NY Times, “Raising a Moral Child”–What Matters Most?

Recently, a friend sent me the New York Times article entitled, “Raising a Moral Child” by Adam Grant.  

As parents, we all (or most of us) strive to raise children who are essentially, “good” and happy (as much as possible).  But what does “good” look like and how do we create that in our offspring? And how much does future success play into this equation?  According to this article, around the world more people care about raising kind children rather than successful children.  But they also point out that no matter what you value, it seems two strategies work above all: praising effort and modeling good behavior yourself.

The famous book Nurture Shock heavily researched the importance of praising effort above abilities (i.e. “You did such a great job with this book report, I saw how hard you tried” rather than “Your book report is great, you are SO Smart”).  The thinking is that effort is something we control- and can therefore repeat and improve on, whereas ability is either there or it’s not.

But does that approach work across the spectrum of behaviors? According to this article, it does not.  In fact, they conducted some studies and found that when it came to doing good deeds, “children were much more generous after their character had been praised than after their actions had been. Praising their character helped them internalize it as part of their identities.”

So, um, which overly-thought-out, self-analytical approach is a parent supposed to take?!? Apparently, age matters – at five, the attachment to identity wasn’t strong enough to have an effect and by ten, the identity was too strong.  8 is apparently the magic number for this approach.

The piece also discusses how we treat bad behavior – guilt vs. shaming – another interesting examination. At this point in the article, I found myself straining to think of specific times I’ve disciplined and if I shamed or guilted. I also felt like parenting can’t just boil down to waiting for our kids do “wrong” or “right” and reacting to that. And this is when they bring up the most important part: Above all, what matters most, is not what children here but what they SEE.    

We’ve all heard this before, but the more I read on, the more I really thought about how my behavior models their growth and morals.  I’m not at some major turning point, but I really am going to try to be aware of this in a much more conscious way – maybe even purposefully try to make sure they SEE me being giving, empathetic, patient and understanding.