I thought this was a great article in the NYT about what researchers have to say about raising moral kids. A lot of it is stuff we all know is true (but hope we can find a way around). So it’s interesting to learn that some of our old parenting gems aren’t just theoretically true, but that they’ve been proven true as well. Which is particularly comforting for some of us who went against the grain, did these things and discovered that raising a good person doesn’t automatically turn them into leaders of industry. Those are two different skills sets, it turns out.
Anyhow, the article covered a lot of ground, but I have a take-away I wanted to pass on today and one more for tomorrow. And one more the day after that. I decided that two 2000 word posts in one day might be a bit much, so I’m splitting it up.
Besides, it’s an important topic. I genuinely believe that the way we raise our kids is what will ultimately change the world. For my part, I believe that raising kind, caring, moral children should be just as important as raising kids who can get into college. Or who can still find her purity ring to wear home from college. More important, really. But if we believe that, we have to live it. So, here’s today’s research-supported bit of parenting wisdom:
Your kids will do what you do, not what you say.
I know, crazy, right? Who knew? It’s not like every single one of us is walking around feeling guilty as hell knowing that our kids will inevitably struggle with many of the same imperfections as we do. And that I am completely helpless to stop it because I am simply not capable of being perfect enough to keep it from happening. So I lie to myself and think, “they’ll take my advice rather than following my instructions. After all, why would they want to end up like me? That’s got to be a powerful deterrent, right?”. . . Or maybe that’s just me. It’s probably just me.
Anyway, the good news is that what you do right has more power than you probably realized. For example, in one study, they had the kids play a game where they could either be generous or selfish as a strategy. Before playing the game, a teacher demonstrated how to play the game using either the generous or the selfish strategy. Then she praised the benefits of playing generously or selfishly or she didn’t offer any further commentary. What they found was that kids who watched the teacher play the game generously were far more likely to be generous themselves, regardless of what, if anything, the teacher said. When the kids were brought in 2 weeks later, they remained very generous in the way they played the game.
It turns out that if you want to raise good kids, you don’t even have to be able to explain to them why it’s important to do good things. They just need to see you doing them. So, think of the traits you want your kids to have, and make sure they see you practicing them. Ask God for help if you’re really bad at them.
Besides, after a while you realize that it’s actually much easier to do more nice things than it is to fix all your imperfections. And it’s scientifically proven. So, if you’re prone to parent guilt, start giving yourself credit for every good thing your kids see you doing. Like not screaming when you really want to. Or showing interest your child’s rendition of the book they are reading, even when they are terrible story tellers and the book is about these unicorn fairies that save the world with their special talent powers. Or providing care to someone in need. Don’t underestimate how important the good you do is.