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Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind - The Washington Post
"Earlier this year, I wrote about teaching empathy, and whether you are a parent who does so. The idea behind it is from Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, who runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind.

I know, you’d think they are or that parents are teaching that themselves, right? Not so, according to a new study released by the group. (Chat with Weissbourd here.)

About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Weissbourd and his cohorts have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. Why is this important? Because if we want our children to be moral people, we have to, well, raise them that way.

“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” the researchers write.

The five strategies to raise moral, caring children, according to Making Caring Common:

1. Make caring for others a priority

Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.

How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before kids quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, we should ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.

Try this
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”
• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.
• Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.

2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude

Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.

How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.

Try this
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbors and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
• Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.
• Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.

3. Expand your child’s circle of concern.

Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.

How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their decisions, such as quitting a sports team or a band, can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in our more global world, children need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.

Try this
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased.
• Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor.

Why? Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”

How? Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect children’s thinking and listen to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.

Try this:
• Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.
• Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.

5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings

Why? Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.

How? We need to teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.

Try this
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them with her. After a while she’ll start to do it on her own so that she can express her feelings in a helpful and appropriate way."
kindness  parenting  2015  psychology  society  richardweissbourd  values  caring  priorities  gratitude  morality 
september 2015 by robertogreco
Talk to Your Kids: The poorer parents are, the less they talk with their children. The mayor of Providence is trying to close the “word gap.”
"Providence Talks had its critics, some of whom thought that the program seemed too intrusive. The A.C.L.U. raised questions about what would happen to the recordings, and one of the organization’s Rhode Island associates, Hillary Davis, told National Journal, “There’s always a concern when we walk in with technology into lower-income families, immigrant populations, minority populations, and we say, ‘This will help you.’ ” She continued, “We don’t necessarily recognize the threat to their own safety or liberty that can accidentally come along with that.”

Others charged that Providence Talks was imposing middle-class cultural values on poorer parents who had their own valid approaches to raising children, and argued that the program risked faulting parents for their children’s academic shortcomings while letting schools off the hook. Nobody contested the fact that, on average, low-income children entered kindergarten with fewer scholastic skills than kids who were better off, but there were many reasons for the disparity, ranging from poor nutrition to chaotic living conditions to the absence of a preschool education. In a caustic essay titled “Selling the Language Gap,” which was published in Anthropology News, Susan Blum, of Notre Dame, and Kathleen Riley, of Fordham, called Providence Talks an example of “silver-bullet thinking,” the latest in a long history of “blame-the-victim approaches to language and poverty.”

To some scholars, the program’s emphasis on boosting numbers made it seem as though the quality of conversation didn’t matter much. As James Morgan, a developmental psycholinguist at Brown University, put it, obsessive word counting might lead parents to conclude that “saying ‘doggy, doggy, doggy, doggy’ is more meaningful than saying ‘doggy.’ ” Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University, told me that Hart and Risley had “done a very important piece of work that pointed to a central problem”; nevertheless, their findings had often been interpreted glibly, as if the solution were to let words “just wash over a child, like the background noise of a TV.” Her own research, including a recent paper written with Lauren Adamson and other psychologists, points to the importance of interactions between parents and children in which they are both paying attention to the same thing—a cement mixer on the street, a picture in a book—and in which the ensuing conversation (some of which might be conducted in gestures) is fluid and happens over days, even weeks. “It’s not just serve and return,” Hirsh-Pasek said. “It’s serve and return—and return and return.”

The original Hart and Risley research, whose data set had only six families in the poorest category, was also called into question. Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “Do low-income people talk with their kids less? Well, that’s a question about millions of people. Think of people in the survey business, trying to predict elections or develop a marketing campaign. They would find it laughable to draw conclusions without a large randomized sample.” Encouraging adults to talk more to children was all to the good, Liberman said, but it was important to remember that “there are some wealthy people who don’t talk to their children much and some poor people who talk a lot.”

Indeed, recent research that supports Hart and Risley’s work has found a great deal of variability within classes. In 2006, researchers at the LENA Foundation recorded the conversations of three hundred and twenty-nine families, who were divided into groups by the mothers’ education level, a reasonable proxy for social class. Like Hart and Risley, the LENA researchers determined that, on average, parents who had earned at least a B.A. spoke more around their children than other parents: 14,926 words per day versus 12,024. (They attributed Hart and Risley’s bigger gap to the fact that they had recorded families only during the late afternoon and the evening—when families talk most—and extrapolated.) But the LENA team also found that some of the less educated parents spoke a lot more than some of the highly educated parents.

Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford, has published several papers examining the influence of socioeconomic status on children’s language development. In one recent study, Fernald, with a colleague, Adriana Weisleder, and others, identified “large disparities” among socioeconomic groups in “infants’ language processing, speech production, and vocabulary.” But they also found big differences among working-class families, both in terms of “the children’s language proficiency and the parents’ verbal engagement with the child.” Fernald, who sits on the scientific advisory board for Providence Talks, told me, “Some of the wealthiest families in our research had low word counts, possibly because they were on their gadgets all day. So you can see an intermingling at the extremes of rich and poor. Socioeconomic status is not destiny.”

In response to the privacy concerns, Mayor Taveras and his team volunteered their own households to be the first ones recorded. They also guaranteed that the LENA Foundation’s software would erase the recordings after the algorithm analyzed the data. Though this probably reassured some families, it also disappointed some scholars. “That’s a huge amount of data being thrown out!” James Morgan, of Brown, told me. “There were real concerns whether families would participate otherwise. But as a scientist it breaks my heart.”

To those who argued that Providence Talks embodied cultural imperialism, staff members responded that, on the contrary, they were “empowering” parents with knowledge. Andrea Riquetti, the Providence Talks director, told me, “It really is our responsibility to let families know what it takes to succeed in the culture they live in. Which may not necessarily be the same as the culture they have. But it’s their choice whether they decide to. It’s not a case of our saying, ‘You have to do this.’ ” Riquetti grew up in Quito, Ecuador, came to America at the age of seventeen, and worked for many years as a kindergarten teacher in Providence schools. In Latino culture, she said, “the school is seen as being in charge of teaching children their letters and all that, while parents are in charge of discipline—making sure they listen and they’re good and they sit still. Parents don’t tend, overall, to give children a lot of choices and options. It’s kind of like ‘I rule the roost so that you can behave and learn at school.’ ” The Providence Talks approach “is a little more like ‘No, your child and what they have to say is really important.’ And having them feel really good about themselves as opposed to passive about their learning is important, because that’s what’s going to help them succeed in this culture.”

Riquetti and the Providence Talks team didn’t seem troubled by the concerns that Hart and Risley’s data set wasn’t robust enough. Although no subsequent study has found a word gap as large as thirty million, several of them have found that children in low-income households have smaller vocabularies than kids in higher-income ones. This deficit correlates with the quantity and the quality of talk elicited by the adults at home, and becomes evident quite early—in one study, when some kids were eighteen months old. Lack of conversation wasn’t the only reason that low-income kids started out behind in school, but it was certainly a problem.

The biggest question was whether Providence Talks could really change something as personal, casual, and fundamental as how people talk to their babies. Erika Hoff, of Florida Atlantic University, told me, “In some ways, parenting behavior clearly can change. I have a daughter who has a baby now and she does everything differently from how I did it—putting babies to sleep on their backs, not giving them milk till they’re a year old. But patterns of interacting are different. You’re trying to get people to change something that seems natural to them and comes from a fairly deep place. I don’t know how malleable that is.”

After decades of failed educational reforms, few policymakers are naïve enough to believe that a single social intervention could fully transform disadvantaged children’s lives. The growing economic inequality in America is too entrenched, too structural. But that’s hardly an argument for doing nothing. Although improvements in test scores associated with preschool programs fade as students proceed through elementary school, broader benefits can be seen many years later. A few oft-cited studies have shown that low-income kids who attended high-quality preschool programs were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to become pregnant as teen-agers or to be incarcerated; they also earned more money, on average, than peers who were not in such programs. Such data suggest that a full assessment of Providence Talks will take decades to complete."
class  language  cultue  education  parenting  2015  margarettalbot  headstart  bettyhart  toddrisley  nclb  learning  vocabulary  rttt  policy  angeltaveras  providence  rhodeisland  conversation  words  children  howwelearn  providencetalks  andreariquetti  jamesmorgan  linguistics  annettelareau  patriciakuhl  richardweissbourd  debate  verbalacuity  advocacy  self-advocacy  academics  schoolreadiness  kennethwong 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Why Kids Care More About Achievement Than Helping Others - Jessica Lahey - The Atlantic
"While 96 percent of parents say they want to raise ethical, caring children, and cite the development of moral character as “very important, if not essential,” 80 percent of the youths surveyed reported that their parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Approximately the same percentage reported that their teachers prioritize student achievement over caring. Surveyed students were three times as likely to agree as disagree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my class than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Study author Richard Weissbourd says he was surprised by the results. As he wrote to me in an email:
We were especially surprised and troubled to find how many youth value aspects of achievement over caring and fairness. We were also surprised by what seems to be a clear gap between what parents say they're prioritizing and the messages that youth are picking up day to day. We need to take a hard look at the messages we're sending to children about success versus concern for others and think about how we can send different messages.

Child psychologist and author Michele Borba told me the study was “incredibly important,” a “wake up call to parents, a clear indication that we need to reprioritize our parenting agendas ASAP. The science reveals the irony of the situation: happier and more successful kids care about others, they are able to relate, be concerned, and respect differences, and a lack of empathy makes kids less successful, and less happy.” Her email went on to explain,
Studies show that kids’ ability to feel for others affects their health, wealth and authentic happiness as well as their emotional, social, cognitive development and performance. Empathy activates conscience and moral reasoning, improves happiness, curbs bullying and aggression, enhances kindness and peer inclusiveness, reduces prejudice and racism, promotes heroism and moral courage and boosts relationship satisfaction. Empathy is a key ingredient of resilience, the foundation to trust, the benchmark of humanity, and core to everything that makes a society civilized.

Children are not the only ones hearing parents’ implicit message. Educators, too, understand that parents value achievement and happiness over empathy and caring. When the study’s authors surveyed educators as part of their research, this is what they found:
The great majority of teachers, administrators, and school staff did not see parents as prioritizing caring in child-raising. About 80% of school adults viewed parents as prioritizing their children’s achievement above caring and a similar percentage viewed parents as prioritizing happiness over caring.

If there is any good news to be found in this report, it is that while we may value other things above empathy, we still care about it, and want our children to value it. While only 22 percent of the students surveyed ranked caring first on their list of priorities, almost half of them students ranked caring second, and 45 percent thought their parents would rank caring second as well.

The authors offer parents and teachers a number of guidelines. First, they suggest that parents give their children opportunities to practice being good, empathetic people. “Daily repetition—whether it’s helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, having a classroom job, or working on a project on homelessness” can give kids the skills they need to make caring a part of their day-to-day lives. The study also recommends that parents teach their children to see the world from multiple perspectives and help them find positive ways to channel negative feelings such as envy, shame, and anger.

As the report shows, simply talking about compassion is not enough. Children are perceptive creatures, fully capable of discerning the true meanings in the blank spaces between well-intentioned words. If parents really want to let their kids know that they value caring and empathy, the authors suggest, they must make a real effort to help their children learn to care about other people—even when it’s hard, even when it does not make them happy, and yes, even when it is at odds with their personal success. "
achievement  success  caring  empathy  parenting  character  charactereducation  2014  jessicalahey  hypocrisy  richardweissbourd  competition  grades  grading  micheleborba  education  schools  priorities  compassion  perspective  happiness 
june 2014 by robertogreco

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