Despite parents’ best intentions, many are raising today’s children to be selfish. That was one of the revelations of a recent Harvard study that found a discrepancy between what parents ranked as their top priorities when it came to instilling values into their children and what children said their folks had actually taught them. Though parents often ranked kindness as their top priority, when researchers surveyed 10,000 kids in middle school and high school, these students responded that the less altruistic values of personal happiness and achievement were more important.
So how can parents do a better job of teaching their children to care for others before they raise a generation of mini-Donald Trumps? Thankfully, the team from Harvard distilled things down into 4 easy guidelines for raising kinder kids:
1. Children need to practice kindness with guidance from adults.
“Learning to be caring and to lead an ethical life is like learning to play an instrument or hone a craft,” the study says.
2. Children need to learn how to both “zoom in” by being attentive to those in their immediate circle but also “zoom out” to consider the perspectives of those outside of their immediate circle.
Teach your child to befriend the foreign kid in school and they’re more likely to care about the rest of society as adults too.
3. Children need strong moral role models.
That’s you. “It means grappling with our flaws, acknowledging our mistakes, listening to our children and students, and connecting our values to their ways of understanding the world,” the study says. And it means children won’t change unless parents do.
4. Children need help “managing destructive feelings,” learning to cope with emotions in productive ways.
“When adults spark children’s thinking with ethical questions they put issues of injustice on children’s radar and help children learn how to weigh their various responsibilities to others and themselves,” the study says.
There’s nothing wrong with you if raising a happy kid takes priority over raising a caring kid, but remember that the 2 are one in the same when you value kindness first. Being kind to others makes you happy, and if your Gram-Gram’s wisdom on this matter isn’t proof enough, studies have proven it time and time again. It’s only natural for cultural priorities to shift from generation to generation. Sense of self wasn’t relevant until the 19th century. Liking yourself wasn’t a big deal until the past 40 years. Then there was that way guys sang in the 90s. But kindness should always trump personal happiness, if only for the sake of personal happiness.
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