There are two articles you should read this week: one to make you feel better, and one to make you snort with derision. I hope.

Both articles suggest that we should rethink some things we’ve been told about parenting, but one is very helpful and one is very unhelpful- another example of the parenting panic that is constantly foisted upon us.

First, the one I didn’t like. It’s not an article, exactly; it’s an interview on salon.com called “Parents: Most of What You’re Doing Is Wrong.” If you think that’s exaggeration for comic effect, it’s not. Lynn Harris (mom, writer, old friend of mine) has interviewed Po Bronson, co-author of a new book called Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children. This author’s modus operandi, it seems, is to make parents question everything they have ever been told, and grip them with a sudden panic that all along they should have been doing just the opposite.

Chief among his hypotheses is my pet peeve: the idea that we should stop praising our children so much. Love and support, daily encouragement? What a bad mommy you are. “When we’re telling kids they’re smart all the time, effort gets stigmatized,” Bronson asserts. I’m not sure what proof they have of this, and I fully admit I have not read the entire book, but it sounds like they’re just kind of making it up. This interview has lots of anecdotes that become worrisome trends in parenting– dire predictions based upon a statistic sampling of one. Well, I’ve got a statistic sampling of three at my house, and they’re part of an ongoing experiment. I tell my kids they’re smart and funny, and beautiful and loved, every single day, and it embarrasses them a little when I do it at school dropoff, but even then I still see their eyes light up with pleasure. I may read Nurtureshock and I may not, but this idea that we can love our children too well or spoil them with self-confidence just makes me roll my eyes. And I’m reading it more and more.

On the other end of the spectrum, an article on slate. com by Dr. Alan Kazdin: “Plan B: What to do when all else has failed to change your kids’ behavior.” This essay also suggests that parents might want to consider doing the opposite of what they have thought was correct, lo these many years, but in contrast, I think this advice is actually helpful. If you have a kid who won’t eat or won’t use the potty or who bites his babysitter, stop doing cartwheels to get him to do what you want, and try doing exactly nothing:

[We] direct the parents to temporarily back off almost entirely: to stop asking their child to do the desired behavior and say it’s OK not to do it at all, stop offering praise or other rewards for doing it, and mask their attitude of engaged enthusiasm or frustrated rage with an appearance of bland disinterest in whether the child does it or not. What happens next, frequently, is that within a day or two the child starts doing the behavior with no prompting from parents or anyone else.

This sounds like it just might be brilliant advice. The article further suggests that parents find opportunities to explicitly tell their child something like, “Don’t worry about this now; you will be able to do this when you get older,” a pressure-reducing antecedent that can actually speed up compliance. Why couldn’t I have read this back when I had an almost-four-year-old pooping in Pull Ups?

This isn’t to say that in all things, or even all things parenting, that slate.com is a better resource than salon.com. I usually enjoy reading them both, because I can never remember which one is which. All I’m saying is that mothers need, as a group, to reject all these feel-bad “experts” out there. If you’re going to tell me I’m doing something wrong, then give me some news I can use.

(photo from slate.com Kazdin article)