File photo: Researchers examined the values the parents were trying to teach and how successful they were in passing them on. Picture: flickr.com

Parents who teach their children to be kind are more successful at passing on their values than those who don’t, a study has suggested.

Researchers found that children told to be competitive and self-interested tend not to follow their parents’ lead – suggesting that kindness breeds kindness.

This is because parents who focus on positive values may be more sensitive to their child’s needs, thereby building a deeper bond with them.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London and the universities of Westminster, Vienna and Bern assessed 418 German and Swiss families, including children aged from six to 11.

They examined the values the parents were trying to teach and how successful they were in passing them on.

To assess values, parents and children were shown pictures of adults and children alongside statements such as "It is important to her to be rich".

They were then asked how much they identified with the picture and statement. Parents who chose more selfish options tended to deviate from their children.

Professor Anat Bardi from Royal Holloway’s Department of Psychology and co-author of the study said: "Ours is a test of how far the apple falls from the tree – or in other words, how similar are children to their parents in the values they hold?

"We often take for granted 'like father, like son' and this is especially interesting when it comes to the inheritance of destructive values such as power-seeking and selfishness."

Professor Bardi added: "This research really shows that where parents nurture positive, supportive and altruistic values their children will also take these characteristics to heart.

"This research brings a positive message ... parents who endorse selfishness do not breed a selfish next generation."