 12-13, “Smile Inside encourages participants to become masters of their own minds and behaviour- skills that are necessary for a smooth transition into adulthood.”

While there are some similar activities in “Smile Inside 12-13” and “Smile Inside 14-15,” they are both complimentary (the one builds up to the other, increasing the learning and target-age) and stand-alone (either book can be used without the need for the other.) The instructions are so clear and concise that a facilitator with no formal wellbeing training can pick up the text, get together their group of young people, and go for it.

A highlight of “Smile Inside 14-15” was finding that the exercises presented everything that I wanted to know when I was that age, in the way of social skills, talking to adults, interpreting behaviour, and making an impression on peers and adults. This is done in a structured way that makes the lessons easy to hold in the mind, while making self-exploration and skill-building almost like being in a magic school! So often teens are critised for “not knowing how to behave” but “Smile Inside 14-15” does away with that by confidently teaching young people, “this is what you can do, this is how you can do it.” Like “Smile Inside 12-13,” movement, props, writing exercises, jokes and role play are all used to engage students at their level, and with their issues (for example teen pregnancy was discussed in one example, as was stealing, mental health, and domestic abuse.) I’m of the opinion that teens will respond to this respectful approach to their humanity.

I intend to use these books to help me when I run book launches and workshops, and since reading them I feel more confident and better prepared with these resources right at my fingertips. I also welcome this information to stimulate ideas as I parent my two daughters and interact with the young people in my community. I can’t wait to see Smile Inside in every school… and the big smiles the young people have on their faces when they know they have the skills to deal with anything life can throw at them.

 -Stephanie Black

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