We hear certain folk truths all the time. Three folk truths I hear for parenting are: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” “Like father, like son,” and “He’s a chip off the old block.” But a recent study published in the British Journal of Psychology (Read How Far Does the Apple Fall From the Tree for a review of the study) reveals the actual truth is more nuanced than folk wisdom suggests. In this study, researchers looked up 418 German and Swiss families to see “which parents most strongly transmitted their values to their children.” They discovered that parents who encourage AND live out prosocial values like helping, supporting and caring for others, and kindness passed on their values more effectively than those who promoted values like power, position-seeking, and achievement. Interestingly, children also adopted positive traits unrelated to kindness, like curiosity and respect for tradition, from parents who promoted caring values. The authors of the study believe parents who focus on prosocial values also exhibit greater sensitivity and caring toward their children; they “practice what they preach” so to speak. This creates a stronger bond and a stronger bond contributes to children adopting their parents’ values. In other words, children are more likely to replicate the values of an empathetic, supportive parent than one who pushes for achievement and position. Interesting, isn’t it? Adds a whole new dimension to our efforts to raise kind children while pushing them to be “number one,” undefeated, the best in the class… it just might not work.
How does this change the folk wisdom mentioned above? Perhaps we need to rewrite the saying. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree of caring, supportive families…but for the harsh, power-driven parent it may roll down the hill into who knows what.” Not quite as quick and snappy…but it does express a more complete truth.