What makes children the best they can be?
You may be surprised by the answer.
It isn’t birth order, educational opportunities or extra curricular involvement. According to a nine-decade study at Harvard University, the best way to raise a happy child with a healthy self-image and high self-esteem is through emotional warmth and nurturing.
Researchers at Harvard have been following 268 people since 1938, testing them every few years to see how they developed. Over time, the power of relationships became clear. Men who were raised in households with caring, nurturing parents often advanced to leadership positions in World War II and beyond. Parental acceptance and support also had an affect on the ability to forge close relationships later in life, which has been linked to longevity. Of the 31 men in the study who were unable to establish intimate bonds with others, only 4 are alive today. Conversely, a third of those men successful at intimacy are still alive.
All parents want the best for their children and, with many more years’ experience, it’s natural to feel that you have the answers. But the evidence is clear: rather than taking a hard line and trying to get a child to conform to what you want, it’s better to nurture innate temperament, talents and abilities. Supporting your child opens the door to one of the most important human experiences there is: a fulfilling and nourishing personal relationship.
Rather than forcing an interest or activity, or disparaging an innate ability, an article in the NY Times suggests that parents act as facilitators, exposing children to new and different activities. If they’re interested, great, but if not, that’s okay, too. As author and parent Joseph Schwartz says, “There are many ways to exist in this world and many different ways to be happy.”
Embracing your children for who they are can add a richness to your life that you won’t find in your career, spirituality or physical activity, other crucial sources of primary food that feed us as much as any food we eat. Developing a deep, personal connection with your children is not only meaningful for you, but can have long-lasting implications on how they live the rest of their lives.