Richard Weissbourd, who runs the Make Caring Common project at the Harvard School of Education, recently released a report by his group of researchers. In it, he details five ways to raise kind children.
We chatted further with Weissbourd who answered questions from readers. Here, he relays his idea that parents, educators and communities need to focus on teaching kids to care and be kind first, and achievement and success will follow.
Q. Is it achievement OR caring? Are you saying that it is either achievement OR caring and that we (adults and kids) have to choose one or another? That seems like a false choice to me — I believe we can have both but it’s not clear to me what you think.
A. Richard Weissbourd: I totally agree — you can certainly achieve at a high level and care at a high level. We explain this in our report. Many parents are clearly raising kids who are very caring and high achieving. The concern we’re raising is that we’re out of balance, that the power and frequency of parental messages about achievement are too often drowning out messages about caring.
Q. Caring vs happiness, a false dichotomy? Does it really make sense to distinguish between parents who prioritize their children’s happiness and those who prioritize their children’s caring? Since expressing gratitude, generosity, compassion, and forgiveness typically increase the well-being of the “giver” as well as the recipient, it seems that caring is a subset of happiness. If I were asked as a parent which I wanted more for my children, to be happy or to be caring, I would likely choose happy, since in my mind, that assumes the child has reached a level of kindness and caring. Which is not so much a question about raising kind children, but one that’s been on my mind since I read your study. Would love to hear your insights on this.
A. Richard Weissbourd: My concern is that many parents are focused on their kids’ immediate happiness and don’t see compassion, gratitude, etc. as roots of well-being. And people can be happy who are not caring. You can be a very successful politician, athlete or corporate executive, for example, and be happy but not caring. So I appreciate your message. Parents should focus on their kids being caring because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it can give their kids an important and positive source of happiness.
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