Parenting: nurture or nature?

A while ago, I mentioned the book Nurtureshock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. This book has so many points to ponder, I would like to share some of them with you over my next few blog entries.
The introduction starts with expressing the feeling that all parenting books feel like “paint by number” recipes: If this, do that, and if that, do this. Do you share this experience? Do you feel that parenting authorities are forcing things on you that are not “intuitive” to you? Did you get to the point of tossing all the books aside, and deciding you are better off just doing what “feels natural” to you?
Nurtureshock says that the “throw out all the books” phase is actually a comforting point in the lives of parents. But there is a  problem: When facts are checked, even a simple strategy of boosting the child’s self image, like telling him/her how smart he/she is, turns out to backfire. Children that were “instinctively nurtured” with such compliments were found, over time, to have less confidence and not perform to the level they potentially could have, as compared with children who did not get such messages.
So, what is a parent to do? On one hand, neuroscientists have found a center in our brain that gives us the impulse to nurture; but on the other, how BEST to do that is left up to us. And we apparently don’t have the tools to make the right choices.
What the authors uncovered is that how we nurture is a mix of intelligent informed reactions, many of which are polluted by wishful thinking, moralistic biases, fads, personal history, and old unproven psychology.
This is very uncomfortable for parents to think about. Parents have reasons to be who they are, and they do have the right to reject any parenting guru that wants them  to “parent by numbers.” But common sense can be restored by carefully reviewing scientific observations of kids, setting aside ideologies. This can help parents regain their confidence and commitment to raise their children THEIR WAY.

Parenting: no one-size fit all: alternatives

If you do not like “time out,” for whatever reason, you are right. You have other approaches you can choose, so you will be comfortable in your role as a parent. If “time out” feels OK for you, fits your personal temperament and your cultural context–that might be a good thing for you.

Parents who do not like “time out” explore the possibility of “time in”: They stop their child from whatever he/she was doing, tell them what’s wrong, and stay with him/her for the time of cooling down. For them, it is importent to stay connected with the child as the information (of what went wrong and what is expected) is being worked on.

Many discipline issues in very young children can be avoided by changing the environment: Often there are  too many toys around, or inappropriate expectations for the child to “clean up” (does he/she really know what that means? Remember, in his/her eyes, toys on the floor ARE in the right place…) Parents may express expectations that the child will sit patiently and wait; this needs to be tempered to the child’s developmental age. Considering just these few things can help a lot with elliminating unnecessary “meltdowns.”

Every choice that we make in child rearing has long-term consequences, but we cannot foresee them all. We can do our best, knowing it might not be seen the same way in 20 or 30 years; we can be forgiving to ourselves and others; and go through life with hope and faith.