In a recent study it was found that 90% of American parents say their top priority for their children is for them to be kind and caring! I would say from my experience as a parent and what I have seen in my 40 years of being an educator in primary schools, NZ parents would say the same thing.
This of course is what we all want for our young as we see our world fraught with complex and sad issues of poverty, violence and greed.
However, when the study dug into reality and asked the children what did their parents want and value from them most of all, they said things like good grades, doing well at school and getting a good report.
We can underestimate children’s ability to see what parents really value. Words are cheap and unless we truly model what we say, our young ones will zone in what adults really prioritise.
This hypocrisy can be very accidental as most adults truly want their young ones to be kind and caring. In their article, the authors, Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant, went on to talk about a subsequent study that demonstrated that kindness appears to be on the decline. “ A rigorous analysis of annual surveys of American college students showed a substantial drop from 1979 to 2009 in empathy and in imagining the perspectives of others. Over this period, students grew less likely to feel concern for people less fortunate than themselves—and less bothered by seeing others treated unfairly.”
This is scary stuff in a world that has so many challenges. It is abundantly clear, we can do better! However much we praise kindness and caring, we are not showing our children we value these attributes.Accidentally we can become so focussed and worried about academic achievement we fail to nurture kindness as well as we think we are. We can inadvertently promote our children’s achievement accolades as personal badges of pride.
We are all guilty of this and it is time to reflect on what balance exists between our celebrating achievement versus the character traits of empathy and care. In some ways promoting E.Q. over I.Q.
Ironically many successful and happy people are strong in E.Q.
In the article, it suggests making explicit efforts to promote what is valued in your home. For example, at the dinner table ask the children questions related to your values such as, ‘did you help someone at school out today?’ We need to look for opportunities to praise children for caring acts. Talk to your children about being mindful of the friends they foster. Encourage them to notice classmates who are kind and compassionate versus those who might be popular but not necessarily kind.
I see lots of very positive things going in the school I work at (Waterloo) but the article I have referenced has made me sit up and review what we are doing with the aim of striving to be better. ‘Treat other people as you wish to be treated’ is a strong and meaningful mantra. I also think we have to be very explicit with children and actively foster in them to be courageous. To stand up for what is decent and right.