I read an opinion piece in the New York Times several months back entitled Raising the Moral Child written by Adam Grant. I found it fascinating and quite surprising to learn that many countries around the world place more emphasis on raising children with morals and ethics and place less emphasis on academic and professional achievement.
Though parents in many societies revel in their children’s professional or academic success and sometimes live vicariously through their accomplishments, a vast amount of research in the area still indicates that parents are much more concerned about their children learning to be kind, caring and compassionate members of society.
So how can we strike a balance between the two?
Measuring Success: Encouraging Good Morals and Professional Achievement
Measure effort, not ability. All children are not the same. They do not learn the same, they do not comprehend the same, and they do not act the same. In every environment, both academic as well as personal, parents need to encourage their children to be their best selves without comparing them to others including siblings, peers, classmates, etc.
Use praise instead of rewards. Parents who are in the habit of using praise instead of rewards will raise more confident, self-assured children. Using rewards too frequently runs the risk that children will learn to adapt their behavior in order to ‘earn’ a reward at the end. Rather than encouraging the behavior for the good feelings it might elicit, children might learn to expect some sort of ‘prize’ at the end. In an academic setting, children who pay attention and work hard in the classroom will find the natural rewards (feeling good, feeling proud) much more fulfilling and longer lasting than a trip to the toy store (which will ultimately lose its appeal within a day or two, anyway).
Compliment the behaviour, not the child. Parents need to learn to compliment the behavior, not the child, so the child will learn to repeat the behaviour. And the same rings true for the opposite. When a child misbehaves, this is not a reflection on the whole child, but rather a poor choice in actions.
When children misbehave, this does not make them bad. Perhaps their behaviour was misguided and needs to be remedied. By labeling the child instead of the behaviour, parents run the risk that their children will internalize what is said to them. For instance, if parents are disappointed in their children’s behaviour, children might misunderstand it and begin to feel that they are a disappointment to their parents.
This is not to say that parents shouldn’t express disappointment in their children’s behaviour and explain why the behaviour was wrong and how it may have an effect on other people. But parents must keep in mind how they express this to their children, the wording they use, etc. Parents can even take it a step further my role-playing with their children and having them speculate how they could behave differently the next time a similar situation arises.
So is it possible to strike a balance between professional accomplishments and moral savvy?
I sure hope so.
Every day my husband and I work tirelessly to encourage and raise our children to grow up to be good, polite, members of society. As much as we value a good education, both in and out of the classroom, we also spend a lot of time teaching them proper social skills, using their manners, appreciating the differences between people, etc.
But like most parents, we too struggle to find the perfect balance. Like any other family, we have good days, and then there are other days where our children lack the confidence to make good choices on their own. We try to guide them as best we can and encourage them to trust their instincts.
We value the act of proper socialization as much as we do a good education.
We want them to learn to be comfortable with who they are, and what qualities they have to offer others. We encourage them to be themselves, and not to do anything which makes them uncomfortable, merely because they were asked to do so.
After all, what good is receiving the best education in the world if you never learn how to think of others, speak politely to people, or be sensitive to others’ feelings?
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