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Alpha Mom Book Club: NurtureShock… A New Way to Think About Children, or Not?

By Chris Jordan

Alpha Mom book club logoI remember the buzz that surrounded NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children when it was published a few years ago, so I was excited that this was the book chosen for this month’s book club selection. In the introduction the book promises to shock parents and to turn all of our long held assumptions about parenting on their head. I was ready, highlighter in hand to learn something new and revolutionary, have new tools to bring to my parenting game. That just didn’t happen.

nurtureshock book club discussion & reviewAs I read the book I kept waiting for the shocking part and it just never came. When I was about halfway through the book I kept wondering if I had already read it. I hadn’t.

Each chapter of the book is so different from each other that it was like reading 10 magazine articles. Some topics might interest you, some not at all. I’ll be honest learning to talk, or preschools, or baby-related things don’t interest me as mush as teenagers and the way their brains work.

Putting that aside, did I think it was a good book that was worth reading as a parent? Yes.

The book is broken into ten chapters that address wildly different parenting topics and so I thought this time I would go through each chapter separately. As I read the book I was thinking that there would probably be people who would pick and choose which chapters they read based on how relevant the information was to their lives.

Chapter One: The Inverse Power of Praise

The gist of this chapter is that false praise is damaging and has the opposite effect on self-esteem. When you praise your child for things that are out of their control, “You are smart!” it makes them not want to try new and difficult things because they might fail and therefore not be smart. “When we praise children for their intelligence… we tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.”

What I found interesting and new in this chapter was the study that was done in which children watched other students receive praise from the teacher. “By the age of twelve, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign that you did well–it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement.” They believed that a teacher who was critical conveyed the message that the student can improve even more.

Chapter Two: The Lost Hour

This chapter talked about our kids, especially teens, getting less and less sleep and the impact that it has on them. There was nothing really new for me in this chapter, though the statistics themselves are certainly shocking– “a loss of an hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development.” How many of us have had a child acting up and knew it was because they were overtired. There is science to back that up now.

I am exceedingly thankful that I live in a school district where the highschool starts later in the morning. The start times for the schools are staggered, elementary starting first, then middle school, and finally highschool almost two hours later.

Chapter Three: Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race

Why don’t we? I don’t honestly know. It never occurs to us? It seems like it would be racist to talk about race? We don’t know what to say? Can’t we just raise our kids to be colorblind by ignoring race all together as if it doesn’t matter? These are the questions that I asked myself before I began reading the chapter. I honestly do not know if I have discussed race in any meaningful sort of way with my children.

So it was with those questions in mind that I went into the chapter and I came across this about not mentioning race or ethnicity, “Saying something about it unavoidably teaches a child a racial construct. They worry that even a positive statement… will still encourage the child to see divisions within the society.” But studies have shown that children do see race and without guidance they will form their own conclusions. I personally found the statistic that only 8% of white children will have a best friend of a different ethnicity to be staggering.

Chapter Four: Why Kids Lie

They lie because they don’t want to disappoint their parents and they are afraid of getting into trouble. The child thinks if I am going to get into trouble for this thing I did wrong, why not lie and maybe I will be lucky and my parents will believe me! I have seen this play out time and time again in my own house with my children. The youngest children I have always attributed the lying to more of a wishful thinking– if I don’t say that this thing happened then it is like it never really happened. It is the lying of the older kids that baffles me the most, especially the lying that happens when they are confronted with the truth and continue to hold on to the lie. “Increasing the threat of punishment for lying only makes children hyper-aware of the potential personal cost. It distracts the child from learning how his lies impact others.”

So how do you stop your kids from lying? Well the authors say that the only way is to tell your children that it will make you happy if they tell you the truth, to teach them the value of honesty. To be honest, this seems a bit simplistic, but then again I haven’t had any chronic issues with lying.

The second half of this chapter resonated with me. Tattling. It drives me absolutely bonkers when kids come to parents, teachers, or authority figures and their complaints are dismissed. We wonder why our older kids and teenagers don’t open up to us, don’t tell us their problems… for years we told them to work it out on their own. What we viewed as petty playground problems were huge problems in their little world, why should we expect that as they grow older and have bigger problems that they will be able to tell the difference and know when to come to us.

Chapter Five: The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten

Having experience with the talented and gifted programs, I nodded my head all the way through this chapter. I have friends who want nothing more than to get their kids into the TAG programs here, but my experience has been that they are just more of the same, there isn’t anything revolutionary about the way they are being taught and by middle school the distinctions are all but gone. I have a son who taught himself to read at age 3. By kindergarten he was reading long novels. I have another son who didn’t read proficiently until he was 9. They are now 17 and 18 and you couldn’t tell which son was which. The one who started reading at 3 is no more gifted than his brother. “We need to question why this idea of picking the smart children early even appeals to us.” To that I say, amen.

Chapter Six: The Sibling Effect

I am an only child and I have seven children of my own. Observing their relationships with each other has brought me so much joy, but also caused so much anxiety. I don’t really understand sibling relationships. I grew up alone thinking that if I had siblings I would have best friends with me all the time, and that is not the case. For the most part my children get along well with each other. Some are better friends than others and their relationships have pretty much remained the same over the course of their young lives. I look at my oldest children, who are pretty much adults now, and their relationship is the same as it was when they were 2 and 3 years old. The same dynamic still exists.

Chapter Seven: The Science of Teen Rebellion

This chapter revisited the topic of lying, this time from the teen perspective. Yup, older kids are still lying for the exact same reason they did when they were younger. “To an adolescent, arguing is the opposite of lying.” In a nutshell it means that kids were willing to not lie to their parents if they thought they could change their parents’ mind about something.

The authors offer up evidence that arguing with teenagers isn’t destructive, that teenagers view arguing as a way to feel closer and more connected to their parents. What I took away from this was that it is better for your kids to argue and complain to to you than it is for them to say nothing and quietly go on their way disobeying and lying without you ever knowing. This is why expecting blind obedience from your children doesn’t work.

This chapter also dealt with the neuroscience behind risky teen behavior. Anyone who has ever said to their teenager, “Just what were you thinking?” knows what I am talking about. Their brains do not yet work like adult brains. They are far more motivated by immediate rewards and gratification than they are deterred by potential risks.

Chapter Eight: Can Self Control Be Taught?

When I read the title to this chapter I thought, I sure hope so otherwise we are all screwed!

This chapter ties in with the previous chapter about teenagers and risky behavior. The authors start with statistics on driving and the efficacy of driver’s education. You know what reduces teen driving accidents? Not driving with their friends in the car.

The authors take a weird leap in this chapter to discussing the Tools of the Mind early elementary school curriculum, something which sounds very Montessori-like to me. My kids are all well beyond the age of the Tools program, and I found myself reading and thinking, darn, it’s too late for us! I’m not sure how you find classrooms that are run this way within the public schools, but if I had young children I would be doing some research.

Chapter Nine: Plays Well With Others

For parents who have long believed, despite any empirical evidence, that watching Disney channel and Nickelodeon made their kids bratty, this chapter is for you! This chapter examined why our children aren’t kinder and gentler than they were a generation ago. The tamer television shows resulted in kids “learning the advanced skills of clique formation, friendship withdrawal, and the art of the insult.” They don’t even mention how in all these shows geared for kids there is no parenting. When parents do show up they are ridiculed and portrayed as dumb.

Chapter Ten: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t

Okay, I’ll admit it. I didn’t care about this chapter at all. Partly, I assume, because my children are so far past the age of learning to talk. And the other part because it all seemed like such common sense. Respond to your baby when they are making sounds to you, don’t park them in front of the tv. This chapter, unlike any of the others, seemed to be built on guilt. You must do these things if you want your baby to talk and have a large vocabulary. But they don’t offer any compelling evidence that being a later talker puts a child at a disadvantage long term. Maybe others of you who have children in this age group can chime in and tell me if it resonated with you or if you learned anything.

In conclusion, this was a meaty book. I probably would not have read it all the way through at once if I were not writing about it. I like that the chapters stand alone.

So now tell me what you thought of NurtureShock? Was there anything new or shocking to you that made you turn your assumptions of parenting on its head?

Here are the discussions for our other picks: Far From The Tree, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Five Love Languages of Children.

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Liz

    January 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Chris, I would love it if you would elaborate on the tattle-taling. What I see is the opposite, of every child immediately bringing in an adult to solve every minor playground problem. So two pre-schoolers who both want to play with the same toy, parents have to get involved and turn it into this huge verbal negotiation that last 30 minutes. It’s ridiculous. Maybe you are thinking more of your own older children, but I would like to know when tattling is just a cop out by the kid and when adult intervention is really required.

    • Chris Jordan

      Chris Jordan

      January 9, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Liz, great question and a difficult one. I think that when our kids tattle it is important to give them some attention, but I don’t think we need to solve the problem for them. We want our kids to feel that they can come to us with their problems and not be dismissed. So a good rule of thumb I have found is to ask why they are telling me. SOmetimes they just want to vent or are frustrated, sometimes they need guidance on how to solve the issue, and sometimes they need to be told that they are the problem (i.e the ball belongs to the other child, he doesn’t want to share it, find something else to do and next time we will bring our ball to the playground too) Listening to them is not the same as solving the problem for them. Of course there are alos times when you do have to step in as a parent, but I reserve those for when things are really out of my child’s control or dangerous. My daughter has come home with so many stories from elementary school where things the teacher should be made aware of have been kept from her because the kids don’t want to get in trouble for tattling.

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  • Ashley

    January 4, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I have a 15 month old and am a former early childhood educator, so Chapter 10 did resonate with me.  As the authors stated, for many “educated” parents, these interactions come naturally and children develop language at an average to above average pace.  However, I’ve seen first-hand how poor early literacy experiences affect children later in life.  The book didn’t mention all the research surrounding early learning, but there are connections between number of words heard/number of words known and reading ability.

    And I agree–I bookmarked some sites about Tools of the Mind!

    P.S. Is there a book for next month?

    • Isabel


      January 4, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Hi Ashley,

      Thanks for your thoughts and joining in the convo. I really enjoyed this chapter as well even though my son is 9.5 now.

      In terms of next month’s (February’s) book, we’ll be posting a poll on 1/9 to vote on three different books. The poll will be open for one week. Chris will give some thoughts on each book.

      Here’s a direct feed to just the book club:


  • Isabel


    January 5, 2013 at 12:55 am

    Chris, your description that the book reads like 10 different magazine articles is perfect. I love science-based work like this. And on their own, the chapters are great. It’s only in the last chapter that the Bronson attempts to weave a narrative together and I wish that he had done a better job connecting the chapters together throughout: we make parenting decisions based on intuitive assumptions that research shows us is wrong.

    Overall, I took a lot away from this book and have thought about it often for the past three years. In rereading it now, I realize that I have put into my parenting some of what I learned from this book.

    Here are my biggest takeaways:

    1: when you praise your child, be specific (Chapter 1). I have put this into practice and talk in specifics and praise efforts rather than smarts.

    2: Teens need to sleep in. Their circadian rhythms are different. (Chapter 2) I wish I knew this my first term in college when I scheduled my first class for 9am. Any chance I can I’ll tell the powers that be at my son’s school that high school hours should start later.

    3: You should talk to your kids about race. Parents are comfortable talking to their kids about gender to counter boy-girl stereotypes and that should be the model for talking about race. (Chapter 3) This chapter is excellent and really stuck with me.

    4: On lying, a dramatic increase in lying often is a sign of a bigger problem behavior. And honesty is important to parents but we need to teach kids the worth of honesty just as much as we say to kids “lying is wrong.” (Chapter 4)

    5: On teen rebellion (chapter 7), data shows that permissive parents DON’T actually learn more about their child’s lives. That it’s the parents who are most consistent in enforcing rules that are the ones that have the most conversations with their kids. The kids of these parents lied/ hid things from them the least. (All teens hide and lie. It’s about magnitude.)

    6: Objection to parental authority starts younger than we guess. It’s stronger at 11 than at 18 and peaks around 14 to 15 years of age. (Chapter 7)

    7: On the topic of teens/parents arguing (chapter 7), research shows that *moderate* conflict with parents during adolescence is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict. Also interesting is how the parents found all the arguing destructive, and the teens found it as productive. Ha!

    8: I learned a lot from reading about the Tools of the Mind program (Chapter eight). When reviewing my son’s homework, I point out where his handwriting looks especially good. Saying things like “That ‘d’ is my favorite” and asking him to show me his favorite work.

    9: Also, we all know motivation is crucial, but the reason? Because when motivated our brain sprays dopamine all over the brain which makes it operate better and faster and helps children learn. (Chapter Eight)

    10: Also, this is something my husband I always talk about: being disciplined is more important than being smart. Being both is not just a little better, it’s exponentially better. Children who were above average in IQ and executive functioning were 300% more likely to do well in math class than kids with just a high IQ. (Chapter Eight)

  • Tammy

    January 5, 2013 at 2:17 am

    Great summary. Now I don’t have to read the book!

    Loved chapter 5 and your anecdotal evidence about early reading not meaning a damn thing. I can’t stand all of this pressure to get kids to read while they’re still in diapers.

    And the late talking thing? Just another way to diagnose half the population as somewhere on the Autism spectrum.

    • Isabel


      January 5, 2013 at 9:25 am

      It is a great summary. But, if you are the type that enjoys reading Malcolm Gladwell, this is a great book for you. As Chris wrote, this is a meaty book, chock full of interesting studies.

  • Trish

    January 5, 2013 at 8:23 am

    My husband was a late talker as a baby (didn’t really talk until age 3). The result? He has a master’s degree and works as an editor. He is a voracious reader with outstanding communication skills. He is not shy. To be clear, he could talk as a young child, and had spoken, but almost never did until 3. (So it was clear to his parents that the lack of speech was not functional). He himself can’t say why, but the family joke is that his older brother talked enough for both of them. (Still true.) I post this here for anyone else who might have a kid like that, just to give you some hope.

    • Carrie

      January 6, 2013 at 2:03 am

      We spend so much energy as parents and educators pushing kids into academic tasks they may not be ready for, rather than encouraging them to develop and pursue their own passions. When you can really engage a child, they will do the work and learn so much better and faster. Why struggle to teach a little child to read laboriously over a couple of years and have some kids end up feeling hopelessly dumb, when you can wait until they are older and can learn to read SO MUCH faster?
      And it’s true for sleep and potty training and so many other skills too….

  • Heather

    January 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Love this review & the comments. Now I want to read Nurture Shock. I also look forward to joining in the next book.
    Thank you.

  • Kendra

    January 7, 2013 at 7:51 am

    After reading the review and the comments, I like @Heather want to read this book. I just looked for it and the kindle and nook versions are $2.99 right now. It is now on my reading list. Thank you for the great reviews and comments!

    • Martine

      January 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Check your local library too–I read this for free. 🙂

  • Maritne

    January 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I read this book when I was pregnant.  Compared to the other parenting/baby books I read, this was one of my favorites, despite not every single chapter resonating with me.

    Regarding early talking vs. late talking…  My older brother was a late talker, and when he did start talking he had a speech impediment, stuttered, and used “gap fillers” like “uhm.”  I was an early talker, and when I started talking it was in full perfectly formed sentences.  I was 18 months younger and when my brother would say “nanananana,” I would translate “Mom, Daniel would like a banana.”

    I believe that I developed language early because I had the advantage of an additional person (my brother) who responded to my language sounds, and I believe my brother stuttered and used gap-fillers (“uhm”) because I was impatient with his delayed language and constantly interrupted him.

    Within a few years (and some speech therapy to correct his speech impediment, which was caused by physical defect with his tongue) we had similar language skills, and as adults my brother is an extremely successful litigation attorney and a very effective communicator.

    Based on my experience, I’d agree that early speech vs. delayed speech does not indicate language success later in life.

  • neo

    January 7, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Thanks for the review. I have a one year old but it’s never early to think about these topics.

  • Nuria

    January 8, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Hi, this book was great, but not too shocking for me either. I’m originally from El Salvador, and culturally speaking we are very different from the United States, especially in raising and education children; it is very similar to what these authors talk about. Since my baby is only 7 months old I can only say I’m keeping some of these things in mind for when she grows up. Although, I think we do tend to educate the way we were educated, and in my family I never heard my parents telling me or my bro and sis that we were “smart” or constantly cheering for us. We were congratulated on what we did, praised for specific things, and just like the authors describes in chapter 1 (like the Chinese moms) we were told when we weren’t focused enough and that we could improve. 
    I really think it was interesting to read though because the reminder of  “it’s not a competition with someone else’s children” is good. And I agree, why the rush to have kid’s do things before they’re ready?
    It’s hard to be a parent!

  • Chris Jordan

    Chris Jordan

    January 9, 2013 at 10:14 am

    I think the hallmark of a book worth reading is when weeks later you are still thinking about it! Even though I said in my review above that there wasn’t anything shocking about the information presented in the book, the fact that it is contained in one place is helpful.

    I have been turning certain parts of this book over in mind and realizing how this applies to my parenting. I am working on a post now about tattling and teenagers and getting them to open up, because I assure you even if you think they are telling you everything, they aren’t. And knowing that it has been scientifcally proven that teenage brains don’t work the way adult brains do, has comforted me in those moments when I bang my head against wall 🙂

  • Donna

    January 20, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    in regards to race… I believe in the long run that it too could have an inverse effect.  sometimes when you discuss things with children, they decide that there must be some big deal about it.  they will then talk with their friends or an adult they trust in order to form their own opinions.

    (I am typing on a new device with a touch screen.  it is so much harder for me than having a keyboard)

    I am a white educator at a title one school.  I would say about 98 percent African American.  I have also taught at schools with 80 percent white and 20 percent black. 

    parents do talk to their children about race.  and definitely not the way you would want them to.

    the whole idea that whites do not talk about race is a huge….. piece of fiction.

    • Isabel


      January 20, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      Have you read the chapter in NurtureShock that we’re talking about, Donna?

  • Donna

    January 21, 2013 at 6:38 am

    yes, I read the book.  as this is a book club, I would not have responded otherwise.

    • Donna

      January 21, 2013 at 8:39 am

      also, I really enjoy reading this site, as well as several others.  it helps me to maintain empathy for my students as well as their parents.

      as a professional educator, I am given professional development in brain research, poverty, race relations, best practices, etc.  for the most part the parent is left out.

      thanks for helping me stay informed

  • Kimberly/Foodie City Mom

    January 22, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    I am currently reading the book. It’s not so much as a “shock”, but it does have some great pointers. I’m amazed that you (Chris) were able to sum it all up in just one post. I think that it will take me at least 10!

    • Isabel


      January 23, 2013 at 7:35 am

      so happy you’re joining us, Kim. Yay!

  • Do you read parenting books?

    February 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    […] NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. I was super impressed by Chris Jordan’s ability to summarize the book in one post over on Alpha Mom. Check it out! Meanwhile, I’m going to write my thoughts chapter by chapter […]