A recent article Are children hardwired for revenge? caught my eye. Surely not! The research, however, was quite compelling. In evolutionary terms, if the brain has been hardwired to survive animal attacks, it would make sense that retaliation may be a more useful response than kindness.
When the researchers conducted further experiments to learn more about how reciprocity develops, they concluded that:
Young children may not be naturally stingy; they simply don’t know the rule. Their principles look a little different than those of adults. It takes some cognitive building blocks, as well as exposure to social norms relevant to their culture, to learn how to navigate the world. If the goal is to have children display gratitude, we should take opportunities to point out and discuss with them instances when other people are exhibiting this desired behaviour.
Clearly it’s important to set up more neural pathways involving kind responses to counteract the more evolutionary response of revenge. The good news is that the researchers found that gratitude can be readily learned. Hearing a simple story and practicing some modelled words are effective ways to building a disposition of kindness and a repertoire of kind words.
This article has really driven home to me how important it is to challenge a child’s unkind responses. How could you say that in a caring way? Children are definitely ‘still learning’ and we view these as learning opportunities to build more kindness neurone pathways.
With the holidays coming up, this could be an opportunity for the whole family to practise kind ways of responding to each other!
More information about this research can be accessed at https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/payback-or-pay-back-children-understand-revenge-reciprocity-study-says