I just came across this summary I wrote of a book I read several years ago, called "Nurture Shock." The authors took some of the most common child-rearing beliefs and practices and evaluated them using research, and came to some counter-intuitive conclusions. I thought the book was so interesting, and when I read back at what I wrote, it was just as surprising as when I first read it. I love reading things like this because I love the art of research and child psychology (I work at a child psychology practice). Anyway, if you are interested, I summarized the nine main points in the book (one for each chapter). Because Blogger stinks, they all have a 1 in from of them.
- “Esteem-building praise” often backfires. Constantly telling kids they’re smart can actually undermine their confidence and lead to under-performing. Kids who are praised for their smarts or innate abilities view their failures as a result of being “not-smart” and thus avoid difficult tasks. When kids are praised for their effort, they view failure as a result of not focusing hard enough and try harder next time. “When they get to college, heavily praised students commonly dropped out of classes rather than risk a mediocre grade and they have a hard time picking a major ; they’re afraid to commit to something because they’re afraid of not succeeding.” One really cool study discussed compared Chinese vs. American mothers’ responses when told (falsely) that their child under-performed on a task. American mothers avoided making negative comments and stayed positive, mentioning the test briefly and then focusing on something else. Chinese children were more likely to hear “You didn’t concentrate” or “Let’s look it over.” The Chinese childrens’ scores jumped 33% on the next task, 2x that of the American children. The Chinese mothers smiled and hugged their kids as much as the American mothers did.
- Lack of sleep in kids and teens is more likely related to rising obesity rates and learning difficulties in kids and teens than is TV, lack of activity, or internet/video gaming. 90% of parents think their kids get enough sleep when 5% of teens actually do. The authors label it “the lost hour.” The fragility of children’s developing brain is way more sensitive to sleep deprivation than an adult’s, and a lack of 1 hour of sleep a night for a week can result in the equivalent of losing 2 years of intelligence in performing (a sixth grader performing like a fourth grader in school). It is highly related to many of the traits that plague teens: depression, moodiness, impulsiveness, and disengagement. Part of this is that schools start too early. Ten hours of sleep is ideal for children and teens, with a minimum of 8 hours for teens.
- Racism isn’t necessarily “taught.” We actually promote racism by not talking about it. Kids naturally categorize and develop racial constructs at an early age. They are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism. When parents fail to talk about race because they don’t want to say the wrong thing, or they want their children to “see everyone as equal”, it backfires because it is not possible to create a color-blind environment in kids’ minds… they end up developing their own “my group is better” attitude. Really fascinating is the research that shows how the strategy of exposing your children to diverse environments doesn’t result in more integrated friendships or attitudes. The more diverse the school, the more kids tend to self-segregate and their likelihood of cross cultural friendships actually go down. What impacts kids views on race is whether their parents talk about it at an early age. Children’s minds are forming their first racial conclusions early, so talking about it when their attitudes are most amenable to change has the most impact. First graders were found to be impacted by cross-racial playgroups and discussion but third graders were not, implying that the early age is the most influential when it comes to racial constructs.
- The truth bias- Kids lie way more often than parents think, and they are better liars than they think. Parents often fail to address early lying (ages 3-4), and the strategy of focusing on how bad lying is doesn’t have much of an impact on future lying. Alternately, emphasizing the worth of telling the truth has the biggest impact on decreasing children’s lying. In one study, lying on a task significantly decreased when read “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” over “The Boy who Cried Wolf” because the character received praise and worth for telling the truth, rather than punishment for lying (they used a control of replacing George Washington’s name with a neutral one so it wouldn’t impact the final outcome).
- Sibling relationships- the single most impact on improving siblings relationship was teaching kids conflict prevention rather than conflict resolution. Teaching them how to enjoy playing with each other (how to find common activities, how to read when what other siblings is feeling and when he or she doesn’t want to play, etc) had the biggest impact on early and future siblings relationships. Despite books and TV programs that portray sibling squabbles with “happy endings”, kids were more likely to start conflict with their siblings after such media. Why? Simply by hearing the types of verbal insults used in the books and TV programs.
- TV and aggression: Any type of child-programming TV is related to an increase in aggression and bullying; the type of programming, whether it violent or PBS, is irrelevant. Power Rangers is actually less likely to impact verbal aggression/bullying than are non-violent child-targeted shows like Arthur. Why? Children aren’t like adults- they don’t simply get the “take home message” of a show. Instead they absorb all that occurs, and they are more likely to learn and use verbal insults and bullying tactics displayed in non-violent programs (“you’re not my friend anymore”). Ninety-six percent of children’s programming contains verbal insults. “When we changed the channel from violent TV to non-violent fare, kids ended up learning the advanced skills of clique formation, friendship withdrawal, and the art of insult.
- Parents who pause mid-argument to “take the
conflict upstairs” can actually make the situation worse. Pro-social behavior
in kids increases when exposed to parental constructive conflict when they can
witness the final resolution.
- Children who watched Baby language DVDS (Baby Signing, Baby can read, etc) on a semi regular basis had significantly poorer vocabularies in future years than babies who did not. The single most way to encourage language development is not even talking continuously to your baby. It is responding promptly to any and all babble sounds that your child makes.