Our go-to parenting expert Robin Berman, M.D. is just so wise on this topic—her book Permission to Parent is a goop bible, and we’ve turned to her for advice on everything from narcissism to the misguided desire of wanting our kids to be happy. According to Berman, kindness isn’t something we’re born with—it’s something we’re taught. Below, her advice for focusing kids (and parents) on what really matters, and consistently parenting for—and with—kindness.
Raising Kind Kids
by Dr. Robin Berman
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear…
You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
before you are six or seven or eight,
to hate all of the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
These words, written in 1949 by Rodgers and Hammerstein, are still vital and relevant in 2017.
The flip side of “you’ve got to be taught to hate” is, of course, that you have to be taught to love, to be respectful, and to be kind to others. The world needs that kind of teaching now more than ever, but over the last decade, we parents have lost our way. For a Harvard study, 10,000 kids were asked to rank kindness, personal happiness, and achievement in order of importance. Not only did they rank achievement first, with personal happiness in second, and kindness trailing behind, but they also believed their parents would think achievement trumps all.
Are we focused on the wrong things? Grades and athletic/artistic accomplishments matter, but most of us would agree raising kind kids matters more. If we spend our days drilling math facts and chauffeuring our kids to “enrichment activities,” it begs the question: What are we prioritizing most—and why? I sat next to a fabulous woman on a plane who told me she taught both her kids and grandkids compassion with the phrase, “ABK, all the way, every day.” ABK stands for Always Be Kind.
Chances are you’re not raising the next Harvard valedictorian or NBA superstar, yet we are under the delusion that by spending our children’s childhoods on tutors and coaches, we might beat the odds, while we don’t spend enough time on the key qualities that we can foster. There are three meaningful things you can shape as parents: your child’s connection to you, their character, and their ability to act with kindness. But loving kindness is a skill that has to be talked up and practiced. Ask your kids at the dinner table: “What did you do today that was kind?” “What are you grateful for?” That sends a very different message than, “What did you get on your test?”
Are you gossiping at the dinner table? How do we model kindness in our tone and language at home? How do we talk to our spouse, our children, and ourselves? Are we modeling self-compassion?