Some parenting rules seem like no-brainers: Praise your kids. Teach siblings to be nice to one another. But what if these guidelines are actually doing more harm than good? For their new book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman waded through decades of studies and talked to hundreds of researchers to find the facts about how children learn, what motivates them, and how parents can help them grow into happy, well-adjusted adults. Here, Bronson, a father of two, discusses some of the most startling discoveries.
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1. It's better for sibs to squabble together than be peaceful apart. Siblings are going to fight—as much as 700 percent more with one another than with their friends, because they know their brother or sister will always be there, Bronson says. It can be torture to watch, he adds, but instead of constantly refereeing or separating kids, a parent's smartest move is to point out activities that siblings can enjoy together. Studies show that kids who play together, even if they're calling each other Poopyface while they do it, go on to have closer relationships than siblings who simply play on their own.
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2. Telling kids they're smart all the time can make them dumber. It's natural for parents to want to boost their kids' self-esteem, but constantly stroking their egos by telling them how bright they are can have the opposite effect, Bronson warns. "What we're really telling them is that smartness is something you either have or don't have," he says. "As soon as they hit something that's difficult, they'll conclude, 'I guess I don't have it,' and they won't even try." If you instead praise their effort ("Great job sounding out that hard word in your book!"), kids learn that they possess the ability to control how well they do by working harder.
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3. Your kid is going to lie...and that's okay. Even though parents rate honesty as the number-one quality they value in their child, they shouldn't be too upset when their preschooler tells a fib. "It means the child is cognitively advanced enough to hold in their mind both the truth and an alternative idea, which requires a lot of attention control," Bronson says. By age 7, however, kids should be kicking the falsehood habit. The best way to help? Instead of punishing them for lying—which generally only makes them better at not getting caught—let your kids know you'll be really happy if they admit the truth, Bronson explains, since "children are fixated on making their parents happy."
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.