NurtureShock [Book Review]

We all have our special ways with our children. But we could learn more about parenting, couldn't we? Here is a book, NurtureShock, that can help us.

We all have our special ways with our children. But we could learn more about parenting, couldn’t we? Here is a book, NurtureShock, that can help us. 

There is no dearth of literature available on the topic of child-rearing but “NurtureShock” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (Grand Central Publishing), is one book that deserves a place at the top of any parent’s reading pile. It remained on the New York Times best seller list for three months, was one of Amazon’s best selling books for 2009 and has been translated into fifteen languages. It reveals how certain parenting practices in modern times are not producing expected results. In fact, they may even cause opposite effects than intended. The book is strongly backed by scientific study and balanced analysis stemming from actual research. Although most of the case studies are from the USA, in many cases, situations are not restricted behind barriers of country or culture. The world over, parents follow similar approaches in raising their offspring and have similar expectations from them. Children also behave in a manner that is not strictly confined to a geographical region.

NurtureShock covers topics regarding raising children right from toddlers to teens. The book is divided into chapters that each start with a real-life example concerning the problem to be tackled. It systematically dismantles beliefs behind child raising practices that are being mistakenly followed by the majority and provides guidance on changes to be made so that the right way is followed. Towards the end of a section, the authors sometimes include their personal experience. Here are some of the interesting topics that are covered:

Showering praise the right way:

Parents often tend to indulge in generalized praise of natural abilities to boost self-confidence and encourage kids. This part of the book shows how such blanket applause can prove detrimental to the child’s performance. Backed by neurobiological studies, it suggests that praise should be more specific and tells readers what it should be targeted at in order to achieve the correct results.

Children getting less sleep:

The importance of adequate sleep in children cannot be stressed enough. The book cites effects like IQ impairment, inattentiveness, obesity, memory and learning problems stemming from sleep disorders in kids. While reading this section, what also comes to mind is the norm in many Indian families to stay up late (as compared to their western counterparts) and the realization that this can have an adverse effect on children’s overall development.

Dishonesty in kids:

This is a very interesting and entertaining chapter with vivid descriptions of real-life experiments involving how and why children lie. Clearly, kids are not the sweet, honest angels they are made out to be, especially by their own parents! The results from studies testing children’s honesty may leave the reader shocked when certain popular assumptions about lying in kids are expertly overturned. For instance, the threat of punishment may cause kids to become better at lying instead of detracting them from it! After putting forth all the analysis of dishonesty in children, this chapter also offers sensible advice to parents regarding how to handle this problem and encourage honesty.

Testing kids’ intelligence:

This chapter talks of the eagerness of adults to submit very young children to IQ tests in the hope of finding the genius in them as early as possible. The authors try to find out how accurately these tests can predict future intelligence and achievements and also whether testing emotional intelligence, personality or behavior also correlates to the child’s academic success in the future.

Sibling relationships:

Any parent with more than one kid has gone through the headache of handling conflicts between their children. Keeping up with the theme of shocking readers, the authors find that hostility between siblings is not because of a commonly thought of cause. This part of the book also discusses the surprising effect of books and videos that try to teach children how to value their siblings and provides a cautionary message to parents who may think that such media will have the desired effect. Most importantly, it talks about the effect of relationships that a child has with his or her close friend on the child’s sibling, instead of the other way round.

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Deciphering teenage rebellion:

This section tackles the problems most parents have when their children hit teenage years and start exhibiting behaviors like deception, getting easily bored and turning argumentative. It uses neurological studies of the teenage brain to answer questions about their typical behavior and also makes interesting points regarding rule-setting by parents. The authors find surprising observations and explore the attitudes of parents and their teenage offspring behind those infamous arguments that we all know inevitably occur between them.

Inculcating self-control in children:

An excellent chapter that starts by talking about a program called “Tools”, which was implemented in certain American schools to great success for developing discipline and ultimately leading to greater cognitive control. The authors figure out why the program works so well and also talk about the importance of play with certain specific components in it so that higher-order abstract thinking skills in young children are sharpened. Every parent tends to fret over how to tackle distraction in kids and this section provides advice on how to focus on the opposite aspect – building skills of concentration.

Language acquisition:

This section begins with how infants start to learn languages. Studies have shown that parents focus more on the volume of speech going into the baby’s ears. While this is good, they do not realize enough how much it matters that they also pay attention to the other direction in the flow of communication as well as their reaction to the child’s output. A surprising correlation between grammar and vocabulary is presented and valid examples are given regarding how different grammatical structures help build a young child’s wealth of words. Tactics for development of object-word association in a learning baby are disclosed. Finally, the chapter talks about whether language acquisition is inborn or not and what the implications of the very early possession of this skill are.

Other than the topics mentioned in this book review, there are chapters on parents tackling sensitive topics like race (that can be somewhat translated to religion, caste or community in other countries) and on aggressiveness in children, which make for similar enlightening reading. The concluding portion of this brilliant book talks about two very important assumptions to drop if adults are to find their way through what the authors very aptly call the ‘wild kingdom of childhood’! They cite relevant examples from various chapters and cleverly prove their point regarding letting go of these assumptions. Parents are encouraged to keep an open mind when it comes to studying contradicting behaviors in their children.

There was not a dull moment while reading this book due to the vivid descriptions and the effects of actual experiments that were done to provide the basis for the ideas put forth in it. The language is simple and clarifying. Statistics provided in the form of numbers and percentages add to the credibility of the studies that were done in universities and institutes in the USA as well as other countries. And true to its name, the authors manage to turn popular beliefs about children on their head, delivering surprise after surprise to show how wrong we may be about assumptions regarding these alien creatures who share – no, who in fact are – our world!

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

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About the Author

Deepti Nalavade Mahule

Originally from India, Deepti Nalavade Mahule now lives in California where she spends time developing software, feeding books to her two children, submitting her short fiction, and fretting about what to put in her bio. read more...

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