How to Raise a Great Kid
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How to Raise a Great Kid

In his new book, NurtureShock, writer Po Bronson reveals some of the surprising mistakes good parents often make -- and how to fix them.

LHJ: Studies suggest that the way we praise kids can affect how well they do in school. Give us the dos and don'ts.

PB: Kids shouldn't be praised for innate abilities, such as intelligence or creativity. Saying "you're so smart, kiddo" isn't forbidden, but at least three-fourths of the time children should be praised for the things they can control, such as effort and tenacity. Say "you did well because you worked really hard." The research has shown it makes an enormous difference in their academic performance.

LHJ: The book says that almost all kids lie and that most parents use the wrong approach to fix the problem. How should they deal with it?

PB: You can't scare kids into being honest. When parents threaten to punish kids if they don't tell the truth by taking away an allowance or not letting them go to the circus, that dramatically increases the amount of lying. Instead, say "telling the truth is the right thing to do." Even better: "I'm going to be really happy if you tell me the truth." I've been doing it with my kids (Luke, 8, and Thia, 5) and it works.

LHJ: How are parents slipping up when it comes to teaching about race?

PB: We think young children are colorblind, but they notice race and try to understand what it means by the time they are 6 months old. Seeing multicultural faces on Sesame Street is not enough to teach racial tolerance. We're reluctant to discuss race openly, and that teaches kids we're afraid -- that it's taboo. Telling them "everybody's equal" isn't enough. We need to teach them about races and ethnicities and that it's terribly wrong to judge people on the basis of their race.

LHJ: Kids today get less sleep than ever before. What are the consequences?

PB: Kids get a full hour less than their parents did at their age -- for myriad reasons, from overscheduling activities to TVs, cell phones, and computers in the bedroom. Guilt plays into it, too: Parents want time with their kids in the evening and don't want to be the bad guy who orders them to bed. But every 15 minutes' less sleep is correlated with a drop in grade point average. A students get 15 minutes more sleep than B students, who get 15 minutes more than C students. I know it seems trite to say, "Hey, put your kids to bed!" But when a sixth grader gets an hour less sleep he performs like a fourth grader in school. Just a few more minutes of sleep can matter so much.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, October 2009.