NurtureShock – A Book Review

A review of the child development book NurtureShockNurtureShock: New Thinking About Children is the book that has most influenced my approach to parenting. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman pored through child development, psychology and eduation literature and highlighted some major ways in which our generation, in trying to do right by our kids, may actually be doing them a disservice.

This isn’t light reading. There’s a lot of information packed in there. The authors report on a lot of practical, relevant research and some philosophically fascinating research. With that second category of information, it’s up to us to figure out practical applications in parenting. Each chapter of the book could easily be its own book. There’s little coherence between the chapters, but that’s okay. It’s not like I had the time to read it in one sitting!

A mother of twins reviews the book NurtureShock

Chapter 1: The Inverse Power of Praise

Sure, he’s special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a neurobiological fact.

If you’re going to read one chapter of this book, it needs to be this one. I really think this applies to all children. In short, generalized praise that tells your child that her inherent superiority is the source of her success doesn’t build her self-esteem in a way that is lasting or constructive. Instead, make praise specific. Acknowledge effort over talent. Instead of, “You’re so smart,” tell your child, “You worked so hard!”

In one study the authors cite, Dr Carol Dweck’s team gave a group of children a pretty easy test to complete. Half the kids were praised for their smarts, and the other for their effort. They were then offered a choice of two puzzles. The harder one would teach them a lot. Ninety percent of the kids who’d be praised for working hard chose the harder puzzle, while most of the other group elected the easier one.

Kids who know that they’re smart are more likely to give up when they need to put forth effort. Guilty. I was that kid. I’d always been a good student and studied hard, but freshman chemistry in college was the first class in which I was frequently stumped. It took an enormous effort of will for me to stick with it, and the shock of not being the best student in the class hit my sense of worth hard. I’d always been the smart kid; needing to study stole from me the core of my sense of self. It was quite the fall.

Kids who feel valued for being hard workers are likely to stick things out and take greater pride in their accomplishments. My children have been consistently labeled as gifted. I am so glad that I read this book before they started elementary school. Instead of praising my girls for being at the head of their class, I talk to them about doing their best. I’m not disappointed if they come in last if they try their hardest. Doing a lazy job and getting the highest grade in the class? That isn’t an accomplishment.

Not buying it yet? Check out this passage from the chapter.

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.

Chapter 2: The Lost Hour

Around the world, children get an hour less sleep than they did thirty years ago. The cost: IQ points, emotional well-being, ADHD, and obesity.

This is a hard one for me. It’s so hard to make enough time for sleep, getting home as late as we do, as much as the kids drag their feet getting ready for bed, as late as their bedtime conversations last. I struggle to value sleep; it just feels like this thing that takes away from the time I could spend living life and getting things done.

Interestingly, even allowing kids to switch their sleep patterns on weekends is detrimental. Dr. Avi Sadeh showed that every hour of sleep shift (going to bed later and waking later) resulted in a 7-point drop on an IQ test. As the authors put it, “The more you learned during the day, the more you need to sleep that night.” (p. 34)

Even more alarming is the fact that after pre-school, children are getting an entire hour less sleep every single night than we did as children. In fact, the authors suggest that the teenage moodiness may be mostly the result of chronic sleep deprivation.

Chapter 3: Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race

Does teaching children about race and skin colour make them better off or worse?

This chapter was really uncomfortable to read. My ex-husband and I must be America’s whitest brown people. His father is of Mexican descent, and his mother is Caucasian. My parents are both Bengali, South Asian – Indian, if you must, although we’re actually from Bangladesh. Neither of us has ever encountered real racism; both military and university environments are meritocracies and we both grew up in open-minded, accepting school systems with open-minded, accepting peers.

Reading this book prompted me to discuss race with my girls, something I’d never done before. We had assumed that the fact that they’re triracial and have friends across the spectrum would be enough to keep them from being prejudiced. Bronson and Merryman call this the “Diverse Environment Theory.”

NurtureShock‘s authors convincingly argue that we’re wrong to refuse to talk about race. They argue that humans look for patterns. Kids don’t assume that groups are random. They look for commonalities and draw conclusions, and it us up to us as parents to encourage them to evaluate their assumptions.

If we don’t talk about the generalizations they’re making, they stick. Bronson and Merryman argue that school desegregation doesn’t bring an end to racism unless race is actually discussed. An example they gave was of an elementary classroom spontaneously discussing Santa’s race after being read a book in which Santa was depicted with black skin.

We all want out children to be unintimidated by differences and have the social skills to integrate in a diverse world. The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race? (p. 51)

Bronson and Merryman state, “All minority parents at some point tell their children that discrimination is out there, but they shouldn’t let it stop them.” (p. 63) This doesn’t jive with my minority family experience. It was only after reading this chapter that I began to dive into the history of discrimination. They’ve since studied the Civil Rights movement at school.

A few weeks ago, my 7-year-old daughters and I had an interesting conversation about affirmative action and whether it still has a place in our society. That would have never come up had I not read this chapter.

Wow. This review is getting really long. I’d better speed it up. It’s just such a thought-provoking book

Chapter 4: Why Kids Lie

We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear. Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars.

When I read this chapter, I was kind of disappointed. I was looking for research-based suggestions on how to teach our children about the value of truth, while also helping them gauge what truths should be spoken where. Parents who have faith in their children’s inherent honesty will certainly be shocked by how much good kids lie. They don’t want to disappoint us and they don’t want to get in trouble. So they lie.

Chapter 5: The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten

Millions of kids are competing for seats in gifted programs and private schools. Admissions officers say it’s an art: science says they’re wrong, 73% of the time.

This chapter was hugely influential for me. My kids are among those who were identified early as gifted. Had I not read this chapter, I would have probably sat happy on those laurels. What I learned, though, was commonsensical enough. Kids bloom at different times. A child who is super-precocious as a 5-year-old may be an average student by middle school. The kid who doesn’t stand out in 1st or 2nd grade may burst into brilliance as a 5th grader. However, our school systems only looked for giftedness once, early in elementary school. We end up with kids in gifted programs who would do better in regular classrooms and miss out on nurturing other children’s genius.

Even worse, the measures of giftedness are limited and miss out on things like emotional intelligence. When I was researching schools for my daughters, I ended up choosing the school district that would allow children into their Gifted and Talented program even if their gifts manifested in only one academic area. While I knew my daughters would qualify in all areas, I wanted them in a program that valued uniqueness and understood that children are individuals.

In December, I read A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, which I’ll review tomorrow. When I was telling my daughter M about it, she observed that her teacher was likely good at teaching gifted children because her own daughter was so smart. Her teacher’s daughter is one of the most emotionally intelligent and insightful children I have ever encountered, but she doesn’t test particularly well. She’s struggled with math and reading. I knew that M’s ability to see her friend’s gifts, despite their not being the ones that most schools acknowledge, was a sign that we were doing something right.

Chapter 6: The Sibling Effect

Freud was wrong. Shakespeare was right. Why siblings really fight.

This is the chapter for MoMs. One observation is that sibling relationships stay qualitatively similar over time, at least as long as they’re living together. Those of us with kids who adore each other now can be pretty confident that their connection with stand the test of time. The bad news is for those whose kids mostly ignore each other. Interestingly, fighting a lot isn’t necessarily bad, if it’s balanced out by fun, fun, fun times.

Conflict prevention is the key, not conflict resolution. Kids as young as four can be taught the skills needed to get along with their siblings. Siblings who can work things out without needing parental intervention are in good shape. The sibling relationship is its own thing, not some reflection of each child’s relationship with their parents or sharing parental attention.

Here’s a showstopper: “One of the best predictors of how well two siblings get along is determine before the birth of the younger child… [The] predictive factor is the quality of the older child’s relationship with his best friend.” Those of us who have multiples first seem to have a major advantage here.

Chapter 7: The Science of Teen Rebellion

Why, for adolescents, arguing with adults is a sign of respect, not disrespect – and arguing is constructive to the relationship, not destructive.

If your teen argues with you, it’s because she still cares about your opinion. The kids who agrees with you all the time is just ignoring you as soon as you’re out of sight. Mind. Blown.

As you’ve probably heard elsewhere, teenagers’ brains just don’t work like adult brains. There’s no point expecting them to. We don’t expect that of our two-year-olds, right?

Chapter 8: Can Self Control Be Taught?

Developers of a new kind of preschool keep losing their grant money – the students are so successful they’re no longer ‘at-risk enough’ to warrant further study. What’s their secret?

I found this chapter less coherent that the others. Teens make bad decisions. A bunch of teens together make such insanely bad decisions, it’s crazy. Young children can be taught self-control by being empowered to set their own boundaries and practicing holding themselves to those boundaries. Tools of the Mind sounds like an amazing educational approach, but good luck finding a school that uses it.

Chapter 9: Plays Well With Others

Why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.

There’s a fascinating insight in this chapter about kids’ TV. Modern children’s educational TV programs, despite attempting to teach positive behaviour, does the opposite. So much time is spent building up a conflict and so relatively little time spent resolving it, the kids absorb the conflict and not the resolution. One way to address it? Let your kids see you fight so that they can see you resolve conflict. If you agree with your spouse not to fight in front of the kids, they still pick up on the tension, but never get to learn from you how to make up. Let your kids know that conflict is a normal part of human life… as is resolving it.

Chapter 10: Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t

Despite scientists’ admonitions, parents still spend billions every year on gimmicks and videos, hoping to jump-start infants’ language skills. What’s the right way to accomplish this goal?

Perhaps it’s because my academic background is in linguistics, but this chapter didn’t do anything for me. Social interaction is critical to language development. Responding to your child, even before the child can produce meaningful speech, helps him learn to speak. Reponses can be verbal, tactile, eye contact. All of it matters.

Conclusion:  The Myth of the Supertrait

This book has no that-explains-everything insight. Raising kids is a complex exercise. There’s no one aspect of childhood that fixes everything if you tweak it just right. Well-rounded parenting helps kids.

Pretty straightforward, that, but there were a lot of good details along the way.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

Where My Twins’ IQ Test Results Throw Me Into a Tizzy

Our identical (we think?) twin boys are in 1st grade now. While their speech issues hinder their spelling, they’re still performing above grade level in language arts. But math is where they really excel. This fall, G’s standardized test scores for math were the highest in the class, well above the 99th percentile threshold. Right now a parent volunteer is running a pull-out group for some of the kids who can do more challenging work, but next year that might not be an option. We wondered if the boys might be able to jump a grade for math. This isn’t something our district does readily, so we knew we’d have to push. We requested that our boys be tested for the district’s gifted program — if they qualified, we’d have the leverage we need to push for differentiation.

We were surprised by our results. G did not qualify for the gifted program, missing the cut-off by 4 IQ points. P did qualify.

Initially, I was upset with myself for even requesting the test. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of one qualifying and the other not.  Now we had this bona fide test result, on paper, saying G was less capable than his brother. And G has always struggled with self-confidence.

We had a conundrum, too. While we agreed it would be devastating to G for us to place P in the gifted program, we didn’t feel good about withholding enrichment opportunities from P just because his brother didn’t qualify. This is similar to the situation HDYDI blogger Sadia faced this year, except she was faced with moving one of her twins to first grade while the other remained in kindergarten. In researching what to do for our boys, I found this study of different twin types and their reactions to having one twin placed in a gifted program, while the co-twin was not. It definitely affirmed our gut feeling that our boys wouldn’t do well in that situation.

The more I’ve thought about it, the less I trust the IQ test results. I consulted with the director of the university speech clinic the boys attend, and she felt his speech issues could have thrown off the results. G is very aware of his articulation errors, and speaks very slowly to strangers so they can understand him. P does not make any effort to slow his speech for the benefit of others. The speech clinic director said G is likely to choose his words based on what will be easy for him to pronounce and for others to understand, rather than choosing the words that best convey his meaning. G is a kid who asks for math work on his days off of school, because he says he feels anxious on days when he doesn’t get to do math. He picked up his sister’s 4th grade math workbook and started completing the pages for fun. My other two kids who do qualify for the gifted program don’t do anything like this.

We will probably have him retested at some point, so we know what all of our options are. Our oldest child attends a charter school for academically gifted students, and our public schools have various levels of differentiation available. For now we won’t retest — G said he didn’t like the test and it was boring, so I hate to put him through the same thing with the same test administrator this school year. In the meantime we’ve decided to home school next year — we can let them work at their own pace, and provide as much enrichment as either of them needs.

What would you do? Have you run into a similar situation? How would your multiples handle one being placed in a gifted program, while the other remained in the regular classroom?


Jen is a work-from-home mom of 7-year-old twin boys, and two girls ages 5 and 9. She also blogs at Minivan MacGyver. Once in a while.

Family visit

My wonderful mother came for a (too short of a) two week visit with my favorite (and only) sister’s almost 7yr nephew. Oh the fun we had! The kids don’t have many cousins to play with on a regular basis so to have one living in the house for a whole 2 weeks was beyond amazing for them.

I was slightly worried how the whole language barrier would go but turns out kids are pretty good communicators with couple words, gestures and primal noises. It took them about 10 minutes after we arrived from the airport to be playing ‘jungle’ in the basement (and the pace never slowed down after that). By the second night Daniel requested that we make a bed for him in the kids’ room.

Nathan was in awe of this older boy who knew how to climb trees and dive and speak Finnish flawlessly. It was fun to watch him soak in the ‘wisdom’ Daniel so openly shared. They planned jokes on the rest of us with such a speed and creativity that I had forgotten existed.

Prior to the visit I had worried about spending tons of money on admissions to several of our planned activities. I was thrilled to find out that through our library we could get discounted admissions to a whole lot of places. I met a mom from CA at the aquarium who told me that their library has a similar program. So if you’re planning excursions with a load of neighborhood kids or your own you should totally look into that. Our budget throwing $95 admission fee to our Zoo became pocket chance when we flashed our library pass and were charged only $12.

I had hoped that having a Finnish speaking child in the house would produce some language development in my kids but to my disappointment I don’t think they now speak one more word of Finnish than they did before the visit. Daniel however developed his understanding of English by quite a bit and would tell me sometimes when I started to translate something that ‘I already know what that means’. We have a month long trip planned to Finland in the fall. Who knows, maybe by the end of that trip my children will dazzle me with their ability to form a whole sentence in Finnish! Until then we have many memories to cherish and are looking forward to making new ones.

How do you find deals on fun things to do with the family? 

Hanna is trying to foster the sense of Finnish heritance in her kids (and her totally awesome American husband) in the outskirts of Boston. 

Our Speech Therapy Journey(s)

M has successfully completed two programs with a speech therapist, and we’re considering having her evaluated again. Twin sister J joined her for the second of those programs, and also benefitted greatly. Watching both my daughters work their way through speech therapy has taught me a few new things, and convinced me all the more of others.

  • There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
  • Follow your gut.
  • It never hurts to get a second opinion.
  • Some lessons are more likely to stick if they come from someone other than a child’s parent.
  • Things are often more complicated than they appear.
  • There is such a thing as knowing too much about something.

The first time we visited a speech therapist was at the recommendation of the family pediatrician. When M was nearly 3 years old, I became concerned about how slowly she ate. I once timed her spending 17 minutes chewing a single piece of meat, and finally had her spit it out. The pediatrician suggested that she had dysphagia, or trouble swallowing. I had imagined that a couple of degrees in linguistics gave me a basic understanding of what speech therapists do, but I was wrong. Speech therapists deal with all sorts of oral motor issues, including problems with chewing or swallowing.

It turned out that M had never quite figured out how to use her tongue to effectively move food around in her mouth as she chewed. Because of that, foods that required chewing would cause her to choke. After six sessions of feeding therapy with an amazing speech therapist and a lot of reinforcement at home and daycare, she could eat successfully. Meals became enjoyable again. It’s been over 2 years, and we haven’t seen any backsliding. In fact, M enjoys food so much now that she plans to open a restaurant when she grows up. Bonus: military medical insurance covered 100% of speech therapy session costs.

It was during feeding therapy that the therapist raised a concern that M might have articulation delays. It had never occurred to me that there was anything off in her speech, since the child talked incessantly and no one who knew her—I, her teachers, or our neighbours—had any trouble understanding her. I thought her pronunciation of yellow as “lellow” was darling, rather than worrisome. The linguist in me had always ignored the nagging doubts, knowing full well that there was variation in the timing of pronunciation mastery, but there should be no cause for alarm as long as the order of acquisition were being followed.

When my husband returned from Iraq and needed me or J to translate for him so that he could understand M, it was clearly time to revisit the speech therapist. My MA in theoretical linguistics hadn’t taught me as much about the practicalities of language development as I’d thought. The practice we’d been to for feeding therapy no longer took our insurance, so we had to find a new therapist. We had both girls, now 3 months shy of turning 4, evaluated at the new practice. They ended up being evaluated by different therapists, and we learned how incredibly subjective these evaluations can be.

J was determined to be 2 standard deviations above the norm for her age when it came to grammar, vocabulary and comprehension, but 2 standard deviations below the norm for articulation, the production of mature speech sounds. She sounded more like a child just turned 3 than one soon to be 4. M, on the other hand, was evaluated only for articulation, and declared to be just dandy. These results didn’t ring true for us. M was, to our ears, far less clear in her speech than J. My husband insisted that M be reevaluated, this time by the therapist who had seen J. When the office staff let us know that they were concerned that insurance might not pay for a second evaluation, we offered to pay out of pocket. Insurance did end up covering it, though. The second set of results was more in line with our expectations. Although J’s need for speech therapy was a judgment call, M definitely needed it. Where the first evaluation had her placed her in the 43rd percentile, the reevaluation placed her in the 2nd percentile for articulation.

Since their delays were along the same continuum, the therapist offered to work both twins together in weekly sessions. The sessions were great fun for the girls. The therapist pulled out board games, and let them each take a turn after they completed a pronunciation exercise. She focused on making them aware of how the sounds coming out of their mouths were different than hers. Soon enough, they could say ‘sh’ and ‘v’ easily. It was extraordinary to see how those two sounds alone helped with others’ comprehension of their endless chatter.

After 3 months, both the girls graduated from speech therapy. All J had left to master were ‘l’ and ‘r’, and the speech therapist didn’t think those needed to be rushed. M had a lisp to work on too, but we were comfortable with the exercises she needed to do at home to help with that. We should keep an eye on the girls, she told us, and consider revisiting a speech therapist if they didn’t appear to be making any headway after a while.

My husband and I think that we’ve given it long enough, and both girls’ ‘r’s are still very baby-like. At this point, speech evaluations are often conducted through the school district, so we need to ask both their classroom teachers what they think of their speech before we go hunting for yet another speech therapist.

If you’re curious about what precisely goes on in a speech therapist’s office, feel free to peruse the detailed tales of feeding therapy and speech therapy sessions on my personal blog.

Sadia and her 5-year-old girls, M and J, do their talking, lisps and all, in El Paso, TX, much to the exhaustion of her soldier husband. They try not to talk while eating, but it’s tough when there’s so much to say. They are happy to report that chewing challenges are no longer to blame for the length of conversations around the dinner table.

Yet An Other 'Secret' Language

When I was expecting our first child I didn’t really read that many books about expecting and giving birth but one thing I was interested in was language development in children, especially when they were raised in a multilingual home. You see, I was born and raised in Finland, the winner of Newsweek’s 2010 best country to live in. I was going to be speaking Finnish to our children and my wonderfully totally American husband, who after 6 years of marriage knows about 10 words in Finnish, was going to use English.

I was not surprised to read that multilingual boys were the slowest to develop speech. Nor was I surprised when I read that the major cause of baby/toddler frustration, manifested in tantrums that are now way too familiar to me, is the inability to make their thoughts and desires known. I was hoping that somehow there was a way to bypass all this.

I had heard of ‘baby signs’ and properly ordered a book before our first was born. I read it but wasn’t that thrilled. The book was full of signs but it was dry to read and I had no time to study the signs well enough so pretty soon it found its permanent place in a box ‘somewhere out of sight’. Then my SIL let me borrow couple of their Signing Time DVD’s. What a great concept! (You should totally check them out, if you haven’t already.) Suddenly I was exposed to this wonderful new language in a way that was so much fun to learn, both for me and the kids.

Nathan was 10 months when we started watching the DVD’s. It was fascinating to watch him pick up signs so excitedly and effortlessly and then to see him use those signs. I’d offer him a banana and instead of throwing a fit he’d sign ‘grapes’, at the end of the meal, instead of sending his plate and cup flying through the room and adding several minutes to my clean up job, he’d sign ‘all done’. Beth and Joshua got an early start at the precious age of 2 months. When making dinner I’d place them in their bouncy seats in front of TV and all kids happily watched while I cooked.

Out of everyone in the family I believe that Joshua has benefited most from learning American Sign Language (ASL). Ever since being the reason why I ended up with unexpectedly early c-section he’s been our ‘special’ child. He would throw tantrums over anything and everything. He couldn’t figure out sequences (like, first you need to get dressed then you can go outside), he wanted to be held at all times, loud noise would send him over the edge and he didn’t seem to register what we said unless it was signed as well. So sign we did. I borrowed all available ST DVD’s from library, requested them to order the ones they didn’t have, kept them over due and paid enough in fees that it would’ve been cheaper to buy them to our selves from the beginning. But as we all learned more signs, there were fewer tantrums from Joshua and the flow of our days changed from ‘very challenging’ to ‘almost normal’. Quickly signing became his first line of understandable communication and he was rather proficient in it. (He has since learned how to speak clearly and is more than able to make his needs and opinions and desires know .. all too well!)

I noticed that the children started to sign when playing together. First very simple signs but then adding them together to form sentences ‘like pink shoes’, ‘train goes fast’, ‘let’s pretend we’re animals’. They were very good at identifying their feelings and communicating them with us early on, I believe because they associated the signs with (otherwise rather abstract concept of) emotions.

Beth and Joshua turned 3 end of last month. We still sign. I realized at one point that it would be a disservice not to continue with ASL since they already know so many signs. I signed them up for deaf/hearing children’s playgroup and I am taking classes as well. I hope that as they grow and realize that not everyone in the playground uses their hands to communicate they continue to use ASL, because you never know where life leads you and how many opportunities for friendships they might find in the deaf community in years to come. And one day, it could be their other ‘secret’ language. That is if they ever start speaking Finnish. Right now they seem content with understanding Finnish, speaking English and signing back to me. But I won’t loose hope. They just might prove to be more gifted in the area of language than their otherwise pretty awesome Daddy.

So dear HDYDI readers, are you raising your brood in a multilingual home? What challenges have you faced? What benefits are you seeing?  Have you thought about signing?  How are you dealing with potential speech delays/behavior issues with your children?

why having twins is different from having two kids

My boys are in all-day kindergarten. When my daughter started all-day kindergarten two years ago, I was shocked to discover that there is a substantial amount of homework for all-day kindergarteners.

Now I’m even more overwhelmed, because:

  • I have a 2nd grader and TWO kindergarteners
  • My husband works 2nd shift and isn’t around to help with homework/dinner/bedtime
  • My kindergarteners have regular homework, remedial letter recognition homework (parenting FAIL) and speech therapy homework
  • I also have a 3-year-old bopping around

You can find an example of how this works out for me here.

In my real life I’m getting this “totally baffled” vibe from people who are puzzled by my difficulties in helping my three older kids with their homework. Because they have three kids, but their kids manage to do their homework and know their letters, etc. So what’s the difference?

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.

When the boys were babies, their twinniness was a liability. Then for a while it was an asset — they entertained each other and didn’t fight much. They were wild, but I have a great appreciation for the built-in playmate factor. Where school is concerned, we’re moving back into the “liability” area.

They are in the same class because they feel more secure and confident when they’re within eye shot of one another, but I thought this would also make it easier for me to help with homework. WRONG. We can’t do homework at the same time because they shout out their answers, so the one who is slower to answer doesn’t have to think about it. Also, one of our boys (G) is insecure about his knowledge and performance compared with his brother’s, so he’ll often get upset and cry, insisting he doesn’t know how to do the work. I’m not sure where this dynamic has come from, although it’s not the first time we’ve seen it — but G requires careful handling to keep his confidence up. P is quick to answer, and enthusiastic about schoolwork. G knows just as much, but has some warped view where he doesn’t know anything, and P and their other classmates know everything already.

So, each boy’s assignments — reading, letter recognition, and speech — have to be completed at different times, and mostly out of the sight and hearing of the other. And my 2nd grader requires quite a bit of hand-holding for her work, as well. My dreams of the children all quietly ensconced at the table, with me working on dinner and coming in to help here or there, have been dashed for now. This is one way in which having twins continues to be a little more complicated than having two kids of different ages, and I really hadn’t anticipated this one.

Jen is a work-from-home mom of 6-year-old twin boys, and two girls ages 3 and 8. She also blogs at Diagnosis: Urine, where she examines the finer points of potty training failure.

speech therapy, paperwork, denial, and a plea for advice

My boys have just eight more days of preschool until summer break, and they’ll start kindergarten in September, right after their 6th birthday.

This hit me like a punch in the gut last week – not because my babies are growing up, but because I cannot understand most of what they say without significant effort, and I guess I’d been holding out hope that:

a)      Preschool would tremendously influence their speech patterns, or

b)      The school district would start therapy before fall, which would tremendously influence their speech patterns.

My overall reaction to the end of the school year is a panicked, “But that’s it??

They were referred for speech therapy by their pediatrician, at their 4-year well child visit. I guess I mostly thought the doctor was overreacting. I understood them well, at that time — their expanded vocabularies and life experiences have not helped me – and I felt they’d grow out of it.

Also, my husband had just lost his job and we had no income, which made it easy for me to decide they’d grow out of it.

But I found myself examining everything else about the boys — their behavior, mannerisms, muscle tone, coordination, emotions, etc. — in the light of what their pediatrician had said. By their 5th birthday, I had placed a handful of calls, and we had started and stopped the overwhelming pile of district registration paperwork several times. Those of you with triplets and more, my heart goes out to you regarding the amounts of paperwork you must complete in order to accomplish anything at all.

We managed to get everything completed, just in time for kindergarten registration in March. I received the boys’ assessment papers back in the mail, and had a mini-freakout over how the assessor went out of her way to list that P wouldn’t identify purple, brown, or black by name (he calls them all “dark”) but failed to note that he cannot use appropriate developmental speech sounds. That was duly noted on G’s assessment, although the boys pronounce nearly everything the same way. This oversight inspired me to call the school, which led to the discovery that more than a year ago, they’d filed my requests for assistance as though I had been offered but declined assistance.

I would have cried, but I was just so excited by all the district therapists who were suddenly returning my phone calls. We were fast-tracked through phase 1 of the assessments, and then communication has fizzled… sigh.

What I do know is that they are set to start therapy immediately when school begins in September, waiving the usual six-week in-class assessment period. I am fearful for them, because the combination of looking just alike/no one knowing who is who, plus being unable to express themselves clearly, seems like a difficult way to leap into full-day kindergarten. They’ve made great strides recently regarding their ability to overcome anxiety in the situations that upset them, but I don’t think their articulation is going to improve in the next four months. I’m bummed.

Our insurance doesn’t cover speech therapy, and we looked into private programs but the hourly rate x2 is… well, once again, I really feel for those of you with triplets and more in these situations.

Have any of you run into similar problems? Any ideas? I’m open to any suggestions.  Thanks in advance!
Jen is a work-from-home mom of twins + 2. She also blogs at Diagnosis: Urine.

The Nicknamer

I had a lot of rules when picking names for my kids.  I didn’t want their names to rhyme or start with the same letter, I wanted them to be easy to spell and pronounce.  All names beginning with the letter J or H were ruled out, as were many names of crazy relatives.  One thing I did want, however, was the possibility for nicknames.  That’s one of the reasons we went with Rebecca over Sarah.

Ice Cream for Dinner

And yet… in over a year and a half, I never called her anything but her full name.  We would sometimes say “Dan” for Daniel, but by and large we used their full names all the time.  It felt a little silly, since I had picked these names in part because of their ability to be shortened, yet here I was saying the whole thing every time.

Enter: toddler language development.  Rebecca has always said “Daniel” pretty clearly.  Daniel called her “Nee nee” for a while.  And then, unprompted, he started saying “Becca.”  And now that they’ve started referring to themselves with their own names, she calls herself “Becca.”  The funny thing is that I almost feel like that has given me permission to start calling her that, myself. Weird, huh?

Ice Cream for Dinner

I think it comes down to who you expect to bestow nicknames on kids.  Growing up, I was always the full-on Elizabeth where my family was concerned. But somewhere in late-middle school, my friends started to call me Liz.  Liz has stuck and it’s how almost everyone knows me… yet my mother will never, ever call me anything but Elizabeth.  So, in my mind, I guess I expect peers to pick nicknames.

My aunt, on the other hand, was always a Liz because that was the nickname her mother called her.  My aunt Liz named her son Christopher, and was somewhat distressed when his peers started calling him “Chris,” because she didn’t call him that.  In her mind, nicknames are picked by parents.

So, what about you, dear readers?  Did you pick a longer name for your kids but always knew you’d call them by the short version?  Did you pick a nickname-proof name to avoid the whole thing?  What is your take on nicknames and who “gets” to decide on them?

Four-letter words

I have a potty mouth.  It might not be reflected accurately in my writing, but it is not uncommon to hear some really choice phrases come out of me.  Especially when driving.  Or when I stub my toe really hard.  Or, really, any time I’m worked up about something.

But now that I have a pair of toddlers who take great delight in repeating nearly everything I say, I’m trying to watch it.  Everyone makes their own choices on this issue, of course, but I do not want to be the one with the kids ranting that something “sucks,” or worse.  That’s just not how I was raised.  I remember being somewhat shocked the first time I heard my own mother swear, and I think I’d just as soon my kids held the same illusions about me.

My husband and I have been working on a good replacement word for our four-lettered friends.  Something you can say in your moments of stress without worrying about the kids saying it right back to you.  Our current choice: Awesome.  For instance, when following a typical Massachusetts driver, it might sound something like “Find your awesome turn-signal, jack-awesome!!”  Or, after our delayed flight home from Chicago in December, when we were waiting and waiting at the nearly-abandoned baggage carousel at 2AM, “let’s just get our awesome bags and get the awesome home.”

There was just one side to this whole obscenity thing, though, that I did not anticipate: colorful toddler pronunciations of otherwise harmless words.  Daniel, in particular, has a few favorites that just aren’t quite right.  At the moment, he loves to point out trucks.  Except, for some reason, he prefers an “s” to the “t,” so there’s a lot of shouting “sucks! sucks!” from my back seat.  He also is a big fan of letting you know, with great enthusiasm, if there is a clock nearby.  Except, well, he just drops the “L.”  So that’s… special.  And then there’s one of his very favorites: flag.  He really loves to see flags flying high in the wind, or the several dozen when we pass the cemetary.  With the dropped L and the G sounding more like a K…. Honest to God, it sounds like my son drops the f-bomb every 5 minutes.  I swear… it’s not my fault!  I was being so good around them!

Skeptical

Though, just the same, I guess I should stop listening to the Avenue Q soundtrack while they’re in the playroom.

What about you, dear readers…. what is your choice for curse-word replacement? Have your kids repeated something you wished they wouldn’t?

Funny names, funny words

We’re in a very fun stage of language development at my house.  At 18 months old, the kids are picking up new words quickly.  My son, in particular, attempts to repeat a word in almost everything I say to him.  It’s a lot of fun.

As with anything developmental, I always think it’s funny to see how these two kids, from the same parents, being raised in the same household, do things differently from one another.  They make the same animal noises (meow is hands-down the favorite), and both started saying “na-na” for banana on the same day.  Yet other things the pronounce completely differently.

One of my favorites is what they call each other.  My kids are Rebecca and Daniel.  Rebecca has been saying a pretty clear “Day-yul” for ages, now.  Never called him anything else.  Just her very best pronunciation of Daniel.  He, on the other hand, seemed to not call her anything for a while… until I realized he had his very own name for her: Nee-nee.  That’s right.  Rebecca –> NeeNee.  I have no idea how he got to that one. Rebeecca, I can understand, is a mouthful. But I thought maybe he’d pick up on the “Becca” part? Nope. NeeNee.  We don’t have any nicknames for her that sound remotely like that.  But it’s quite clear, that’s the name he uses for his sister.

This also leads me to the question of how to deal with these odd words.  On one end of the spectrum, I’ve seen tons of parents start calling cats “meow-meows”, or ask the baby if she wants her “ba-ba” instead of bottle.  The parent adopts the child’s word or pronounciation.  On the other end, I’ve seen people get kind of harsh and insist on near-perfect pronounciation before they will concede that “bah-do” is the same as “bottle.”

I seem to be taking a middle road.  When Daniel says “Nee-nee,” I say, “that’s right, buddy, that’s Rebecca!”  When Rebecca starts shrieking “Meow! Meow!”  I say, “Oh, do you see a kitty cat?”  I didn’t give it a ton of thought before I started doing it, but I feel like what I’m doing is acknowledging that I understand what they’re saying, but continuing to say the “right” word in a non-critical way.  Seems OK to me, are there any speech people out there to tell me whether I’m doing the right thing?

What about the rest of you out there?  What do your kids call each other? Any idea how they arrived at silly nicknames?  And how do you approach mispronounciations or made-up words in general?