How to Raise Better Kids – The Research
While helping others has been shown to be emotionally rewarding, relieve stress and improve longevity and well-being in adults, its impact on children has gone largely unnoticed. But a recent study by a team at the University of California sheds some light on the subject. It has also brought to the fore a startling observation that children from underprivileged homes are more altruistic than those born with the proverbial silver spoon.
Why this Happens – the Psychology
Helping others when it does not cost us anything comes easily. But when asked to share or donate our hard-earned money and materialistic resources, most of us are not so open-handed. With a rise in one’s socioeconomic status, people have to rely less on others and lose a lot of social empathy in the process. So, ironically, as we become more equipped to help others, our desire to do so decreases.
Why this Happens – the Science
This pattern has been linked to the state of our autonomic nervous system which controls the organs and responses in our bodies that we cannot manage directly, like our heartbeat, peristalsis, etc. While one part of this system (the sympathetic nervous system or SNS) is responsible for our fight or flight responses, the other (parasympathetic nervous system or PN) is responsible for the remaining activities like digestion, urination, etc. Higher SNS activity has been linked to higher self-focus, resulting in less altruistic behaviour. More significantly though, a higher SNS is also linked to poorer mental and physical health. Higher PN activity promotes a feeling of safety and calmness and is associated with general well being.
The Research Study
In the study conducted on preschool children under the age of four, the levels of PN and SNS activities were measured while the children chose to donate all, some or none of the reward tokens they had earned with (fictitious) sick children. The results showed a higher rate of altruism among toddlers with high PN but low SNS activity. This state and its associated calmness allow the mind to engage in other emotions like empathy. Mirroring the findings in adults, more affluent children decided not to share their tokens.
A lot of this could be attributed to the way children are raised, with high-income families stressing on self-reliance while poorer families inculcating respectfulness and obedience.
We teach our children to share and help others in need, but what and how much are they really learning? As kids, whenever presented with the occasional ice cream or bar of chocolate, most of us were taught to share it with our siblings or friends. Today, those children are parents themselves and they would rather buy a pair of candy bars than take the time to ensure their children share one. Can we really be surprised by the results after that?
How to Raise Better Kids – The Takeaway
In short, if you want to raise better kids and in turn help them live in a better tomorrow, then teach them to share with the less privileged. This by no means is a clear indication that they will become the epitome of excellence but they will likely have a clearer understanding of the complex dynamics in a world where the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow.