Have you read any good parenting books lately? I have one to recommend: Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It is now out in paperback for $9 on Amazon.
What I like about it is that it is actually an entertaining read like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics. The book is chock-full of fascinating studies such as children in diverse schools are actually less likely to have a cross-racial friendship, or the most “brutal person” in a child’s life is…a sibling.
There were other interesting factoids in Nurture Shock such as constantly praising children for their innate intelligence can actually backfire. It is better to praise your children for effort and offer constructive criticism. Check out this study comparing the reactions of American mothers to Chinese mothers after their children failed a test that was intentionally hard:
The American mothers carefully avoided making negative comments. They remained fairly upbeat and positive with their child. The majority of the minutes were spent talking about something other than the testing at hand, such as what they might have for dinner. But the Chinese children were likely to hear, “You didn’t concentrate when doing it,” and “Let’s look over your test.” The majority of the break was spent discussing the test and its importance.
After the break, the Chinese kids’ test scores on the second test jumped 33 percent, more than twice the gain of the Americans.
The trade-off here would seem to be that the Chinese mothers acted harsh or cruel — but that stereotype may not reflect modern parenting in Hong Kong. Nor was it quite what Ng saw on the videotapes. While their words were firm, the Chinese mothers actually smiled and hugged their children every bit as much as the American mothers (and were no more likely to frown or raise their voices).
The studies on school and race — there are more than one — were fascinating. On the one hand, the authors pointed to studies suggesting that bombarding minority children with “frequent predictions of future discrimination” was as destructive as the racism itself. “If you overfocus on those types of events, you give the children the message that the world is going to be hostile — you’re just not valued and that’s just the way the world is.”
On the other hand, the fact that so many white families do not speak to their children about race is problematic. According to a study out of Austin, Texas, even the children who came from progressive white families harbored racist thoughts that were never addressed, and some of the parents even dropped out of the study due to their discomfort with the topic. I actually wrote about that study here.
This is what Bronson and Merryman had to say about it: “Having been in the cross-race study groups led to significantly more cross-race play. But it made no difference on the third-grade children. It’s possible that by third grade, when parents usually recognize it’s safe to start talking a little about race, the developmental window has already closed.”
The chapter on sibling rivalry was also interesting and struck a nerve with me as my two children fight:
Observational studies have determined that siblings between the ages of three and seven clash 3.5 times per hour, on average. Some of those are brief clashes, others longer, but it adds up to ten minutes of every hour spent arguing. According to Dr. Hildy Ross, at the University of Waterloo, only about one out of every eight conflicts ends in compromise or reconciliation — the other seven times, the siblings merely withdraw, usually after the older child has bullied or intimidated the younger.
Dr. Ganie DeHart, at State University of New York College at Genesco, compared how four-year-old children treat their younger siblings versus their best friends. In her sample, the kids made seven times as many negative and controlling statements to their siblings as they did to friends.
I believe it. My children are now 7 and 4, and if there is one challenging aspect of parenthood it is the fighting. Just last week, I broke up a fight in the car, in which Eli was claiming that a picture Ari had was hers. She was screaming and crying at the top of her lungs while Ari shouted back at her, “It’s mine!” I threatened Eli with a timeout.
This was not my best moment as I had a cold and my ears were ringing. I asked — begged — Ari to be more “considerate” of those who have to listen to Eli’s screaming. He, of course, felt like the victim because it really was his picture. Why should he be held accountable for Eli’s crying?
Ayayay! Any advice on how to handle sibling rivalry would be great. Drop them here!
This was the first book I have read that even addressed it. And of course, there were many other studies like it — like society’s obsession with small children’s IQ, or how sleep deprivation is at the root of many social issues, and the science of children lying as well as teen rebellion. They were all fascinating.
Have you read this book? What did you think?