Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book Review - Nurture Shock

March Book

Nurture Shock
by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
239 pages

I've been hearing about this book since it came out in 2009, and I've wanted to read it since then. I did start it a while ago, but then Livy came along, and the book had to go back to the library. This time I bought my own copy!

Chapter 1: The Inverse Power of Praise
Oh. My. Goodness. I knew I was going to like this book, but already, I love it. This concept about praise isn't new: we've been hearing it all 4-1/2 years we've been parents. That praise doesn't really instill or reinforce self-esteem. It makes kids think that if they have to put some effort into a problem, they must not be smart. So, instead of praising results or being (you're so smart, that was good), we should praise effort, specifically and sincerely.
  • You must've worked really hard.
  • I like how you keep trying.
  • You concentrated without asking to take a break.
  • You listened carefully.
  • You tried really hard.
Another take-away is that kids need to know their brain is a muscle that can be developed through hard work. And kids need a plan to handle failure--that means parents have to address failure and help the children develop a plan to overcome.

My favorite quote: "Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable they can control."

Chapter 2: The Lost Hour
This chapter is about sleeping. It seemed more scientific than I like (but the kids were chasing each other around the coffee table with scissors). I really like Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's book Sleepless in America for information on sleep. 

Chapter 3: Why White Parents Don't Talk about Race
This is a challenging chapter. Here in Prior Lake, we don't seem to have much diversity. And the diversity we have is a Russian population. Well, we do have the Shakopee Mdewakanton Souix community. Anyway, it's a white community. The only "people of color" we know is a girl that was adopted from China and two kids whose mother is Mexican.

This chapter posits that parents need to be talking about race with young kids while they are still developmentally open to it. There's something that even by 3rd grade kids are less likely to accept race differences than 1st graders.

I'm all for race equality and having friends of different races and cultures. But in our super white community, I have no idea how to do it. It does make me think about fostering Ancestral Pride (Swedish, Norwegian, German) and exposing them to other cultures. Is a different culture the same as a different race? Can we use the two inter-changeably?

Our kids might not understand race at all. When I asked them about skin color, our 4-1/2 yr old told me she has brown skin, I have pink skin, and grandma has black skin. And then proceeded to talk about green & red skin, purple skin, and orange skin--like the Lorax. Our 3 yr old just hollered out from the other room that he has "nothing skin" and started singing the Color Song from his preschool book. 

Chapter 4: Why Kids Lie
We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear. Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars. ~Chapter 4 Intro
I love this chapter already.
People simply cannot tell when kids are lying. They believe girls are telling the truth more than boys, when in fact boys do not like more often. They believe younger kids are more prone to lying, whereas the opposite is true. And they believe introverts are less trustworthy, when introverts actually lie less often. ~Pg 75
Similarly, the parent's first defense against his child's tendency to lie is "Well, I can tell when they're lying." That's been proven to be a myth. ~Pg 75 
This is a hot-button issue for me because so many parents I know complain of their kids lying and are trying to dream up serious consequences for it. This chapter says that kids lie to avoid punishment, and  kids want to make their parents happy. So instead of punishing kids for lying, we need to say something like, "I won't be upset with you, and if you tell the truth, I'll be happy."

There's super interesting information about tattling, which we deal with here.
For every one time a child seeks a parent for help, there were 14 other instances when he was wronged and did not run to the parent for aid. ~Pg 88
We want our kids to talk to each other first (Please stop hitting me. Can I have my truck back? Will you get off my leg? I don't want to color right now.), but maybe they are already doing a lot of that. According to this book they probably are.
A child considering reporting a problem to an adult not only faces peer condemnation as a traitor and the schoolyard equivalent of the death penalty--ostracism--but he also recalls every time he's heard teachers and parents say "Work it out on your own." ~Pg 89
 The lesson here is "No matter how small, lies no longer go unnoticed."
Does how we deal with a child's lies really matter, down the road in life? The irony of lying is that it's both normal and abnormal behavior at the same time. It's to be expected, and yet it can't be disregarded. ~Pg 90
 And also, don't entrap your kids with questions you already know the answer to, to test their honesty. They'll lie to get out of punishment, and you'll be angry.

Chapter 5: The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten
In our school district, the gifted program starts at 3rd grade. Now, I have more research why, but it seemed to make sense before that. Some younger kids just aren't ready for that kind of test. But that doesn't mean they aren't "gifted." I also like how at the end of the chapter, it challenges our need to label our kids this way.

I'm glad our thoughts that testing and labeling kids so young have been affirmed, at least by this research. I know you can find research to back up whatever you believe. 

Chapter 6: The Sibling Effect
Uh-oh. I might not like this chapter. The first statement that stood out to me is what if "children learn poor social skills from these interactions (with siblings), just as often as they learn good ones."

It was not at all what I expected from that first assertion. In a quick summary, children need to be taught to enjoy their siblings. Conflict Prevention instead of Conflict Resolution. Fighting may be normal, but as long as your kids are engaged with one another, they are building relationship.

I feel good because our two Big Kids do play well together and are engaged most of the time. Maybe all the time. They even seek each other out when we're at play groups and other play areas. We are working on recognizing that they've hurt each other's feelings and mending that.

One thing that was interesting is the example about children's books depicting sibling rivalry. I already have "put away" some library books or turned off some movie/cartoon when siblings or friends were being mean to each other. I'm sure the endpoint is that we need to be nice, but they were teaching my kids how to be mean first. 

Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion
This chapter seems to go hand in hand with Chapter 4: Why Kids Lie. They want to make their parents happy. Or don't want to make them mad. I think we have to prepare ourselves to let our kids fight about the rules. Our oldest does some negotiating now. Most of the time, she makes a valid point and the rule changes in that instance. I want to carry that over to their teen years when the rules aren't just about drinking red juice on the carpet.
Ironically, the type of parents who are actually the most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have the most conversations with their kids. They've set a few rules over a certain key spheres of influence, and they've explained why the rules are there. They expect the child to obey them. Over life's other spheres, they supported this child's autonomy, allowing freedom to make decisions. The kids of these parents lied the least. Rather than hiding twelve areas from their parents, they might be hiding as few as five. ~Pg 141
 In the families where there was less deception, there was a much higher ratio of arguing/complaining. Arguing was good--arguing was honesty. The parents didn't necessarily realize this. The arguing stressed them out. ~Pg 148
Certain types of fighting, despite the acrimony, are ultimately a sign of respect--not of disrespect. ~Pg 149
The variable that seemed to matter most was how the arguments were resolved. ~Pg 150
 Parents who negotiate ultimately appear to be more informed. Parents with unbending, strict guidelines make it a tactical issue for kids to find a way around them. ~Pg 150
 The narrow definition of pushover parents are those who give in to their kids because they can't stand to see their child cry, or whine. They placate their children just to shut them up. They want to be their kid's friend, and they're uncomfortable being seen as the bad guy. That's not the same as a parent who makes sure her child feels heard, and if the child has made a good argument for why a rule needs to be changed, lets that influence her decision. ~Pg 150-151
Chapter 8: Can Self-Control be Taught?
I have to say: this chapter was only mildly interesting. It just talked about Tools of the Mind preschool and kindergarten programs and how great they are. Yes, self-control can be taught. 

Chapter 9: Plays Well with Others
There are three types of aggression:
  • physical: pushing, hitting, biting
  • relational: "You can't play with me," ignoring a friend, lying about a friend
  • verbal: "shut up," "you're stupid"
The more educational media the children watched, the more relationally aggressive they were. ... Relational aggression is modeled at a fairly high rate. ~Pg 180
This is exactly why we don't watch a cartoon called "Little Bill." The few times the kids saw it, I was shocked at how mean the kids were to each other. This chapter says that physical aggression isn't impacted by media as much as we think, but relational and verbal aggression are.
Arthur is more dangerous for children than Power Rangers. ... There is a stunning amount of relational and verbal aggression in kids' television. ~Pg 181
Knowing what shows our kids watch the most (Cat in the Hat, Curious George, Super Why, Wild Kratts, Martha Speaks, and Arthur), I haven't seen any aggression or an amount of aggression I'd be concerned about. What is more surprising to me is that preschoolers are watching 11 hours of media a week. That's 90 minutes a day. I should pay more attention to how much our kids watch per day. Some days, they don't watch any, but on days they do, they really like to watch. :)
The typical married couple has about eight disputes each day. Spouses express anger to each other two or three times as often as they show a moment of affection to each other. And while parents might aspire to shield their kids from their arguing, the truth is children are witness to it 45% of the time. Children's emotional well-being and security are more affected by the relationship between the parents than by the direct relationship between the parent and child. ~Pg 184
This chapter says that children will be aggressive if they witness a fight between their parents, but will be much less aggressive (96% of the time) if they see the resolution.
Most kids were just as happy at the conclusion as they were when witnessing a friendly interaction between parents. ... Being exposed to constructive marital conflict can actually be good for children. ~Pg 185
Aggressiveness is most often used as a means of asserting dominance to gain control or protect status. ~Pg 191 
So, why don't kids shun aggressive peers?
  1. Aggressive behavior is interpreted as a willingness to defy grown-ups, which makes the aggressive child seem independent and older. The child who always conforms to adults' expectations and follows their rules runs the risk of being seen as a wimp.
  2. Aggressive kids can remain socially powerful because, just as the less-aggressive kids aren't angels, aggressive kids aren't all devils. 
 Kids see that, when used correctly, kindness and cruelty are equally effective tools of power. ~Pg 193
 On Page 194, it seems like the authors are talking about how detrimental to social development it is to segregate children by age--all the time. Which I think is interesting, because the home school community "bashes" constant age segregation.

Chapter 10: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't
The first thing this chapter discusses is baby DVDs like Baby Einstein. We have a 20-pack of Baby Einstein DVDs I got on eBay before Ivy was even born. I was preparing to stimulate her and help her be smarter. She thwarted me in that one. She wouldn't watch any tv at all until she was about 2. Had no interest in it. And when she was about 8 months old, we started doing the Baby Signs with her, saying the word "More" while showing her the sign. Instead of signing, she just started talking.
Video programming can't interact with the baby, responding to the sounds she makes. Why this is important requires careful explanation. ~Pg 204
 Instead of needing to talk constantly to your baby in order for her to learn language, "the central role of the parent is to notice what's coming from the baby and respond accordingly."
In fact, one of the mechanisms helping a baby to talk isn't a parent's speech at all--it's not what a child hears from a parent, but what a parent accomplishes with a well-timed loving caress. ~Pg 207
It sounds like responding quickly and appropriately to a baby is a key factor in early language development. I wonder if early language development is necessary. Who cares if your kid talks at 9 months or 18 months? Does it matter?

Baby talking to babies seems important because it helps them differentiate sounds. And then, respond when your baby is making noise. The next part of the chapter talks about labeling things for toddlers (your chair, mommy's car, daddy's bike, etc) as the child is naturally looking or pointing at the object. 

So, it does seem like kids who are responded to when they babble and are talking early do have an advantage over other kids--in their cognitive development and communication skills.

This chapter has challenged me to respond to Livy more.

I really loved this book. Each chapter was informative about child development and issues we all come across every day. I think every parent (or everyone who is around kids) should read this book. It's that good. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your chapter-by-chapter summary.

    A national columnist mentioned this book in her advice column so I was trying to find out what is in it - and whether it is worth buying for my daughter to help her deal with a 3-yr-old who is very heavily into "NO!" It doesn't sound like they get into that...