Good discussion of human nature

The New York Times has a good discussion of scientific research into human nature.

One point in the article is immediately useful to parents:

When infants 18 months old see an unrelated adult whose hands are full and who needs assistance opening a door or picking up a dropped clothespin, they will immediately help, Michael Tomasello writes in “Why We Cooperate,” a book published in October. Dr. Tomasello, a developmental psychologist, is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The helping behavior seems to be innate because it appears so early and before many parents start teaching children the rules of polite behavior…

If children are naturally helpful and sociable, what system of child-rearing best takes advantage of this surprising propensity? Dr. Tomasello says that the approach known as inductive parenting works best because it reinforces the child’s natural propensity to cooperate with others. Inductive parenting is simply communicating with children about the effect of their actions on others and emphasizing the logic of social cooperation.

“Children are altruistic by nature,” he writes, and though they are also naturally selfish, all parents need do is try to tip the balance toward social behavior.

This is exactly the advice I’ve read in some good parenting books. When you notice behavior you’d like to encourage, acknowledge and praise it. I especially like to do this when talking with other parents and my son is within earshot. I’ve seen him smile as I’ve praised him to others.

Posted by James on Monday, November 30, 2009