The Real Test of Parenting – Principal’s Message December 2023

The Real Test of Parenting

As I so often do at this time of year, I had an opportunity to sit down with one of our parents and chat about their child and their goals moving forward. This particular parent stressed many times throughout our conversation that their primary goal for their child is that they are kind. They elaborated that when they say kind they think of the word in a big, all-encompassing way. The label ‘kind’ to this parent would also include the attributes of generosity, thoughtfulness, respect, inclusivity etc. For me this was a refreshing and very hopeful conversation and one I was so glad I had the opportunity to have.  

How timely that right after this meeting I came across a quote on social media that read “Your success as a parent is not determined by whether your kids get into elite schools or prestigious professions. The real test of parenting is not what children achieve, but who they become – and how they treat others”.  I immediately thought back to the parent conversation I had just had and realized how spot on this quote was. I saw that it was Adam Grant who was being quoted in this post and I needed to know more.  

I discovered that Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, author and podcast host. He has much to say not only about the importance of kindness in terms of business success but also the importance of instilling this character trait at a young age.  

 In his job as organizational psychologist, Grant has focused on how helping others can drive success in the workplace. In his research he actually found that the seeds of rewarding generosity are planted much earlier in life, in fact way back in our childhood. In Italy, the students in grade eight with the best grades weren’t the ones who got the highest marks five years earlier, but the ones who were rated as most helpful. Here in Canada research showed that students who were rated helpful in Kindergarten went on to earn more money in their thirties and in the United States, middle school students who believed their parents prized kindness above all, got better grades than those who thought their parents put academic and career success first. Amazing findings, that a focus on concern for others leads to a stronger sense of purpose, deeper learning, richer relationships and ultimately, greater success in life! 

 When it comes to raising children, certain success factors, such as academic grades or athletic performance, are relatively easy to measure, but all of the science is suggesting that focusing on them may be extremely short-sighted. This is why, in large part, Grant has been spending time urging parents to emphasize caring and kindness in their children. Grant’s words very closely mirror what I have believed and espoused for years: “….kids who achieve the greatest success are not the ones who faced a ton of pressure to get straight A’s (or in our case all 4’s). They are the ones who are taught to be concerned about others and show compassion”. Thank you for your support Adam Grant!!!  

 But how do we actively do this in our daily lives. Well Grant noticed that, even in his own interactions at home, that when they would sit down at the dinner table they would automatically default to asking their children questions like ‘How was the test?’ or ‘How was the game?’.  Immediately the family’s focus was on grades and goals. To change things around a bit they started asking things like “Who did you help today?’.  At first the responses from the children were non-existent or vague (“I don’t know”, “I forget”, “nobody”, etc.), but after they got used to the reframing of what their parents valued most they started coming up with more thoughtful answers. Part of the why around this new level of response was the children started noticing their kind acts more readily throughout the day knowing that they were going to be asked about it.  They actually started looking for opportunities to be more helpful and kind throughout the day.  

Since there is something about being taught early on to be concerned about others, that actually enhances success later on in life, then we really all need to get on board with this focus both at home and at school. Another way to support this way of thinking is to start praising our children for being a ‘helper’ instead of for ‘helping’. With this change from nouns to verbs in our conversations with children, they start to internalize the behaviour as part of their identity and are significantly more likely to be generous and helpful and kind. There was a wonderful experiment conducted in a group of preschools where little ones were asked “Will you be a helper?” instead of “Will you help?” and they were almost 30% more likely to help out.  

Along with teaching kindness and generosity, Grant firmly believes that we need to teach justice and fairness, but that discussion is for another day. For now, let’s focus on helping our children learn the importance of being kind, helpful, compassionate and caring and let them know that these are the character traits we value most. So let’s put away our thoughts of them being the best student or best athlete or musician and nurture the all-important notion that they be the best person they can be. It will not only make the world a better place, but it will also bring more happiness and ultimately more success in the long run. Remember, success is not about winning a competition. It’s about making a contribution. What will our contribution be?  


Marie Bates