Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child's Unique Core Personality

Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child's Unique Core Personality

by Michael Gurian

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"Your child's core nature is thrilling to observe and appreciate as it unfolds before your eyes. It's wonderful to feel confident as a parent, to tailor parenting techniques to fit the unique needs of your child's nature."
—From the Introduction

From Michael Gurian, the best-selling author of The Minds of Boys and The Wonder of Girls, comes the next-step

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"Your child's core nature is thrilling to observe and appreciate as it unfolds before your eyes. It's wonderful to feel confident as a parent, to tailor parenting techniques to fit the unique needs of your child's nature."
—From the Introduction

From Michael Gurian, the best-selling author of The Minds of Boys and The Wonder of Girls, comes the next-step book that shows how any parent can tune into a child's unique core personality, hard wiring, temperament, and genetic predisposition in order to help that child flourish and thrive.

Based on the most recent brain research, Nurture the Nature features the Ten Tips for Nurturing the Nature of Your Baby, self-tests, checklists, and many other tools for you to help your kids get exactly the kind of support they need, from infants to adolescents.

While offering positive ideas for nurturing your child, Gurian also shows how to avoid the stress, pressures, and excessive competition of what he identifies as social trends parenting. Most parents know instinctively that their child is unique and has special potential, weaknesses, and strengths. No child is a blank slate. Gurian calls on parents to turn away from one-size-fits-all approaches and instead support the individual core nature of a child with effective and customized loving care.

Nurture the Nature offers a rare combination of solid research and compelling case history that will help you develop the consistency and confidence you need for parenting your children in a way that respects who they really are.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Noted author Gurian (The Wonder of Boys) here advocates thatparents reject what he calls the "social trends parentingsystem"-i.e., following popular parenting fads-and instead focus onthe unique talents, proclivities, and temperaments with whichchildren are born. He spends a good deal of the book laying out thescientific aspects of personality and temperament, delving intorecent brain research that, for instance, shows how gender andother factors play a role in personality development. WhileGurian's overall message is worthy, many parents may find some ofhis recommendations confusing and even alarming. He seems toadvocate for specialized medical tests, such as brain scans andblood tests, in the absence of any real reason for performing them,treating them as tools to help parents better understand a child's"core nature." His use of that term itself is problematic, as itsometimes refers to personality and other times to medical issues.His statements about certain areas of research and popular cultureare also inaccurate, e.g., he misunderstands the Myers-Briggs TypeIndicator, equating shyness with introversion. Still, parents maybe able to take away the important and liberating idea that knowingyour child is the best parenting advice of all. Fans of Gurian'sother books will be pleased; those who want to understand betterhow personality affects child development would be better served byElizabeth Murphy's The Developing Child.
—Rachel Davis, Thomas Memorial Lib., Cape Elizabeth, ME(Library Journal, May 1, 2007)

Family therapist Gurian (The Wonder of Girls) approaches hisnature-based theme from a slightly different angle in his latestwork, urging parents to buck "social trends parenting" and makedecisions based on the core personality of their individual child.A researcher of brain science and gender differences, Gurianbelieves that much of a child's behavior is inborn from the start.But Gurian sees a disturbing trend in parents' increasingwillingness to disregard their own instincts, letting media andsociety-driven fads dictate the way they raise their kids. In hisown "clinical detective work," he has found that children arebecoming bogged down by activity overload and the "materialanxiety" that arises from trying to keep up with the latestdesigner fads or electronic gadgets. Gurian presents an in-depth,chapter-by-chapter analysis of child development, beginning atinfancy and ending in early adulthood. Gurian's presentation iscomprehensive and peppered with fascinating facts (i.e., howpheromones of biological fathers affect the onset of girls' pubertyor how parts of a toddler's brain actually swell during a tantrum).The author's new text will help parents begin, in the tradition ofMaria Montessori, to "follow the child," rather than adapt theirkids to a contemporary one-size-fits-all mold.(May) (PublishersWeekly, April 2, 2007)

Publishers Weekly

Family therapist Gurian (The Wonder of Girls) approaches his nature-based theme from a slightly different angle in his latest work, urging parents to buck "social trends parenting" and make decisions based on the core personality of their individual child. A researcher of brain science and gender differences, Gurian believes that much of a child's behavior is inborn from the start. But Gurian sees a disturbing trend in parents' increasing willingness to disregard their own instincts, letting media and society-driven fads dictate the way they raise their kids. In his own "clinical detective work," he has found that children are becoming bogged down by activity overload and the "material anxiety" that arises from trying to keep up with the latest designer fads or electronic gadgets. Gurian presents an in-depth, chapter-by-chapter analysis of child development, beginning at infancy and ending in early adulthood. Gurian's presentation is comprehensive and peppered with fascinating facts (i.e., how pheromones of biological fathers affect the onset of girls' puberty or how parts of a toddler's brain actually swell during a tantrum). The author's new text will help parents begin, in the tradition of Maria Montessori, to "follow the child," rather than adapt their kids to a contemporary one-size-fits-all mold. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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Nurture The Nature

By Michael Gurian

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2007 Michael Gurian
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7879-8633-9

Chapter One

Escaping the Social Trends Parenting System

My stress level and that of my husband is so high, and it's the same for our kids. What we really want is to find the love and healthy direction a family is supposed to be. -CARLA JAMES, MOTHER OF THREE CHILDREN

CARLA CAME TO SEE ME WITH TEARS IN HER EYES. HER FIFTEEN-year-old daughter, Katie, would not speak to her, she said, and her twelve-year-old son, Andy, was obsessed with video games. Carla felt overwhelmed, unsure of how to be a parent, and unable to get the help from family, school, and friends that she needed. She worried that Katie would become promiscuous.

"The way she dresses, the way she acts, it's becoming out of control," Carla said. "And no matter what my husband or I do, our son Andy just lives in his own world, his own little box. And I know it's not just me and my kids. It seems like a lot of my kids' friends are having the same kind of problems. They're good kids-deep down these are all good kids-and we're a good family, but there's something wrong. We're just too stressed out!"

Another couple, Angie and Bert Stohl, brought their daughter, Susan, to see me. When I met this young woman of sixteen,I saw dark circles under her eyes. Susan was so busy she only got five hours of sleep per night (she needed nine), and some of that was fitful. She was losing herself to the stress of everyday life, compounded by lack of sleep. For Susan it was like a badge of honor that she could survive with so little sleep. At the same time, she was acting in ways that did not fit her natural needs as a teenager: she was not healthy.

In another case, the Royce family came to me with their son, Devin, who was failing first grade. Well liked by other kids, he did not perform in the way either his parents or school wanted him to. His parents had done all the right things for producing a high-performing son: reading to him early, playing Baby Einstein tapes, putting him in the best school. They had even started him on the computer at three years old. But his teacher said, "Devin simply refuses to concentrate and learn." At the age of six, Devin was wetting the bed again and beginning to withdraw from school.

These are all good families, good people, trying their best. But they are struggling, and they are not alone. I constantly receive e-mails and letters from parents and other caregivers who notice significant stress and anxiety in their families and the families around them. Some of the stress they notice shows up as disorders in the young children, some as listlessness in the young adults, who just aren't finding success or a place in the world. Everywhere I travel in my community work, I'm seeing families struggling with stressed-out children. These parents love their kids, and these kids want to grow and develop successfully. But something is wrong.

In this chapter, let's all take a collective pause for breath. Let's figure out what's wrong. In the busyness of contemporary life, let's ask the right questions in our own homes and schools. If you feel as though everything has sped up and is going too fast and there isn't enough time in the day to do it all, pause a moment and ask yourself some questions:

Is my child's life overscheduled? Am I spending all day taking children from one class, rehearsal, workout, team practice, and social event to another? If so, why? Is the frantic struggle to keep up with other kids and their parents doing my child damage? If so, do I sense it but feel powerless against it? Do I have a child who just "doesn't fit" the conventional expectations of well-intentioned teachers, doctors, and other experts who complain about him or her? Is my child just plain "different"? Is my five-, six-, or seven-year-old on behavioral medication, unable to calm down or function properly without a chemical stimulant? Or has this medication been recently suggested for my young child, though I don't believe deep down that he needs it? Has my teenage daughter gotten into trouble recently in ways that seem "not who she is"? Has my teenage son begun turning away from my home and authority in dangerous ways? Do I worry constantly about my child getting into the best college-and does that stress push me to create an overwhelming daily life for my kid? Is my child obsessed with the computer, video games, television, cell phones, text messaging, blogging, or other "electronic addictions"? Does my child have a materialistic sense of entitlement that cripples his or her ability to fully mature and find purpose and meaning? Do I live in a constant anxiety that I as a parent am failing one or more of my children?

Many families and children today are not necessarily sick, ill, or destroyed, but nevertheless suffer from one or more of these issues. Some children play three sports, have team and personal coaches, and are rushing from one grueling athletic practice to another. Some are constantly taking test-prep workshops, dance classes, and music classes, and are rehearsing daily for one academic or artistic performance after another. Others develop social or emotional skills but little character. Still others act out in uncivil, angry ways, while at the same time struggling to keep up with the latest competitive trends.

I believe these children and their parents are suffering from chronic stress. After two decades of research and practice, I now believe that far too many families suffer from this dangerous condition. Let's pause for a moment to look at it carefully so that we can protect our families from it, then let's look at a major social force that might be causing it-one we can battle very well if we decide to become revolutionary and nurture the nature of our children.

What Is Chronic Stress in the American Family?

Stress-whether the daily stress of life or a major trauma, such as a car accident or death in the family-is a constant in our lives and in the lives of our children. It's normal for our kids' brains and bodies to experience surroundings of great complexity, all the while trying to maintain stability. Much of this is what neurologists call "positive stress." Our bodies and minds work to understand and integrate the stressor- put out the daily fire; learn a new, difficult skill; recover from an accident; or allow grief into our lives-and we notice that we've gained strength, understanding, new power, new purpose. Thus we can say that the stress has been helpful and meaningful, and our brains have not strayed into danger.

Negative stress, in contrast, is something we need to be very careful about, especially with our children. In the most general terms, as experts at the University of Maryland Medical School wrote recently, "When these symptoms persist, you are at risk for serious health problems. This kind of stress can exhaust your immune system. Recent research demonstrates that 90 percent of illness is stress-related." When stress goes beyond the stimulating (positive stress) and becomes debilitating (negative stress), symptoms fall into three categories: physical, emotional, and relational.

Physical symptoms include sleep disturbance; weight gain or weight loss; fatigue; asthma or shortness of breath; and increases in viral and bacterial infections, migraines, or other tension headaches. Emotional and psychological symptoms include anxiety, depression, moodiness, lack of concentration or motivation, feeling out of control, substance abuse, and overreaction to daily situations. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are all exacerbated by negative stress. Relational symptoms include antisocial behavior; increased arguments, nastiness, conflicts, and isolation from others; and increased aggression and violence.

When does negative stress become chronic stress? When the stress continues for years at a time. The question I began asking ten years ago, when I started identifying negative stress patterns in families like the Jameses, Stohls, and Royces, was this one: "Could our families and large numbers of our children be experiencing not just negative stress for a given day or week, but a socially sanctioned chronic stress?" And continuing along those lines, "Could it be that we don't realize the extent of this condition in our own homes, schools, and communities?"

Having conducted some clinical "detective work," I believe I can now answer these questions.

Research on Chronic Stress

Present scientific research on chronic stress appears mainly in two fields of scientific inquiry:

Study of children traumatized in their early relationships by inadequate or violent care at the hands of parents and caregivers (this includes abuse). Such trauma raises cortisol levels (stress hormone levels) and thus "rewires" normal brain chemistry and circuitry. Study of families caring for severely disabled or chronically ill individuals. Both the ill individual and the constantly vigilant caregiver can experience raised cortisol that can lead to depression and other brain chemistry issues.

When these people are acutely stressed, they exhibit and report these experiences:

Feeling as though they are always rushing, always late, always on the run Taking on too much, keeping too many irons in the fire Feeling overaroused Becoming short tempered Feeling constantly anxious Being overreactive and tense Worrying a great deal about a lot of little things Focusing on negatives, especially negative self-judgments and negative judgments of others close to them Thinking a lot about failure, possible disaster, lack of success Constantly feeling inadequate

Looking at these symptoms, as well as those listed earlier as symptoms of chronic stress, I came to realize that they applied all too well to what Carla James and so many others faced in their families.... In each case, parents and children had felt this panoply of symptoms for long periods of time, but without quite being able to figure out what was going on.

Our Survey

As I tried to understand the connection between chronic stress research and the families I was seeing, I asked the Gurian Institute research team to help me reach out to parents and find out what they thought.

In 2005, the Gurian Institute staff decided to measure the level of parental stress in families. We conducted an e-mail survey in which we asked 1,859 parents and caregivers to rank

How supported they felt as parents in this culture

How protected their children were in their social circles

What they most feared as parents and caregivers

The results were powerful. Two-thirds of the survey participants considered themselves "unsupported as parents in the United States," felt "inadequate," and felt "constantly worried that their children would be harmed." Worry for children's safety is natural to any generation of parents, but the greatest fear among parents in our survey came not from physical violence or even from terrorism or sexual predators. More than two-thirds of participants believed that their children were in more danger from "subtle harms" than they were from "overt harms." As one respondent put it, "Our society has taken care of a lot of the obvious harms to children-like lack of food or shelter-but now the subtle harms are far worse." Subtle harms for surveyed parents included media stereotypes (thin girls, buff boys) as well as media exploitation of violence and inappropriate sexuality, loss of family bonding in everyday life, and high social pressure on kids. A number of participants reported variations on this theme: "There are inordinately high social and family expectations on my kids to perform in ways that just don't fit who my kids are. This is really stressing them out."

Also interesting in the survey was this finding: three-quarters of the respondents felt that their children were in more danger than they themselves had been as children. Many of these respondents were brought up during the Cold War-a time when Americans thought they could lose their lives in a nuclear catastrophe at any time-yet they felt that their children's exposure to subtle harms in contemporary society was worse.

Previous Work on Chronic Stress in Families

These survey results inspired our Gurian Institute team to look deeply at what these parents might be hinting at-especially the sense of stress and anxiety linked to social expectations and pressures. We reviewed other literature and surveys on parental stress. Although our survey was perhaps one of the first of its kind to try to determine an exact link between chronic stress and family life, there have been other surveys that measure general parental anxiety and child health. These others supported our survey results.

The Michigan Healthy Start survey of 2003, for instance, found that 66 percent of parents measured at "significant stress" on their Parental Stress Index. According to the Michigan researchers, this result showed a significant generational increase when they compared the baby boomers to their children. The Carnegie-Mellon corporation conducted a long-term study in the 1990s on child and family health, and discovered significant parental and family stress. They called this "a quiet crisis in child rearing."

These surveys followed the calls and hints of other researchers to look closely at family stressors. David Elkind, professor of psychology at Tufts University and the author of The Hurried Child, first wrote about stressed children in his clinical observations in the 1980s. In the 1990s, a number of fields began to report on children's deteriorating mental health due to such severe family stressors as abuse, neglect, and dangerous media stimulation. Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley reviewed the literature in Ghosts from the Nursery, showing the roots of violence in chronic stressors in early childhood. Jane Healy also reviewed the literature in Failure to Connect, showing correlation between excessive media exposure and children's stress.

In the late 1990s, the field of physical therapy began to discuss the possibility of a condition therapist T. W. Myers called "kinesthetic dystonia," a neurophysical state in which the child's body is constantly under neural stress because it is living out of sync with its own natural needs. The exponential increase in child obesity in the last decade falls into this category.

In the last few years, our nation's colleges have also been noticing a situation that supports the chronic stress theory. In November 2004, college health service workers from a wide variety of schools noted the severity and incidence of student mental health referrals in university health services. Steven Hyman, provost of Harvard University and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, recently pointed out that students' mental states are now so precarious that they "interfere with the core mission of the university."

According to Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today, by 1996, "anxiety overtook relationship concerns and has remained the major student problem" in student health services. Eating disorders of some kind or severity now afflict 40 percent of women at some time in their college career. Psychologist Paul E. Joffe, head of the suicide prevention team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, tracks the increase of dangerous drinking among young people. He finds among our late adolescents "an inverted world in which drinking to oblivion is the way to feel connected and alive."


Excerpted from Nurture The Nature by Michael Gurian Copyright © 2007 by Michael Gurian. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"As scientifically sound as it is humane."
—Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., chairman, Department of Child andAdolescent Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, andfounder and director, New York University Child Study Center

"Nurture the Nature is thorough, thoughtful, accurate,and brilliant. The science is sound and well researched."
—Daniel Amen, M.D., author, Making a Good BrainGreat

"Michael Gurian has once again produced a magnificent book onchildren, this one showing us how to appreciate and indeedcapitalize on the unique nature within each child. Nurture theNature should be mandatory reading for parents who want theirchildren to mature into happy, healthy human beings—which isof course all of us!"
—Dr. Tracey J. Shors, Department of Psychology, Center forCollaborative Neuroscience, Rutgers University

"Nurture the Nature is up-to-the-minute, filled withwisdom, and an intensely moral book, concerned with helping a childdevelop a sense of purpose in life, and promoting self-reliance andself-discipline in children. Both as a mother and a psychologist, Icould not put this book down!"
—Judith Kleinfeld, professor of psychology, University ofAlaska, and national director of The Boys Project

"As a parent myself, I believe one of the greatest challenges toparenting well is to see who your individual child really is.Nurture the Nature gives parents the ability to do justthat—and to understand the complex issues that shape ourchildren today."
—Rosalind Wiseman, author, Queen Bees and Wannabes

"A wealth of practical advice on how to escape the competitivepressure of social trends parenting and instead nurture the corenature of your child."
—Michele Borba, Ed.D., author, 12 Simple Secrets Real MomsKnow and Building Moral Intelligence

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