Saturday, November 7, 2009

More sleep, less praise -- and air those arguments

Check out this interview with Po Bronson, co-author of “Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children” from NPR’s “Fresh Air.” In the interview Bronson covers three interesting topics, all of which have applications for our house:

The first is his argument that if you begin an argument in front of your kids, the best thing to do is to work toward a resolution while still in their presence. When Rob and I start to bicker about trivial things with the kids looking on, I tend to want to stop in my tracks and say, “Look, we’ll just talk about it later.” Spare the kids the agony of witnessing tension between their parents. Now I like this new challenge: Bicker and get to a peaceful resolution all in front of the children. I think we just might be able to do it (perhaps more quickly than we could without the kids as neutral third-party observers) – and I can definitely see how the kids could learn from our ability to have an authentic disagreement and work toward a peaceful resolution without hitting, pushing or biting. Of course, Bronson doesn’ t suggest that we intentionally do all our arguing in front of our kids – just that we finish what we start if an argument does arise in their presence.

Bronson also talks about the shortcomings of many “progressive dads.” He says “these are the modern fathers who are co-parenting, who can change a diaper one-handed and pop up the port-a-crib in 30 seconds and know how to, you know, feed the baby and put the baby to bed and are very actively involved in their children's lives.” Bronson, who self-identifies as a progressive dad, says progressive dads often experiment with discipline strategies and feel unsure about how to best go about disciplining their kids. I may not be a dad, but I’m guilty of falling into that murky progressive parenting trap where I felt unsure about how to best react to my boys' misbehavior. I’m just now getting comfortable with my approach to discipline as a mom, and for me it hasn’t been about finding a formula and applying it lock-step, it’s been about discovering that place in myself that can shove frustration and emotion aside; remain patient, firm, and consistent; refrain from engaging in futile arguments; and apply fairly logical consequences for my kids’ offensive behaviors. I believe in talking through the whys of discipline – we do this because, this hurts other people’s feelings because, we can’t return to this activity until… But I’ve finally, after four years of not getting it, learned that you cannot “discuss” things with a crying-mad kid. Give it ten minutes, though, and that same kid is ready to offer his own solution.

In the last third of the interview, Bronson discusses research that suggests that even 15 minutes of sleep deprivation can lead to dramatic differences in school performance – more reasons to push that bedtime earlier.

And perhaps most fascinating of all to me, was the excerpt from the first chapter of “Nurture Shock,” which isn’t really touched on in the interview, but which is presented in full on the Fresh Air website. In it, Bronson reviews a bunch of research about the dangers of over-praising kids – especially offering them the kind of empty “You’re so smart” praise that makes them anxious to appear smart without offering them any real tools for increasing their brainpower. When we feel compelled to praise, we should focus on praising effort and specific behaviors, Bronson says. He recounts how more and more studies are showing that kids who’ve been told their smart over and over (or even just once) tend to avoid challenge, underperform on tests etc, etc… There’s too much intricate research to summarize here, but this chapter is definitely worth a read.

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