Teaching a Child to be Kind and Generous Takes More Than Lip Service

A few weeks ago when I ventured to write about raising kind children; a suggestion was made to revisit the topic and to add the hashtags kindness and compassion. I took both suggestions to heart.

What if found is that the little people we lovingly call rug rats are much more complicated individuals than most adults realize. Unsurprisingly, the next best publication I found on the subject was written by Adam Grant for the New York Times in April of 2014. There is simply too much good information in the article to cover in the limited boundaries of my blog, so please search for it online and read it.

In 50 countries around the world, parents were asked if they valued caring or achievement for their children. Caring won out in every country. To drill deeper into the subject, 600 families in a single country that valued caring over achievement were studied and most failed to raise children who shared those values. This idea was proven out decisively in an experiment by psychologist J. Philippe Rushton. Elementary and middle school children all but ignored verbal reasoning for behaving a certain way and followed what they witnessed their teachers doing.

One of the most intriguing things I found was the distinction between shame and guilt and how great an impact they can have on the development of a child. Basically, shame looks back from the mirror at us. The mistake we made is because of who we are. Guilt, on the other hand is something that we did and that mistake can be corrected or at least made better. When a child feels shame, they will hide or withdraw because they are made to feel like a bad person and no child wants to be seen that way. If a child feels guilty about something, they are much more likely to seek a way to make things better and thereby maintaining the belief that they are a good person. Up to a certain age, this attachment of behavior to self or to an action works the same way in positive reinforcement. Children told that you are a good and kind helper are much more likely to repeat the behavior they were praised for than if told what you did was good and kind.

This is yet another concern thrown into the minefield that is parenthood. Being mindful about how you praise your kids and being careful to shift bad behavior toward guilt instead of shame is a daunting task – but it is a very important one that could literally change the life of your child.

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