I recently reached out to the mother of one of my students to check in on how our ACT prep lessons were going. I reassured her that her son was using our time together well and that—given his strong academic acumen and hard work—I expected he would do quite well on the ACT. I also mentioned that it was a pleasure to work with him because he is so very kind.
She texted back immediately: “Thank you so much for your kind words. There is nothing that makes me prouder than hearing that my children are kind.”
Her response made me very happy. Of course, she hopes her son will do well on the ACT. For better or worse, it is a score that is still meaningful in the college admissions process, and she would not have hired me to work with him if she was not hoping for positive results. But I loved that in her response, she focused first on my observation that her son is kind. In the rat-race that is the college admissions process, it can be tempting for students to reduce their sense of self-worth to factors that are likely to lead to competitive college admissions: grades, rigorous course loads, test scores, athletic accomplishments, etc. Which is why it's critically important it is for us as parents to remember to notice and to reinforce reflections in our kids of the deeper values that matter so much more.
There is nothing that makes me prouder than hearing that my children are kind.”
In the opening chapter of his book, A Code of Jewish Ethics, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin makes a similar point, noting that many parents fall into the trap of “taking greater pride in their children’s intellectual or cultural achievements … than in their kindness. While such parents want their children to be good people, they rarely see becoming ethical as the most important thing they, and their children, can do.” He goes on to say that “Even if they do believe that, they rarely act as if kindness and ethical behavior were their highest priority. Thus, compare how rarely we hear parents brag about a child’s kindness compared with how often we hear them boasting about a child’s other accomplishments.”
This post was originally going to be titled, “Honor the A Effort of Your C Student.” The idea was to remind parents (and students themselves) to make sure to value the effort of kids who are working hard, even when that hard work doesn’t translate into amazing grades. To remember to honor the effort and the learning. A worthy reminder, to be sure, but I’m grateful that I procrastinated writing that post just long enough for my text exchange this week to help me to refocus even more directly on kindness.
The Whole Kid’s founder, Tim Tibbitts, can be reached with questions at 216.235.3115 or by email at email@example.com.