It's important that parents don't praise children for every nice act and 'only praise uncommon acts of kindness.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 10, 2022. It has since been updated.
Raising children is no easy task, and the advent of technology hasn't made it any easier. Parents want the best for their children and it's important to equip them to live on their own as adults. Everyone is developing their own secrets of parenting in this digital age, and sometimes the focus on parenting styles can chip away at the core of what parents should be focusing on. Harvard researchers studied the core principles of parenting and say a lot of it comes down to teaching kids kindness and empathy. Here are six key principles that they believe are crucial as far as raising kids goes:
More than anything, you need to spend time with kids. Harvard researchers believe this is the foundation for raising a child. It's important to listen to kids and ask them open-ended questions about how they see themselves in context with their home, school, and more. It's important to listen to what they have to say. This will help in understanding how your child is unique and you can teach them how to show care and concern for another person.
It's important that kids get the message clearly when you want to communicate with them. According to the researchers, "Even though most parents and caretakers say that their children being caring is a top priority, often children aren't hearing that message." Be sure to spell it out to them, so they understand the importance of being caring. You could also check in with those who interact with your kids such as teachers, coaches and friends to gauge their behavior.
You can help them make decisions by trying to identify the root of the problem and helping them fix it. For example, if your child wants to quit a certain activity, ask them to identify the reason why they want to and then work in tandem with them to see if that problem can be solved. Try to explore if quitting does solve the problem. Make sure they also understand how other people are affected by their decision-making.
"Studies show that people who engage in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving—and they're also more likely to be happy and healthy," noted the researchers. They add that parents should try to help their kids inculcate the habit of helping others and giving thanks throughout the day. Researchers say parents shouldn't praise kids for every kind act and should reward "good" behavior only sparingly. Researchers recommend parents "only praise uncommon acts of kindness."
"The ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy or other negative feelings," said the researchers. It's important to help kids navigate through their negative emotions and help them remain focused on being caring individuals. Setting clear boundaries is very important as a parent and they'll understand the same are being demarcated out of love and concern for their safety.
"Almost all children empathize with and care about a small circle of families and friends," said the researchers. While it may feel natural to care for those around you, it's important to care about people who are socially, culturally and even geographically outside their circles. Exposure through travel, meeting new people and embracing new cultures can help widen their worldview and do away with prejudices that may have taken form. Parents can also show examples of people exhibiting empathy and kindness in the news and entertainment, to emphasize the importance of being kind to others. "Raising a caring, respectful, ethical child is and always has been hard work. But it's something all of us can do. And no work is more important or ultimately more rewarding," reads the study.