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If Kids Who Talk Back Are Gifted, Then I'm Raising Geniuses!

Posted by Annita Wozniak

A new study asks, Are certain parenting techniques, like using commands with kids, short-circuiting brain development? Tracking more than 8,000 children, the findings suggest that regardless of socioeconomic background, small differences in communication style can have an impact on children. Evidently, “Mothers and fathers who mainly talk to their offspring using commands rather than reasoning, often get their kids to do what they want, but they may also be short-circuiting brain development.”

What! So now arguing with mom and dad is a good thing?

I grew up on the standard, Children should be seen and not heard, and the all-applicable classic, Because I said so.

The exasperated look on the faces of relatives when I calmly, and repeatedly told my firstborn at a holiday gathering, The fireplace is hot. Step back! instead of just yelling, No! , or slapping her hand away or letting her Just touch it once to learn the hard way.

I was full of the grand and kinder gentler ways of setting limits.

Imagine this first time mom, determined to have a compliant child, embarking on my first of many grand ideas. Thinking that if I could only avoid introducing the word no and instead use the words, Not for you! I believed I’d never get a defiant head shake and the unwavering No! when I asked mine to follow an order.

Oh new moms — we are so funny.

My avoidance of one word didn’t hurt, but my children just figured out how to say “no” in different ways and at different decibel levels. For example, my third child knew just how to clearly avoid the “ten-second tidy” with a multitude of reasons why the toy cows have to be lined up, exactly the right way, on the linoleum, facing forward and behind the fence, before nap time, and never dumped in the toy bin.

So are experts now saying that talking back to mom is good for kids?

Well, there’s a little more to it than that.

In a second study, two dozen families were observed for a year. Mother-child interaction consisting primarily of direct verbal commands (“Don’t throw toys”) versus a reasoning approach (“Throwing toys can hurt someone, put the toy down”) appears to “invite more complex thought and language development, says Bruce Fuller, the UC Berkeley education professor who coauthored the work.

(So if a kid can argue he is gifted? Whew! I’m raising geniuses.)

Giving myself a reality check, I am comforted that this study focuses on development for two and three year-olds. I’m relieved that the young debaters quickly catch on to the fledgling confidence and effective parenting that comes with experience. Thankfully, new moms and dads don’t stay new to parenting for very long. We simultaneously grow our parenting skills just as quickly as our children grow their haggling skills. After the first three years we develop our mommy-brains, cast aside our idealistic notions that arguing is not for you, and quickly pick up the subtle, but effective, evil- eye-followed-by-the-eye-brow-raise that requires no words at all


About Annita Wozniak

Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at

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