Discussion of "NurtureShock" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, Chapter 1

Today's the day we discuss NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. To be honest, I've fallen out of the habit of reading parenting books over the past few years because they all seem to be saying the same thing (or opposite things in an alarmist tone). So it took some significant arm-twisting from Mrs. Haley to get me to read NurtureShock (ok, she lent me her copy), but I'm very glad I did.

It's a very different kind of book about parenting. The authors decided to take received wisdom on a number of different parenting topics, and then see if there had been any research on those topics, and whether that research bore out what the received wisdom said. I guess we really shouldn't be surprised that the research shows that quite often we're doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing to get the end results we want.

I've been having lots of trouble figuring out which 2 or 3 points from the book I wanted to discuss, and then it hit me: Why not talk about a different chapter every Friday for the rest of the summer? There are 10 chapters, on such wildly different and meaty topics, that there's no way we could hit everything we really want to in one or two posts.

So today let's talk about Chapter 1: "The Inverse Power of Praise."

For those of us who have been following some of the recent research on over-praising kids, this chapter isn't a surprise. Essentially, giving your kids too much praise actually lowers their self-esteem and reduces their motivation.

Bronson and Merryman looked at research by Carol Dweck showing that kids who were praised for intelligence ended up giving up in the face of challenge, while kids who were praised for effort were more persistent when challenged. Which makes total sense.

When they were told they were smart, that made them self-conscious and afraid of proving that they weren't smart, so they wouldn't try things they weren't good at. And if something was difficult, they thought it was proof that they weren't smart so they gave up instead of trying harder.

It turns out that praising kids for effort encourages them to be persistent and keep trying. Also, making them wait for rewards, and not praising every little thing they do (effort or not) also teaches them patience. And praise about specific things also helps them focus their efforts.

This all makes so much sense, doesn't it? But then I had to back up and realize how very often I praised my kids for being smart. Not for being persistent, or looking for alternate solutions, or putting in effort.

Even when that's what I mean.

I'm still saying "You're so smart" or "You're such a clever kid." Why?

Toward the end of the chapter, Bronson talks about his own experience with his son, and how he's been working on switching from the "You're so smart" praise to the process/effort-based praise. He pinpointed that the reason it was so hard for him to be specific was that by saying "You're so smart" he was praising something innate within his child, which was his way of showing unconditional love.

Wow. Yeah. Exactly. I think my kids poop rainbows. They're amazing because of who they are, not what they do, and that's what I want them to know every minute of every day, including when they're 35 and life is even more confusing than it is now. I want them to know that the molecules in their bodies make them the precious people they are, and that they are loved more than they'll ever understand.

But it turns out that love really isn't enough, all by itself. We have to teach them how to survive and thrive in the world, and persistence and effort are necessary to be fulfilled, productive human beings. And we have to trust kids enough to let them figure out who they are, instead of our telling them they're smart all the time!

One of the big points of this chapter was the idea that the brain grows the more you use it. So kids who work harder at things get smarter. And maybe parents who work harder at praising their kids the better way get smarter, too. I'm going to start testing that theory now.

What stuck out for you most in this chapter?

Next Friday: chapter 2: The Lost Hour, about the effects of sleep deprivation on all of us, but especially kids. This chapter kicked me right straight in the teeth.