No parent wants to raise a spoiled little being who thinks the earth revolves around them – but we all want the best for our children and for them to know they’re loved and provided for. Good news! Science has found five key strategies to raising moral, kind children so we can find the happy middle ground (Thanks, Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd and the Making Caring Common Project!). Here’s what’s prescribed:
- Help them learn that their actions directly influence others. We live in a culture where social and financial success tend to be “king,” but high morals hold greater promise and true importance. Instead of coaching hedonism, coach your kids in kindness. Teach them that their actions affect those around them and hold them to high ethical expectations. Help them to honor their commitments and to be considerate.
- Teach them gratitude and empathy. Studies show that people who express gratitude and compassion are more likely to be happy and healthy. Teach your children to say “thank you” often – and to mean it. To their bus driver, their teacher, the cashier at McDonalds. Teach your child to build daily acts of service into their lives – and don’t reward every one of them. Everyone can pitch in, no matter how old they are. Think of what a great place the world would be if everyone had learned to help others as part of their daily life “just because.”
- The world isn’t just about them. It isn’t enough to just tell your children, “the world doesn’t revolve around you;” you need to show them. And not just by saying “no” to some of their wants. Instead, teach them higher thinking beyond themselves and even their own known comfort circle of friends and nuclear family. Teach them to think of things from others’ perspectives and to consider how to balance their own needs with what others need. Show them how to extend an olive branch and how to make “the right” decision – even when it doesn’t align with their own want.
- Actions speak louder than words. That includes yours. Be a good moral role model. Remember that your children will learn far more from what they see you do than what you tell them to do. Let them see you make mistakes – and see you acknowledge and remedy them. Talk through ethical dilemmas, like that time you realized Costco forgot to ring up the case of juice under the cart (and you went back in to the store). Talk with them about their own ethical dilemmas and guide them through conclusions so they understand how to apply ethics to their own lives.
- Help your children through negative feelings. Our feelings influence how we act and treat others and the ability to care for others is often squelched in times of fear, anger or other negative feelings. Identifying and accepting negative emotions is a critical skill; help your children that having those feelings is ok – and then teach them how to work through them in positive ways.
No one said parenting was easy and in teaching our children, we often teach ourselves. On the path to higher morality, we can always climb higher.