On November 15, Richard Weissbourd, EdD, spoke at Nueva as part of the Common Ground speaker series. Dr. Weissbourd is a renowned child and family psychologist, Harvard professor, and author of the book The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development,. The event was attended by hundreds of parents from more than 30 schools on the Peninsula.
During Dr. Weissbourd’s talk, “Raising Moral Children,” he challenged the audience to consider how we help children create a deep internal connection to the values that are most important to us.
He began by observing that many parents, sports teams, and schools teach the importance of values such as respect, honesty, and kindness. “We think that the more we chant these values, the more they are likely to stick.” However, Dr. Weissbourd believes that by the age five or six, children have learned that these values are important. Therefore, they often feel patronized when hearing about them over and over. He said that, at some point, children do not need more moral literacy but need opportunities to develop their moral identity.
Dr. Weissbourd believes we need to expand the metrics of success beyond achieving at a high level, being popular, or being athletic. Regarding our messaging around happiness and success, he said that there is “a rhetoric/reality gap between what parents are saying and what kids are actually hearing.”
Dr. Weissbourd suggested that parents’ emphasis on naming their children’s emotions from a very young age may cause children to be hyper-focused on themselves. He suggested instead, that we get them to tune into other kids on the playground. This may be one way we can help children cast themselves as allies in the future.
Dr. Weissbourd spoke at length about “the constant noise of praise.” He cautioned that praise should be tied to an authentic accomplishment. He said that children know when they have accomplished something significant and “that a child’s tank of self-worth and self-confidence grows by being known. Reflecting back an understanding of who a child is has greater value than praise.”
Weissbourd left the audience with the following challenges in their approach to parenting:
- Make caring a priority
- Practice caring and gratitude in your own life
- Expand children’s circle of concerns — zoom in and zoom out
- Discuss ethical questions — see children as ethical philosophers and practice reflective
For more information on Dr. Weissbourd and his work, please visit http://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/
December 2, 2016