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.

Q&A: 7 1/2-month-old not interested in solids

Katy writes:

"My 7 1/2 month old daughter has proven to be a much more distracted,
uninterested and fussy eater than I ever imagined a child could be. 
Lately, she really wants nothing to do with any solid food and really
only wants her bottle.  Meal time is becoming battle – something I don't
want but am feeling pressured (by pediatrician, books and advice from
parents and friends) that she should be progressing through the food
groups more than she is.  What are the guidelines for amount of solids
and breast or formula?  Should I be worried? Should I just meet her
where she is at, keep giving her what she likes and will eat and let her
progress in the amount of solid food that she will eat without coercion
or duress? 
I am completely frustrated and am not sure what to do."

Well, since you asked: Hang back and don't worry. Babies don't need a lick of solid food until they're a year old, at least. If your daughter is breastfeeding or on formula and you feed her whenever she's hungry, then she's getting everything she needs.

When humans are under a year old, "solids" are only practice with tastes and experiences and mouth control anyway. They're certainly not nutritionally necessary (or else you'd have to feed your baby tons more than nothing-but-sweet-potatoes for a week at a time). So don't sweat it. Take a couple of weeks off, and then go back and try some foods and see if she's into them.

There are two truisms about feeding babies:

1) Your job is to provide healthy foods and your child's job is to decide how much s/he will eat of them.

2) Feeding can turn into a huge, hairy control battle that leaves everyone exhausted and feeling like a failure if you, the adult, let it. So let go of your end of the rope in the tug of war, and just keep repeating Truism #1 to yourself, and remember that she will be fine.

Your pediatrician sounds very old-school. Which is fine, as long as you understand that and are prepared to manage the relationship with that in mind. And you can just tell all your friends whatever you want to. Just know that what your daughter is doing is normal and healthy, so you're doing a great job.

Anyone have anecdotes about babies who wouldn't eat solids early on who grew up to be come super-geniuses or Olympic athletes or something like that? Help put this in perspective for Katy.


I just finished my last three-pronged, hour-and-40-minute commute. Next year both boys will be in the same school, so it'll be one-drop-off-and-then-me-to-work on days I have them, and just-me-to-work on days they're with their dad.

I was weepy all day yesterday, thinking about how much this commute stole from me this year. It sapped my energy to a concerning degree. It made me late for work every day, and tired already when I got there. It made me wake up with a feeling of panicked dread every morning, M-F. It made me turtle in, with nothing left for anyone else. I wasn't as present for friends. Even the thought of dating was ludicrous. I certainly wasn't here. I just didn't have anything left to give anyone, emotionally or physically.

I feel so bad for who I've been and how I've not been able to rise above this year. After all the stuff I've been through in the last few years, I never guessed it would be logistics that would take me down, but they did.

Now I start rebuilding myself, I guess.

What is something that took you down and sucked you under that you never expected to? Are you back yet? Or does it still have you in its claws?

Taking care of declining older relatives (and small update on me)

I can see the light at the end of my horrific commute tunnel. There are three factors that have combined to set me free: 1) When my younger son turned 5, we switched custody so the kids are at my place 3 nights a week, their dad's three nights a week, and we swing the other night. So far everyone's been loving it. 2) My kids' dad will be off work for the summer at the end of next week, so he'll have the kids during the day in the summer. 3) Next year both kids will be at the same school.

So next year during the school year, I'll have three days of dropping off both kids at one place and then going to work myself (65 minutes down from 100 minutes), and two days of taking myself to work because my kids' dad will be in charge of getting them to school.

But enough about me and my sudden liberation.

Can we talk about straddling dealing with kids and aging parents, or just supporting parents dealing with *their* aging parents?

I'm in the second situation, watching my mom simultaneously trying to help care for her mother from a distance and caring for her mother-in-law in the same city. It's a hundred layers of guilt, between what she feels and what I feel.

I can't imagine how it would feel if it was my mother who was sick or declining and I had to make decisions that were directly affecting her quality of life.

Can we talk about coping methods and ways to make things better for everyone involved?

The only thing I can think of to really help my mom is to be a willing listener when she needs to vent, and to show up physically whenever I can to take some of the pressure off.

I wish there was more I could do, and I know lots of you are in the same situation.

Any ideas to help make this easier on everyone?