There are thousands of parenting books out there, each one thicker than the last. Ironically, most parents I know do not have the time to read them. We’re all too busy actually parenting, and most of them contain the same brand of kind but ultimately impractical advice anyway. For this reason, the best parenting wisdom is often missed as it sits on the shelf.
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Luckily for you, I’ve compiled some highlights from the most accessible and authentically written parenting book I have come across. Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, is built on freeing parenting truths that often go unacknowledged. For example: Embrace being an imperfect parent. You don’t know everything – and that’s okay, because nobody does. Breathe, and allow yourself to be your best. Let that be good enough.
Here are some other favorite insights from the book:
Don’t be afraid to discuss race with your children.
Affluent white parents, in particular, seldom educate their children on the complicated issues surrounding racial relations. This may come from classic white guilt. It may come from the fact that, as non-minorities, we often feel unqualified to talk about race. We may be afraid of our child saying something racially charged in public. However, discussing race with your children is not only wise, but absolutely necessary. Many people believe that very young children do not notice race. This is simply untrue – in fact, it is in a toddler’s nature to notice appearance and gravitate towards children who look like themselves. A child who does not understand race will make up their own mind about why others look different and what that means. Many parents think they are exempt from conversations about race if their child attends an ethnically diverse school. This is not only inaccurate, but dangerous. An environment with a great amount of diversity can actually intensify the inclination to segregate if the children tend to make friends only with other children of the same race.
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Have conversations with your children about racial relations, even when it feels uncomfortable. Explain what discrimination is, and give them examples of people who have fought against it and striven to overcome it. Tell them about Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. These stories are easy for children to understand and relate to. Experiments have proven that learning about these historical figures can have a positive effect on your child’s inclination to be accepting of other races. Buy your child dolls of all ethnicities – not just the white ones. If your child herself is not white, this is especially important. Science has proven that children who play with dolls that look like them have better self-esteem than those whose dolls are of another race. Most importantly, do not pretend that race simply does not exist. Your child can see racial differences, and it is your job to help her understand them.
Let’s talk about lying.
There is nothing that makes my eyes roll back into my head like a mother who claims her child never lies. Unless your child has Asperger’s Syndrome, this is not true. If your child is speaking in full sentences, she has probably lied to you today – and probably more than once. A typical four-year-old lies once every two hours, and this rate doubles by the time they turn six. Although most parents believe themselves to be experts at determining whether or not their child is lying, scientific research does not back that up. In fact, studies have proven parents to perform only slightly better than a coin toss – and no better than a stranger – when asked to tell if their own child is lying.
Although steep penalties for lying may seem like the obvious answer, this strategy seems to have the opposite effect. Children who are harshly punished for telling a lie simply become better liars. They see adults telling white lies every day, and understand that the truth is not always the kindest option. A child who lies is not evil. Most likely, they are lying in an attempt to make the adults around them happy. Discuss with your child the damage that lies can do, and let them make educated choices. The idea of a child with unimpeachable honesty may seem charming. However, it is unrealistic, and can be very uncomfortable when they meet someone with fat ankles or an offensive body odor.
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Hold back on the excessive praise.
Of course you think your child is exceptional, and of course you want her to have all the confidence in the world. Excessive praise, however, can actually have an adverse effect of your child’s self-image and ambition. Children as young as seven have been shown to be skeptical of excessive praise. They know their picture isn’t museum worthy. Now they know you’re a liar too, and will take any future congratulations with a grain of salt. Excessive praise is not, as many people think, damaging for its ability to over-inflate your child’s ego. It is damaging because your child will cease to believe it.
You should certainly not stop praising your child altogether. However, you should absolutely save your compliments for when they are truly earned. Be sincere. Emphasize the effort your child put into her project, rather than the end results. Encourage your child to take on challenging tasks. Teach her that working hard in pursuit of a difficult goal is admirable, regardless of the end result. Discuss mistakes as a learning tool. Teach your children that their brain is a muscle, and it needs to be exercised and stretched in order to grow. Challenge yourself to teach these philosophies by example.
Raising children is hard. However, you can make it easier by parenting with humor, self-acceptance, and realism. Be the best person that you can be, and hope that your children follow suit. As James Baldwin once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”