During my six months experience of having a new born child, my partner and I have often wondered what type of a person we are going to raise and what paths he will take in life. Clearly, we will be approaching it with the best of intentions and try to bring him up with the same values we have in order to prepare him with tackling all the challenges he will face. But as we have become greatly aware in our fleeting time as parents, having an idea about how you would do something and actually doing it are two quite contrasting things. Not having a dummy, not sleeping in our bed and not being plonked in front of the television to keep him entertained whilst we work on our seemingly endless list of chores, are all things we thought we wouldn’t do. However, this morning we were woke at 4.30am so he was brought into our bed for another hour snooze and as I’m writing this piece I can hear the Justin’s House theme tune as he is sucking his dummy and my partner gets his bag ready for another day trip. It would be great to live in an ideal world!
I feel fortunate to work in the field I do, as I am always meeting new people who introduce me to studies, articles and research in the psychological field which offer brilliant insights into how our brains work and behaviour forms. It helps me understand why certain things have worked when trying to influence in the past and why other tactics have not been so successful. I mainly reflect in a professional context but now being a new father, I am fully aware that this knowledge will not just be restricted to work. Adam Grant’s article about raising a moral child is one of those pieces of work that really made me think about how we should go about nurturing the development of our son and trying to give him the morals that we believe are important for a person to have.
Although there is a lot to take from it, there were two stand out points he raised that resonated with me: Firstly, the Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler experiment showed how praising a child’s character helped them internalise it as part of their identities. For example, when the researchers praised the character behind the action in the experiment “I guess you’re the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you can. Yes, you are a very nice and helpful person,” had much more long-term effects than simply praising the action alone. This reminded me of the commitment and consistency principle which is all about the way in which people want their beliefs and behaviours to be consistent with their values and self-image. We use this to influence in every day life and it is reassuring to know that the same techniques can be used to develop children.
The other point that stood out to me in Grant’s article was the experiment by psychologist J. Philippe Rushton which studied how children acquire personality traits such as generosity through modelling, not just being told to do something. This has served as a timely reminder that as a parent I should be doing as I say because If you don’t model generosity or the qualities you want your child to have, preaching it may not help in the short run and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.
Although we are still a while off being able to put these influence ideas into practice with our son as he is only six months old, information like this provides us with food for thought about how we are going to try and navigate the minefield of challenges with regards to raising a child. If you come across any articles or studies yourself that you would recommend, then please forward them to me as I know we can do with all the help we can get!
What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. For example, research suggests that when parents praise effort rather than ability, children develop a stronger work ethic and become more motivated.