Concerted Cultivation Approach To Parenting

I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and have just been blown away by the chapter that discusses concerted cultivation as being more useful to children than any form of innate genius (this article explains concerted cultivation better than Wikipedia). I have read about similar approaches to concerted cultivation in parenting, but never before has the results of this approach been made so clear to me. I am convinced it is worthwhile and I really must try to keep this in mind as I bring up my kids.


Now, the concerted cultivation idea is not just about kids doing lots of extra-curricular activities, although that has its place. I do believe kids also need to have time to just muck about and be kids, getting bored and seeing what they do with that. The activities are only a part of the concerted cultivation idea, and ultimately help the kids by letting them specialise, excel at things, see their needs as important, socialise broadly and see different aspects of society. All important, yes. The rest of the concerted cultivation approach is about the way you speak to your child, and the way you teach them to value themselves, value their opinion, and most importantly to assert their wishes and feel valued and entitled to respect. The most important aspect, I feel, is in teaching kids to see adults as their equals, offering explanations and teaching them to negotiate.

In particular, I noted from Annette Lareau’s study that one child was coached by his mother before a doctor’s appointment. She asked him if he had any questions for the doctor and making it clear that he should be assertively asking the doctor questions while he was there. Another result of this grooming is that the kids grow up to believe that interactions with adults and institutions can be tailored for their needs – ultimately, that there is a point to negotiation and discussing issues. They become their own advocate.

They could also become whiny, and unable to think of anything to do when they get a spare moment (as Linda Quirkle has written about). I guess there’s a middle ground between this and the Slow Parenting/Forest Kindergarten approach, which are also very promising ideas. However, even Linda Quirkle seems to see that being confident with authority and verbally accomplished is a better advantage for the child’s future than being able to entertain themselves easily.

I have previously thought similar things myself on occasion: the kids whose parents were always looking for scholarships got scholarships, unsurprisingly compared to the parents who didn’t look, even if the latter parents/kids could have used the money. But now I see it’s more than that. It’s also that these children know that the scholarships exist and that they may possibly be eligible. That they may actually be entitled to it if they ask for it.

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Halfway through reading this, I was struck by the importance of concerted cultivation in parenting and went on a bit of a rant on my blog. I may soon need to read Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life.

Also, this book features in Marc & Angel’s 40 modern non-fiction books everyone should read, which is a really good list. I made the list in Goodreads here: Marc & Angel 40 NonFiction.

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  • Angela, I am a Goodreads friend, so found your blog through the book review I received this morning. I am a retired elementary school teacher, and while I am not familiar with all the parenting theories you mention, I agree wholeheartedly that kids need extra-curriculars, but also need to learn to assert themselves and to have unstructured time to help find out who they really are.

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