Early on in my parenting journey I decided that I would pour my energies into helping my children become happy and kind human beings. I figured the rest would look after itself. As an educator, of course academic success was important to me, but it never trumped “happy” and “kind”. Turns out I probably didn’t need to worry so much about the “happy” as long as we got the “kind” part down pat. You see studies have shown that being kind actually makes you happy and happy people are generally more productive, more successful, etc. etc. So when Jewel sang “only kindness matters”, she wasn’t too far wrong.
There is some pretty solid research out there that documents the many mental and physical benefits of practicing kindness for children and adults alike. Schools, businesses and communities all reap the rewards from a mission that includes a place for kindness. At CGS I have always said that kindness should be the rule of every classroom. It works. As humans we are wired for connection and what better way to connect than through acts of kindness and caring.
So it really seems to be a no-brainer. We are healthier, happier, more successful, more connected and generally live a more fulfilling life if we are kind. Whether parents are aware of this cause and effect or not, in general most would say that it is important to them that their children grow up to be kind and caring. But somehow this message isn’t getting through to our children.
Psychologist Richard Weissbourd, and his Harvard team, run the Making Caring Common project, specifically aimed to help teach children to be kind. Through their studies, this team discovered that 80 percent of the participating youth said their parents were more concerned with their achievement than whether they cared for others. The children were strongly in agreement that their parents are prouder if they get good grades than if they are a caring community member. Uh oh! This is not the message we want to relay to our younger generation. A large majority of the youth participating in Weissbourd’s study valued aspects of personal success over concern for others… and the reason… they think that is what their parents want!
As mentoring adults we all need to take a hard look at the messages we are sending to children on a daily basis. We need to provide our children with ongoing opportunities to practice caring and helpfulness, sometimes on their own and sometimes with our guidance. They need to learn to “zoom in”, making themselves aware of the needs of those in their immediate circle and also to “zoom out”, taking in the big picture and gaining a wider perspective of the needs and concerns of those outside of their inner circle. Children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s learning to share or stand up for a friend, honouring commitments or being respectful. We need to be strong moral role models for our children. That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect, but rather acknowledge our flaws and mistakes, truly listen to others and also show our children how we “zoom in” and “zoom out” on a regular basis. In order to do all of this we need to closely re-examine our definition of success and what it means to be an ethical member of our families, our communities and our society and then pass that on to our children.
Kindness counts so much that we really all should be making it a habit and at the same time, let our children know that it’s a good habit to form. And if you still have academic, financial and career success at the top of your wish list for your children, don’t worry, nice guys and girls can, and do, finish first!
Principal and Co-Founder
Children’s Garden School