On the basketball court, in the swimming pool, and at parent-teacher conferences, I’m hungry to see my kids thriving. Thriving, of course, is shorthand for dominating. I want to see my kids making layups with ease, floating on their backs ahead of their peers, and bringing down standardized test scores in the upper quartiles.
But am I focused on the wrong things? If the latest parenting research is right, I am.
“Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention,” write parents Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant in The Atlantic, “And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits.”
Of course, I’m not ignoring kindness and generosity in my kids. But it’s also true I’m attuned to how my kids are measuring up to their peers and if they’re enjoying their activities. Those things matter, but not as much as who they’re becoming. The Grants write about the growing body of research revealing our kids are growing less empathetic and less caring. And as a parent, I understand why. Tenderness doesn’t get the airtime it should in our home.
What can we do to help nurture kindness in our kids? The Grants offer a few ideas:
At the dinner table, ask your kids: “How did you help others today?”
Share how you’ve helped others—and where you’ve neglected to do so.
Celebrate it! “When kids are praised and recognized for helping,” they write, “they are more likely to help again.”
Encourage their friendships with peers who care.
Practicing these concepts are simple, but they are not intuitive. Yes, we’ll still celebrate rebounds, successful backstrokes, and strong test scores. But we’ll also celebrate how our kids look out for the struggling teammates, lend a hand to nervous swimmers, and help out their teachers.
Postscript: Looking for a creative way to affirm these virtues in your kids? Check out how one dad did just that, as written in Intentional Parenting & Pierced Ears.