Adam Grant on Intentional Parenting

Adam Grant, the most thoughtful had a lot of amazing things to say during our interview for the Knowledge Project but I wanted to show you this excerpt on intentional parenting.

Shane Parrish: As a father, what do you do to nurture creativity in your kids?

Adam Grant: So, I think that most of the time, nurturing creativity is mostly about getting out of the way. I think it’s really hard to raise a creative child. It’s really easy to thwart a child’s creativity. So, the data show that having too many rules is one way to do that. If you look at highly creative high schoolers, for example, on average they had about half a rule in their household. Whereas their sort of … I don’t know how that works, but averages are misleading in many ways, not just-

Shane Parrish: 2.5 kids. Yeah.

Adam Grant: There you go. But on average, a lot of the families didn’t even have rules, and if they did, they just had one or two that were core. Whereas kids who were rated by their teachers as more conventional in their thinking tended to grow up in households with about six core rules.

Shane Parrish: Mm-hmm.

Adam Grant: So it’s not that we don’t have rules, but what the data shows is that if you are going to create rules, they shouldn’t be about the rules themselves, they should be about the underlying values that they represent. So if you’re going to have a rule about bedtime, we like to put our kids to bed and have them … When it’s bedtime, we basically say, “Look, it’s reading time.” Then we’ll tell you lights-out time.

So it’s not this draconian “Okay, it’s your bedtime.” It’s this “Hey, we really value being well rested, and it’s important to us that you get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel better; you’ll get along with other people better.”

Shane Parrish: My life is easier the next day.

Adam Grant: There you go, yeah. It benefits us, too, if all goes as planned. But so we try to be really clear when we do set rules about the values behind them. We try to not have arbitrary rules. We try to give our kids a lot of responsibility.

So, one example is, I’ll say to our daughters, this is coming right out of the research that I’ve read, and I do try to be one of those psychologists who doesn’t screw up our kids, but sometimes the research is too useful not to apply. So, in this case, let’s say you’re having a dilemma around “How do you manage bedtime?” I will say to our nine-year-old or six-year-old, “All right, lights will go out at 8:30, and I’m going to give you a choice. Do you want to be responsible and turn them out yourself? Or do you want me to come in and turn them out?” If they choose responsibility, I’ll give them a little bit of extra time, but if they don’t deliver on the responsibility, then they lose the privilege temporarily.

That way, they get to make all these choices, and feel like they’re in charge of their own destiny, and they get to think for themselves a little bit about how they want to manage their time, which I think is useful.

Shane Parrish: So what are your core family values, then, that you center around, or gravitate towards, or try to instill in your children? You have three kids, right?

Adam Grant: Yeah. We have three. Two girls and a boy. I think when it comes to core family values, we care obviously a lot about generosity and kindness.

One of the things that we discuss at the dinner table every week is… The conversation about “What did you do at school today?” is not that helpful. What’s much more helpful is “what’s something you did for someone else this week?”

We try to talk about that, knowing, again, this is really scary, but in the data, parents say that concern for others is their most important value, but kids think that achievement is their most important value.

Because all you talk about is accomplishments.

How did you do on a test? Let’s talk about how the soccer game went. So we try to bring these values to light through discussions, and we know that the questions we ask will really influence what our kids think is important. I think generosity, kindness is a big one.

We definitely want our kids to value learning. So one of the principles that we follow is any time they’re interested in learning about something, we’ll find a book on it.

Their challenge then is to learn about it, maybe to teach it to us, which is really fun.

And we get to have a whole discussion about it. Beyond that, I think we have lots of specific values, but those are two of the big ones that we care a lot about in our household.

Shane Parrish: I like that. It sounds similar to what I do with my kids, which is every day during dinner, I ask them something that they did that was kind for somebody else today.

Adam Grant: There you go.

Shane Parrish: The whole point of that is to reinforce … There’s no expectations when you’re kind to people, but then you can always be on the lookout to do something nice for other people.

Listen to this amazing episode of the knowledge project.