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Shocking truths about parenting - Review by BRIGITTE ROZARIO

By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Publisher: Twelve

The title really does explain this book in two words. The book is all about raising children and the contents will be a shock to a lot of parents.

Reading it, I was quite horrified with what each chapter revealed. It proved to be eye-opening, to say the least. The book reveals the results of a number of studies and research papers which prove quite a few methods of parenting to have the reverse results of what parents want.

However, do note that for every research paper and study that proves one thing, there is usually another study to prove the exact opposite. So, although this book is recommended for all parents with pre-school to teenage children, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. What works for one parent, may not work for every other parent, after all.

The book starts off with the chapter on praise. While our generation and those before us might have grown up with minimal praise from our own parents, we have become a generation that loves to dole out praise on our own children. Somewhere along the way, someone told us that praising a child will boost their self-confidence and encourage them to do better.

This book says that what it found was quite the reverse. When we praise children for being smart or doing well, we are praising the end result. What happens then is that the child has a fear of failure and might not attempt tasks or challenges which they know they could be mediocre or even fail in. For them, failure is not an option.

The child then feels that if they fail to be “smart” or do well in one particular exam paper, that they are a disappointment to their parents. As such, they might find ways not to even attempt to do that particular task or paper; preferring to not attempt it at all rather than receive lower or bad grades.

What should parents do then? Not praise their children at all?

No. Authors Bronson and Merryman say that parents should praise the effort and the process instead of the result. For example, instead of saying, “You're so smart for doing well in your exams”, try saying “All that effort and studying really paid off in your exam results. I'm so proud of the work you put into it.”

What the authors say makes sense when you think about it. It just needs some practise and having a shift in the way we compliment our children.

The next chapter is about sleep and how important it is to children. With all the activities and extra classes that our children go for these days, they are not getting enough sleep. Just one hour less daily means a lot in how it affects our children. In one case, a parent found her child was moody and less communicative until there was a shift in the time he had to go to school and that extra hour made all the difference in his temperament. Even his grades improved after that.

One of the studies highlighted in this book points out that:

“A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to (the loss of) two years of cognitive maturation and development.”

The authors advise parents to have a strict bedtime for children and not even shift that to a later time on the weekend because that too would disrupt their body clock.

Remember, just because your child is in bed by the stipulated bedtime doesn't mean he or she is getting enough sleep. If there have been too many activities during the day, right till a late hour, your child might need more time to unwind.

I have to agree with the authors on this one. As an adult, I too have found that just waking up one hour before I'm ready to wake up makes a difference in how alert and productive I am. When I get enough sleep, I am more productive and don't waste time at work and procrastinating my tasks at the office.

An interesting chapter in this book deals with race issues. Although the book talks about white and non-whites, we can adapt it to the Malaysian context.

What the authors found was that a lot of white parents would rather not discuss race. They assume that by talking about it you make the child more aware of the differences and hence you risk creating a racist child.

What the authors further found out was that children do notice the differences in skin colour and facial features. They do know which children are like them and which are not and they automatically think that those who are like them are nicer than those who are not like them.

By not speaking about race issues, you make them think that you don't like people of other races. Hence, instead of telling them “we are all equal despite our skin colour”, you need to say something like, “I love Auntie Minah and Auntie Sujatha and Auntie Mei Ling. They are all of different races from us but I love them all the same as they are my friends.”

The other interesting finding is that children in schools with more variety of races were prone to mixing with their own race. For some children there was a fear of excelling because they didn't want to be labelled as being “anti-their own race” because the other race normally excelled at that. So, if you were white you wouldn't want to excel at basketball because it was deemed an African American man's game. Or if you were African American you didn't want to be good at baseball because it was considered a white man's game. That sort of thing.

Thankfully we have people like Tiger Woods breaking these sports-related racial barriers and becoming a role model for all our children.

The thing is you can't run away or shy away from discussing race. Not only do you have to talk about it with your child, you also have to be seen walking the talk. Which means, no point your telling your child we love all races, when all your friends are just one race. And no point nagging your child to not discriminate when you treat your Malay, Chinese and Indian co-workers differently.

It starts with us. We need to be the change.

There are other chapters on why children lie, the teenage rebellion years, seeking to make our children more intelligent, the sibling effect, etc.

This is a highly recommended book. It will change the way you view parenting and the way you view your own actions. Be prepared to be shocked and yes, a shift in perspective is inevitable.

And, sorry to say this but it might also make you question your parenting methods.

Having said that, it's enlightening and thought-provoking and a must-read for all parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and those in the child management and education industries.

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