I just finished an absolutely fabulous book called NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. This NY Times bestseller came out in 2009, so I’m a little behind the times. Maybe you’ve already read it? I picked up the book last week and — despite my sister visiting and my two small children — I could hardly put it down.
The book is an entertaining, highly readable review of multiple studies about child development that have not yet trickled down into common knowledge. I love nerdy non-fiction like this, especially when it’s related to parenting. (See my two other book reviews about books that have transformed my parenting: Simplicity Parenting and Bringing Up Bebe.)
After reading NurtureShock, I poured over the book for awhile and came up with five things that inspired me the most. Then I sorted out five goals to help me turn that inspiration into action. Here are my goals… maybe they’ll inspire you too!
1. I will praise my children for their efforts rather than their achievements.
Studies show that praising children for their achievements and intelligence (“Great job! You’re SO smart!”) makes them work for the praise and thus become afraid of failing and showing they’re not “smart.” Put another way, boosting self-esteem has not produced positive results. Inversely, praising children for their effort rewards them for the process instead of the result (“You concentrated on your homework today without getting distracted. I’m proud of you for working so hard.”). Thus they are motivated to work harder along the way rather than to be afraid of losing the praise if they fail.
For me, it’s a big mental shift to praise the effort rather than the result. I’ve been trying, though, and one area is toilet training. Lena has been toilet trained for months but is learning to get herself to the toilet without damp underwear due to some dilly-dallying along the way. I’ve been making an effort to praise her for going to the toilet quickly and to praise her for trying even when she doesn’t think she needs to go.
2. I will prioritize their sleep their entire childhoods.
Depriving children of the sleep they need has been shown to lead to ADHD, obesity, loss of emotional well-being, and lower IQ. We work hard now to let Lena and Gil sleep as long as they need to and as much as research says we should, but what about when they are in elementary school and there are sports activities that push back dinnertime, homework, and bedtime? What about when they are in high school and need more sleep than they did in middle school (surprise suprise!)?
After reading the compelling research in this book, I want to always be hyper vigilant of my children’s sleep needs, not just now as a sleep-deprived young mother.
3. I will talk about race with my children.
Studies show that many parents — white parents especially — think their children don’t notice difference in skin color. Therefore they choose to take the path of least resistance and basically pretend that race, differences in skin color, and differences in culture don’t exist. However, studies reviewed in this book show that children do notice differences and pick up on their parents’ response to them. “[Child development researchers] argue that children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue–but we tell kids that “pink” means for girls and “blue” is for boys. “White” and “black” are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own.” Conversations about race are often only initiated after a child makes an embarrassing public statement; research shows, however, that the most positive outcomes occur when parents and children talk openly about the differences as their children grow.
After reading this book, I want to read books with my children about skin color, civil rights, and world cultures. I will aspire to talk frankly and thoughtfully about race.
4. I will nurture self-control and self-directed play in my children.
“[T]he predictive values of self-discipline in many cases are better than those of IQ scores. In simpler words, being disciplined is more important than being smart.” The authors used an example of a highly effective preschool and kindergarten program (Tools of the Mind) that encourages children to structure their playtime and uniquely cooperate in their reading, playing, and learning. This program has had an amazing effect on classrooms by producing calm, well-behaved, self-directed students who score phenomenally better on standardized tests.
The discussion in this chapter reminded me a lot of all the reading I’ve been doing about Montessori education (a couple of blog posts about that coming soon!) and inspired me more than ever to encourage structure, routine, self-discipline in my home for my children. I’m also inspired to learn more about several complicated educational ideas (like symbolic thought and executive function).
5. I will respond to my children’s speech… even when it’s just babble.
This chapter started with a fascinating discussion of two things we once thought were helpful: baby-targeted media (like Baby Einstein DVDs) that are supposed to boost language comprehension and talking non-stop so that your child hears as many words as possible. Studies have shown that these methods are sometimes more harmful than helpful. Instead, new studies have shown that infants’ vocabulary expands most quickly when parents respond either with a caress or with words to child-initiated speech. An example: when a one-year-old is asking for a spoon, rather than just ignoring the child or continuing an unrelated stream of chatter, a child will most quickly pick up on language when the parent might respond, “Yes, Charlotte, that’s a spoon.” Even just touching or kissing the child to affirm their attempts at language has also been shown to make remarkable differences in children’s language development.
After reading this, I am more aware of periods in Lena and Gil’s days when they are more vocally interactive. They are looking for a response from me, whether it’s cooing and smiling back, hugging or kissing them as we babble together, or answering Lena’s new refrain of, “What’s that, Mama?” I also want to follow their lead, watching what they are interested in and what they are asking about. I want to be attentive to them and encouraging of their efforts at language.
There’s so much more in this book: why teenagers rebel, why kids lie, why siblings fight, and “why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.” Have you read this book or heard of some of these studies? Do any of these changes ring true with you, or have you tried them in your own home?