Nurture Shock - SmartMom

NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

As a new parent you want to learn everything you can about babies and children, so you often turn to books to educate yourself. There seems to be a barrage of information in books, and much of it can be contradicting and confusing. With the plethora of parenting books available for new parents nowadays, it’s hard to discern which book will help them, or which books they can simply learn from. NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by science journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman takes a completely different approach to educating parents of all ages about children in this modern day and age.

The overall premise of NurtureShock is the concept that all of the previous information parents have been told about children throughout time is not always correct because often, when children are studied and researched, key elements in their development are overlooked. In it’s 10 chapters, the book covers modern day parenting issues such as sleep deprivation in children, discussing racial issues at home, gifted children, and why children lie. With it’s easy-to-read anecdotal stories mixed among the authors’ findings, NurtureShock is the perfect read for any parent who enjoys sociology and science.


NurtureShock begins by bringing up the discussion of having a new baby in your arms, and the overwhelming feelings that can come with childbirth. Because they adore and want to protect their infant, parents often feel that they should somehow know everything about bringing up a baby just because they birthed one! Obviously, most parents don’t feel that way, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and fear; therefore, Bronson and Merryman coined the phrase NurtureShock, which “refers to the panic–common among new parents–that the mythical fountain of knowledge is not magically kicking in at all.” In writing NurtureShock, Bronson and Merryman strive to disclose that in actuality, many of the previously held assumptions about children are not only no longer relevant, but are simply backfiring. They urge parents to go with their instincts, because often the right answer is the obvious answer. As new parents, however, we aren’t always confident enough to go with our guts.


One of the most interesting previously held assumptions that Bronson and Merryman shatter is the assumption that we need to constantly praise our children. Most parents spend a good portion of their day praising their babies, toddlers, and kids, however, apparently this is backfiring on families! The chapter opens up with a story about Thomas, a young boy who was a great student and succeeded in all he did in school; his parents constantly praised him for his good work and for being so smart. His parents assumed that by telling him he was smart all the time it would translate into him being a confident student and young man who was not afraid to try new things; however, as he grew, the total opposite started to happen. As Thomas approached new topics in school, if he became frustrated or confused, he would immediately shut down and give up. We, as parents, presume that telling our children that they are smart will be an instant ticket to confidence and success, however, as Bronson and Merryman found out, we’re actually harming our children with the constant praise. As they discovered, when we constantly praise our children for being smart, we aren’t praising them for their effort, which is really what counts. By praising children for how hard they work, it gives them a sense of control, and allows them the confidence to strive for harder things. Furthermore, they cited a study by psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, which found that by the age of 12, children view constant praise from a parent or teacher “is not a sign you did well–it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement.” It was also found that excessive praise can lead to children doing activities simply for the praise, and therefore, not doing the activity for the enjoyment of it. The stories and studies that Bronson and Merryman cite are eye opening, and would be beneficial for both new and seasoned parents to read.


The topics covered in NurtureShock transcend class, race, or geographic lines. For example, the chapter about why schools should start later, which is a heated topic in the news media currently, gives eye-opening statistics about everything from car crashes to college acceptance rates. A consistently relevant topic in America these days is the discussion of race and how to discuss racial issues with children. Bronson and Merryman make strong arguments for having a plethora of discussions with children about race, starting from an early age. Another fascinating point they make is in their chapter about siblings, when they claim that sibling fights are beneficial to not only the sibling relationship, but the individual sibling’s conflict and resolution skills in the long run. Though NurtureShock is longer in length, it is a wonderfully interesting book to read and will surely provoke many discussions at the dinner table.


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About Olivia Howell

Olivia M. Howell has been writing stories in her head long before she knew the alphabet. Born and raised on the North Shore of Long Island, where she currently resides, Olivia spends her days with her husband, Eric, and son, Weston. When she's not writing about the trials and tribulations of new motherhood, she is tutoring Latin and history. Olivia is also an avid quilter, paleo cook, and fan of moving living room furniture around on Saturday nights. You can find her at her blog, website, twitter, instagram, or pinterest.