Here at PEP, one activity we do early on in many of our classes is the “Out of the Nest” exercise. In this group exercise, parents brainstorm a list of qualities they might like their children to have by the age of 18. Below is an actual list generated by one class. It’s typical of those brainstormed by most parents — whether they’re parenting preschoolers, school age children or teens.
Apparently, DC area parents are in good company! A widely circulated article, Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Start Raising Kind Ones, by psychologist and author Adam Grant and Alison Sweet Grant, cites a national survey in which more than 90% of American parents say “one of their top priorities is that their children be caring.”
“Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits.”
Surprisingly, when asked, 81% of kids said their “parents value achievement and happiness over caring.” How is it possible that the messages we send and what our kids perceive are so mismatched?
We have such good intentions! And, as often cited in our classes and in the PEP blog, kids are excellent observers. Regardless of what we tell ourselves and others what we want for our kids, our kids notice what we do and how we behave on a day-to-day basis, and, as the article mentions, “what gets our attention.” (e.g. good grades, athletic achievement, insert yours here…)
As we fast forward to the Thanksgiving table, a time of tradition and expectation — perhaps with a healthy dollop of dysfunctional family dynamics — it’s worth considering how and what your kids are learning from you. They’re observing how you talk to people and how you treat them — your parents, siblings, and even that bombastic brother or mother-in-law. While the Thanksgiving table is a difficult place to develop the muscle of kindness, particularly if the family dynamic has been otherwise, it does present an opportunity to at least flex the muscle as you consider what Thanksgiving will look like for your family’s future generations.
Toward that end, here’s an activity you can try with your family, the Family Shield Exercise. To begin, draw a shield on a large poster board or sheet of paper. Working with your family members, fill in the answers to each question asked around the shield. Remember, this is a family exercise where everyone is encouraged to participate and contribute. Toward that end, there’s no judgment about what someone might suggest; in true brainstorming fashion, all ideas are welcomed and met openly. And, as the parent, it’s probably worth doing more listening and less talking – get curious about the responses your kids offer!
The questions you’ll be considering are:
Post your family shield nearby and use it when you’re wrangling with contentious conversations and difficult decisions. Don’t be surprised if what you find from the exercise is that the words matter less than how the exercise makes people feel — a sense of belonging.
Wishing you kindness and peace this Thanksgiving,
The PEP Staff
Parent Encouragement Program
10100 Connecticut Ave.
Kensington, MD 20895