You know how you always plan to read books that you never get to?  Tell me about it.  So when I have the chance, I like to summarize books for friends and clients so you can feel smart without all the work!  I am getting through a few great ones, but for now, here's an oldie but goodie for the archives:

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

NurtureShock (2009) is really a social psychology book that takes a stab at several different parenting phenomena and upends assumptions we have about how to parent.  It references advancements in neuropsychology that change the way we understand child development.  if you really get into the science-y parts, you will want to read the whole book! 

Merryman and Bronson remind us that what is true for adults is not necessarily true for kids, and that “good” and “bad” are “not opposite ends of a single spectrum.”  Kids can often seem like “walking contradictions.”  It is in learning about these contradictions that we develop a deeper understanding of our kids and what they need from us.

Brief Chapter Summaries and Daily Applications

Chapter 1: The Inverse Power of Praise:

-       Large percentages of gifted kids underestimate their potential

-       Giving kids the label of “smart” actually causes underperformance: “I am smart… [therefore] I don’t need to put out effort”

-       Kids who cheat typically do so because they have not learned strategies for handling failure

-       Over-praised kids can become more competitive and compelled to tear others down

Practical applications:

Emphasize effort over aptitude (praise the “process” not the “person”).  Praise also has to be sincere, as kids recognize fake praise.  Find praise regarding moments in which kids are engaged, motivated and making strides relative to themselves (such as, “I notice that you really took initiative on…” or “I see that you are concentrating really hard”).  Teach kids that intelligence can be developed and that the “brain is a muscle.”  The harder you work it out, the smarter you become.  Also, don’t over-praise.  Let kids have space to develop their own self-conversations.


Chapter 2: The Lost Hour:

-       Kids are not getting enough sleep!  “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development” in one study of several cited.

-       Some of the many neurological implications of too little sleep include: a lesser ability to recall pleasant memories, a negative impact on hormones, and a powerful contributor to obesity

-       In one study, kids who slept more scored 156 points higher on the verbal section of the SAT

Practical applications:

Make sure your kids get enough sleep.  Notice when your kids are fatigued and prioritize rest.  Do not over-schedule your kids. Work with your community to encourage your middle and high schools to consider later start times. 


Chapter 3: Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race:

-       Kids are prone to categorizing race, and do so earlier than we might expect

-       There are “developmental windows” of opportunity within which to teach children essential lessons about race

-       Diverse schools typically lead to less cross-race friendships; the more diverse the school the more kids self-segregate by race

-       America encourages individuality, and as a result, kids see differences through which they can distinguish themselves, resulting in more “subgroupism,” or race-based exclusion

Practical applications:

By first grade, make sure you talk to your kids about race, for example, that doctors can be any race (just like you might have already reminded your kids that doctors can be any gender).  Don’t assume that exposing your kids to diverse races/ethnicities is enough.  Explicit conversations about race work best.  When developmentally appropriate, teachers and parents should teach about discrimination, such as lessons on Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. 


Chapter 4: Why Kids Lie:

-       We have misconceptions about who lies.  In truth, girls and boys lie in equal doses, older kids lie more than younger ones, and extroverts (kids with strong social skills) lie more than introverts

-       In most kids, “four year olds lie once every two hours” and six year olds lie about once per hour

-       Kids learn that some types of deception are ok, even often learning this from their parents (“white lies” or lies that maintain social rules)

-       Lying is actually a developmental milestone (!) and is related to intelligence

-       Kids lie to avoid punishment, to support their friends/siblings, to increase power, and as a coping mechanism to vent frustration or get attention

-       Kids are taught not to tattle on others, which becomes a form of lying

-       Parents tend to “entrap their kids, putting them in positions to lie and testing their honesty unnecessarily” (such as, “Did you draw on the table?” when it is already clear that the child did)

Practical applications:

Kids care about making parents/teachers happy and remaining in their good graces.  They need to be rewarded and acknowledged for truthfulness, independent of the original infraction (such as, “I appreciate that you told truth about who broke the lamp” or “I will be really happy if you tell the truth”).  No matter how small, lies should not go unnoticed.  Do not entrap your kids in lies.  If it is clear that they broke a rule (drawing on the table), just remind them not to draw on the table, and work with them to clean it up. 


Chapter 5: The Search for Intelligent Life in Children:

-       Testing for “giftedness” in young children (ages four, five, and even six) is highly inaccurate.  By third grade, 73% of kids id’d as gifted in kindergarten would no longer qualify for giftedness

-       IQ tests become more accurate by third grade and are most accurate by middle school

-       Third grade is also when most curriculums leap in difficulty in that they require more reasoning and abstraction as opposed to rote learning

-       “Emotional intelligence” (EQ) has become an important concept and practice in psychology and is related to IQ in that IQ leads to a correspondingly higher EQ

-       Varying learning styles and temperaments correlate with IQ and school performance differently over time.  For example, extroversion is helpful in early elementary, but by middle school, introverts are the highest achieving.

Practical applications:

Work not to pigeonhole and label your kids.  Do not set up self-fulfilling prophecies regarding aptitude.  Allow your kids to develop at their pace and appreciate that neurodevelopment occurs differently over time.  Emphasize conscientiousness and reinforce intrinsic motivation by allowing kids to develop passions and to explore different ways of learning.


Chapter 6: The Sibling Effect:

-       Much research has addressed concerns about the possible negative impact of having only one child, but having siblings is not necessarily better.  In fact, siblings learn as many poor social skills from each other as those that are pro-social.

-       One of every eight sibling conflicts ends in compromise or reconciliation, while 7/8 end in withdrawal, usually by the less powerful child

-       Helpful sibling skills programs focus on prevention (such as coaching siblings to initiate play on terms they both enjoy) rather than resolution once fights have already begun

-       “Educational” books that “teach social skills” show as many negative as positive behaviors, and kids learn both

-       The most predictive factor of sibling relationships is the relationship the oldest child has with his/her best friend

Practical applications:

Focus on teaching pro-social skills to children, regardless of their ages and personalities.  Encourage shared fantasy play in which children “emotionally commit to one another and pay attention to what the other is doing.”  Help them to develop scripts in which both children’s fantasies can coexist and create shared storylines.  Recognize and allow for times when a child is busy or wants to play alone.  Identify scenarios in which all siblings find common enjoyment and encourage kids to see their siblings as friends that need to be treated with respect and reciprocity.


Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion:

-       Teenagers lie often and object to “emotional intrusiveness,” such as parents asking if their child is in love, etc.  They often omit relevant details about their lives or just avoid conversations with their parents about personal matters.

-       Teens cite that they lie because they do not want to disappoint their parents

-       Permissive parents do not learn more about their kids’ lives than those who are strict

-       Teens believe that asking for help from a parent is a sign of weakness or immaturity

-       Oppressive, overly strict parents tend to have obedient but depressed kids 

-       Controlling parents who fill their kids’ free times end up with teens that are quick to boredom

-       Neurologically, teenagers’ brains are prone to boredom, are relatively unable to gauge risk and foresee consequences, and are driven by their relatively under-stimulated “reward centers.”   Yet, teenagers are not prone to all kinds of risk.  They remain quick to embarrassment and often overly self-conscious.

Practical applications:

Parents should establish consistent, enforceable rules and limits.  Still, they should treat their teens as important and allow them to have a say when warranted.  Moderate conflict with teens is better than none or lots.  It is a sign of respect in the relationship and a wish for teens to appeal to their parents as people, rather than to just pretend to go along and then go behind their parents’ backs.  Respect what kids argue about and at least hear them out.  Allow concessions (such as a one-time later curfew) if earned.


Chapter 8: Can Self-Control Be Taught?

-       Programs that attempt to improve teenagers’ self-control often fail (such as driver’s education and D.A.R.E.)

-       Some programs do work; Tools of the Mind, a Vygotsky-inspired learning program is an example.  It targets self-regulation (a.k.a. executive function) and fosters complex, interactive, sustained play.  Kids master the “intellectual process of holding [and integrating] multiple thoughts.”  This results in improved attention and impulse control, which leads to improved goal setting.

-       Children need to learn how well they are doing and how accurate their completed work is in the moments that the work occurs (such as self-correcting tasks of the Montessori method)

-       When children are intrinsically motivated, dopamine is “spritzed” throughout the brain, which enhances the signaling of neurons and facilitates better overall brain function 

-       When it comes to successful outcomes, being mentally disciplined is more relevant than being smart (although, with both executive functioning and intelligence, students perform 300% better than students with high IQ alone!)

Practical applications:

Ask your child to find errors prior to pointing them out.  Have students repeat instructions aloud while they work.  Ask kids to find the best examples of their work (such as their most accurate/legible handwriting).  Write up plans with your child, even just about what you will do on a free day.  “Buddy read” with your child (read a book, then have them read it back to you, allowing creativity).  When engaging in pretend play, offer prompts to extend kids’ play.


Chapter 9: Plays Well with Others:

-       “Educational” media increases relational aggression.  Shows spend most of their time establishing social “conflicts” and very little time resolving them.  Especially young children don’t connect the overall lesson with the preceding behaviors.

-       Spouses express anger toward each other 2-3 times more than they express affection

-       Children often see their parents fight, but don’t see any resolution

-       Corporal punishment is actually less correlated with aggression when it is used as a regular discipline for everyday misbehavior than for when it is “saved” for the worst offenses, which results in strongly negative self-perceptions

-       Any child can show mean behavior reflecting lapses in judgment, which is typical for developing kids.  “Zero tolerance” approaches mis-target kids. 

-       Bullies are usually “popular, well-liked, and admired.”  Many of these kids are just socially busy on both ends of the good/bad spectrum.  These kids tend to be successful in life overall, and are therefore rarely studied. 

-       Girls are as likely to be bullies, using relational rather than physical aggression

-       Our children basically raise each other, knowing that it is “cool” to defy authority and even to bully, if bullying maintains social power 

-       One study on progressive dads, traditional dads, and disengaged dads showed that, while progressive dads are really involved in their children’s lives, they also have poorer marital quality and overall family functioning.  Greater involvement leads to potentially greater conflict over parenting practices.  Progressive dads also tend to utilize inconsistent discipline.

Practical applications:

Teach your children about healthy friendship patterns, starting very early.  Do not assume that just because your child is popular and has lots of friends, that they and their friends are immune to bullying behaviors.  Be consistent with rules and discipline.  It is ok to let your children see you fight with your partner, as long as the fighting is productive.  Let your children see that your fights resolve (or at least circle back around and tell them that you worked it out, reiterating your common goals and mutual respect), and remember to show affection toward your spouse.


Chapter 10: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t:

-       Baby Einstein and other, similar TV programs do not stimulate language development

-       Babies learn language best from live, human interaction.  They are genetically, highly sensitive to interactive human speech.

-       It is not how much language a baby receives that matters (“receptive language”).  It is the verbal reactions that they receive to their own vocalizations (encouraged, “expressive language”). 

-       “Intermittent reinforcement” patterns are strongest.  Over-responsiveness is experienced as over-stimulation to babies. 

-       Grammar teaches vocabulary, not the other way around.  Grammar creates “frames” of reference within which new vocabulary can be established. 

-       Many kids with early language delays do catch up over time.  They might be shy or not have motor control over their voice, but they continue to benefit from language used around them. 

-       When kids do have strong early language skills, this correlates highly with long-term spoken language skills and other verbal tasks, not with some kinds of math or other non-verbal tasks.

Practical applications:

Notice what your baby is trying to communicate, through their mouth, eyes, and gestures.  Respond rapidly and accurately.  Associate objects with words (such as saying “fruit” slowly while holding a piece of fruit for the baby to eat) and label the objects they show interest in.  Even affectionate touch while kids vocalize increases vocalizations, and eventually, vocabulary.  Still, don’t do this all the time.  Don’t intrude with your agenda for your child; follow their lead, and attune to what they are trying to communicate.  Expose your child to many different people’s uses of language, including varying pronunciations, etc.