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Monday, February 25, 2019

Review: Voice Lessons for Parents

Voice Lessons for Parents is a parenting guide for the affluent soccer-moms/tiger-dads who live in the suburb and face the typical problems of affluenza: competitive parenting, stress over college applications, and excessive concern about doing the right thing, not to mention a host of other issues like divorce, sexting, etc.

There are lots of little titbits. For instance, she points out early on that fathers have a big impact on kids' vocabularies, mostly because Dads tend not to care if he uses words that the kids might not understand:
Lynne Vernon-Feagans studies the psychology of literacy and early language development at the University of North Carolina. Her work reveals that when fathers use a diverse vocabulary in interactions with their infants, the children have more advanced communication skills at fifteen months and more advanced expressive language development at thirty-six months. Even if Mom and Dad have equivalent vocabularies, the children learn words more readily if Dad has been regularly interacting with them. (Loc 249)
She points out that the rise of late speaking amongst little kids isn't necessarily due to electronic gadgets, but (surprisingly!) the popular squeeze pouch that kids use for snacks:
 She said that people blame electronic gadgets but don’t realize that part of the problem is the popularity of food pouches (plastic squeeze tubes of pureed fruits and vegetables). “The kids come into school sucking on their breakfast and then have another pouch filled with plum puree and quinoa for lunch. They get in a little baby-like trance, and there’s definitely less conversation around the table.” There’s a mechanical aspect to learning to speak that develops in tandem with baby’s cognitive readiness. (Loc 280)
Apparently the rise of those food pouches resulted in enough kids not getting practice chewing food, that it affected their language development, but of course, it coincided with the increase in phone use, so people attributed it to gadgets rather than the food pouches.

 The book is divided into separate chapters for boys and girls for each level of development. Even though I only have boys, I read all the chapters anyway, just in case there's appropriate advice that would apply even for boys. To my relief, the book doesn't participate in the modern fashion of abjuring boys, and in fact indicts society for its unappreciation of boyish qualities:
although awareness is growing about best practices for raising boys, our concern about sexual coercion and the media’s focus on acts of male violence make it hard to relax into appreciation of boys’ many endearing characteristics: frankness, ease in getting over emotional slights, high energy, and high-spirited ways. It’s easy to perceive these traits as rudeness and use them to predict troubles ahead. Or to merely endure boys’ “antics” until they evolve into a more acceptable (girl-like) state. Horsing around with friends or Dad can take some of the pressure off young boys, but occasional male bonding can’t be expected to counterbalance an entire sociological shift. (Kindle Loc 897)
 There's lots of advice on how to talk to a boy, and some of it is incredibly salient (I remember it applying to me when I was a boy, and how my parents would get exasperated):
It’s normal for a boy not to respond to his parents’ words the first time or even the second. When that happens, there’s a good possibility that he literally did not hear you, especially if he was fully absorbed in an activity. This is the way their brains work. Understanding this can prevent or preempt feelings of outrage or indignation. So prepare to repeat yourself, and maximize your impact by observing the following voice lessons. (Loc. 999)
 Boys do not hear subtle differences in tone, so your sighs or sarcastic hinting may be lost on your son. If he does happen to notice, it will likely confuse and hurt him rather than serve as a motivator. A sorrowful tone may go entirely over his head, leading you to feel insulted or ignored even though he honestly didn’t grasp the undercurrents. When boys reach adolescence, this changes and they become ultrasensitive to their parents’ tone, at which point you’ll have to train yourself to sound chipper and nonjudgmental. You might as well start now. (Loc 1014)
There's a great plea for more unstructured time for little kids (again, I am reminded of neighborhood kids whose parents would ask me about camping trips only to discover later that they had their kids scheduled for various structured activities every freaking day of the week, and so there was zero chance they could make any kind of camping trip!):
 Free time and unstructured play does much more than cultivate children’s facility with language. It also has a positive effect on their mood and spirit. Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, studies the relationship between psychopathology and a sense of “agency” (developmentally appropriate control over the quality and quantity of one’s daily activities). He writes, “By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.” (Loc 1165)
 I could run quote after quote from this book offering great parenting advice and observations, including one that scared me (even though I don't have daughters):
girls are entering puberty earlier than they used to: seven or eight is now considered normal by the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Kindle Loc. 1335)
 In any case, this book explained to me why many mothers and daughters have extremely conflict-driven relationships, and it's probably of much interest to women who have daughters, but I won't focus on that in this review. I'll just mark this book recommended and grant you one last quote:
I always cheer inwardly when a parent says, “My son plays club basketball. He’s not very good, but he loves it.” They just saved themselves $3,000 on psychological testing—I know that’s a healthy kid with a sensible mom and dad. In terms of life lessons, extracurriculars are ideal. It’s a blessing when you can leave the truth-telling to others. If the school informs your daughter that her dress is too sheer or the driving instructor chides your son for his scant attention to the rearview mirror, that means you don’t have to do it. (Loc 3930)

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