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Ambition vs. Kindness: Which Family Value Is Easier to Pass Down to Our Kids?

A new study reveals parents who focus on teaching their kids certain family values are more successful in instilling them than others.

Raising Kind Children Parents Sitting with Daughter bbernard/Shutterstock
New research suggests that parents who want their kids to be kind are most successful at passing on their family values. According to "Parent-child value similarity in families with young children: The predictive power of prosocial educational goals," published in the British Journal of Psychology, parents who want their children to have prosocial values—like helping, supporting, and caring for others—are the most successful in instilling their values in their children compared to those who promote striving for power, ambition, and selfishness.

The collaborative study from Royal Holloway, University of London and the universities of Westminster, Vienna, and Bern assessed 418 German and Swiss families.

"Ours is a test of how far the apple falls from the tree, or in other words, how similar are children to their parents in the values they hold?" explained study co-author Anat Bardi, a professor at Royal Holloway's Department of Psychology. "We often take for granted 'like father, like son' and this is especially interesting when it comes to the inheritance of destructive values such as power-seeking and selfishness. We've now demonstrated that parents who foster more altruistic values, such as helping and caring, more strongly pass on all their values down the family line."

Why is this the case? The researchers suggested that parents who focus on kindness may be more sensitive to their children's needs and establish a stronger bond with their children that results in them adopting more of their parents' values, extending beyond kindess to other values like curiousity and tradition. By experiencing caring and support in the relationships with their parents, the children see the importance of the values and want to replicate it for others. In other words? What we've all heard about raising kids holds true: Model the behavior you want to see.

"This research really shows that where parents nurture positive, supportive, and altruistic values their children will also take these characteristics to heart," Bardi says. "Where being 'the best' is among the dominant interests of the parents, children tend not to express such connection to their parents' values. This research brings a positive message to the world: prosocial parents breed a prosocial next generation, but parents who endorse selfishness do not breed a selfish next generation."

Isn't that incredibly encouraging news? There's hope for the future!