We may not be able to prepare the future for our children,
but we can prepare our children for the future.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
A Question for all Parents
Have you carefully considered what you should be teaching to your children?
Many parents never stop and give careful thought to this question. They never make a real attempt to actually identify the qualities they should teach and develop within their offspring.
Excuse our bluntness, but having the physical ability to give birth to a child does not automatically translate into the ability to be an effective parent. Being an effective parent requires some careful thought and planning. You have to make sure you understand your teaching role as a parent, determine whether you need additional study or training in this regard and, without question, be willing to devote a lot of hard work to this task.
Few parents would disagree with the third item above. Parenting is hard work. It can be very rewarding, but also very stressful, and almost always sprinkled with disappointments along the way. In spite of the importance of this responsibility, few parents take the time to evaluate their skill level and determine what type of parent they intend to be. For the most part, people, especially new parents, treat parenting as a “learn as you go” endeavor.
Will You Be a Poor, an Average or an Exceptional Parent?
Like most things in life, parenting is about choices as well. One of the first choices a person should make in this regard is what kind of parent are they going to be…just an ordinary parent (which many choose by default) or a darn good one? The latter is of course the choice that we are recommending here. And, if you sign up to be an exceptional parent, one of the first things you need to do is to identify what you will, over the course of the years, work to teach your children. In other words, you need to make specific choices about the qualities you, as a parent, will work to teach your children. Once these qualities are identified, you can then assess your ability to “teach the subject” to your children. If you are not fully prepared, you will at least know what you don’t know and can set out to obtain the training resources you need to properly educate your child in a certain area of life.
Every Parent's Responsibility
What is the primary responsibility of every parent? Is it to give things to your children - food, clothes, phones, presents? Is it to to do things for your children - help them with homework, provide experiences, take care of them when they are sick? Or, is it to teach them how to live?
The answer? It’s a combination of all three…but it’s the last function that is the most important. Just remind yourself…it’s not the things you give to them or what you do for your children that will make a real difference in their lives. But rather it’s what you teach them, assuming, of course, that you work to teach them the right things. Most parents assume that they are equipped for this important role, but this simply is not true.
Be honest with yourself…if you are not ready to be an exceptional parent, do the work and get the information and resources your need to become one.
"It is not what you do for your children,
but what you have taught them to do for themselves
that will make them successful human beings."
Building Your “Child Training Guide”
The challenge to becoming an exceptional parent is probably not as difficult as you might first think. It requires some careful thought and, most likely, many discussions with your spouse (or someone you value and trust) to develop a list of the qualities that you would like for your child to possess – and to practice – when he or she grows up. Most of these are fundamental – even obvious – areas of behavior and understanding, but they don’t become an active part of your child development routine until you officially adopt them and commit to transferring these qualities to your children.
While there will be similarities, children are different so your list for one child will likely be different from another. As you assess the qualities that your children are already exhibiting, you can indentify needs that one child may have that another does not.
As you identify these qualities, you should make a written list of them. This list is, in effect, your child training guide. Once established, parents should continue to assess the list of qualities that they are working to teach their children and, more importantly, how good a job they are doing in teaching them.
A Good Place to Start
Here's a good starting point for you. There may be others, but we think these 11 qualities, along with some ideas of how to accomplish this with your children, are the most important to teach. There are other reports on this website that address each of these recommended qualities in more detail.
11 important things to teach your children:
- 1) Being an Honest Person…the single most important value for children to learn.
- 2) The Value of Education and Academics…how knowledge can change a person’s life.
- 3) Impact of Food/Exercise...importance of taking care of the only body you will ever have.
- 4) Respect for Other People…the enjoyment of your life is highly dependent on those around you.
- 5) Learning to Listen…an overlooked, but life changing skill.
- 6) Good Manners/Proper Personal Conduct…nice, polite people are the most enjoyable people.
- 7) How and When to Apologize and Forgive…lifetime tools to help you forgive and move on with life.
- 8) Friends – Good Ones and Bad Ones…valuing these associations while maintaining independence.
- 9) Personal Responsibility…owning up to who you are and what you did.
- 10) Understanding Financial Fundamentals…one is never too young to learn how to manage his/her money.
- 11) Plans and Goals…the future is yours, reach out and get it.
1) Being an Honest Person
Why Is Honesty So Important? If you stop and think about this for a moment, most of us can answer this question by sharing examples of honesty and dishonesty that we have experienced in our own lives. Parents should not hesitate to share real-life examples because it's the best way for children to see the benefits of being honest as well as the problems that dishonest behavior creates. Honesty is important because it's the glue that builds and maintains trust between people, young and old. Children need to learn that it is the act of honesty – not the information actually being shared – that builds trust.
In other words, sharing bad news in a truthful way is much better than telling “something great” that is really only a near truth. An act of dishonesty always damages the level of trust between people, and there are no exceptions to this fact. So, if children are going to build and maintain solid relationships, they must come to understand the role that honesty plays….and that the practice of honesty will lead them to more friends and a much happier life.
Whatever You Do as a Parent, Teach Your Children to Be Honest. There are lots of good qualities we can work to build in our children, but this one – honesty – is by far the most important. Children who learn to value the practice of honesty in their lives have a much better chance to a) develop the interests/skills that they possess and b) have beneficial relationships with those around them. The starting point for parents is to explain to their children that there is an inside part and an outside part to honesty…that there are significant benefits of being honest with yourself as well as being honest with others.
2) The Value of Education and Academics
Each Educational Step is Important. Whether at the grammar, elementary, junior high or high school levels; whether it involves specialized or vocational training; whether it’s a basic or advanced college degree; or whether it’s post-graduate or advanced areas of study…parents need to help their children understand and appreciate the value of education.
There are many benefits that knowledge brings to an individual. It helps them find areas of personal interest and allows them to explore new things, things that they might ultimately do with their life. It creates respect on the part of others as excellent grades and special academic accomplishments set people apart in a very positive way. It can improve one’s financial well being which, in turn, allows people to do more and see more during their lifetimes. How far someone goes in the academic world is up to the individual, but parents should work hard to create an appreciation of education in all of their children…knowledge can change people’s lives.
It's very important to learn how to take care of the only body we will ever have. There is little question about the fact that our society is getting fatter and less healthy because of two important things – what we eat and how much we exercise. Parents, even if they need to get online and study the subject to prepare, need to become better nutritionists and, as such, teach their children how to eat in a healthy way. Children need a good understanding, early in life, of the foods that are good for them and the ones that are not. Hand in hand with this, parents need to teach children the values of exercise and how it helps us keep trim, and have more energy. Also of importance (and to provide children more motivation) is to make children aware of the diseases – such as diabetes, heart conditions and high blood pressure – that are much more prevalent in individuals who are overweight and live an unhealthy lifestyle.
4) Having Respect for Others/Fostering Kindness
Children need to understand that the enjoyment of their life will be highly dependent on those around them and how they make those people feel. Most of us think that life’s all about winning and being successful ourselves, but, in reality, the secret to living a fulfilling and meaningful life is helping other people win and be successful. We think that life is all about us, when it’s really all about them. As one well-known speaker said, “If you want to realize your dream, find someone and help them realize theirs.” One thing that children need to learn (and some of us adults, too) is that other people are very important and, in some ways, they are “the secrets” to a happy and fulfilling life.
Further to this point, one of the most important traits that a person can have (and that you can help to create within your child) is that of being kind to others and having compassion for those less fortunate. Your child will encounter, even at an early age, those who are disabled, or are poor, or are troubled in some way or possibly even homeless. It’s very beneficial to cultivate an understanding in children that all people are important regardless of age, race or circumstances.
5) Learning to Listen
We work hard to teach them to talk, but never take the time to teach them to listen. We’ve all been around those people who just talk all the time…just hate it, don’t you? Interestingly, the people we seem to enjoy the most are individuals who ask us questions and show an interest in what we have to say.
It’s very easy to tell the difference between these two extremes – the former is boring and indifferent while the latter makes you feel good and that they are interested in you. Children need to learn the value of listening to other people, to learn to ask questions and show an interest in what others have to say. Children need to learn that their ability to listen – to ask questions and wait to hear what the other person has to say – is a major factor in how they make other people feel.
6) Manners and Personal Conduct
There is a right way and a wrong way to conduct yourself. Too many parents just let their children act the way they want to – never mind that they are disturbing the people having dinner in the next booth at a restaraunt - we want our children to have “freedom of expression.”
Well, there is a time and a place for all things (remember that one?) and children need to learn, again early in life, that where they are dictates how they should act and conduct themselves. Okay, they can “let loose” in their room, no problem, but in a place of worship, in school, at and other group gatherings, children need to understand that the expectation is that they will sit quietly and not disturb those around them. Granted, there is a very young age when they don’t really understand what you are trying to teach them in this regard. Nevertheless, you have to start these lessons of personal conduct before they are fully ready to learn them, as it is a social understanding that takes time for children to develop. If you ignore this training when they are too young, they will develop the idea that it is acceptable the way they are acting.
7) How and When to Apologize
Our country is at war, they are fighting on TV and the parents are in a disagreement at the dinner table…what’s this apologizing thing all about? Well, this is the single most important tool in a person’s social development…you might not agree, but it is and children need to be trained in how to use this tool. It is amazing to see what happens when one person sincerely apologizes to another…how quick the ship can be righted and headed in a totally different direction. Apologizing, when done correctly and in a sincere way, is almost a miracle drug that can cure most social diseases in a matter of minutes. Children need to learn how to use this very powerful tool.
8) Friends...Good Influences vs. Bad Influences
Children need to learn that there are two kinds of friends out there. As I write this, the news is still fresh about two 12-year-olds who stabbed their friend 19 times trying to kill her. This may be an extreme example, but children need to understand that, in addition to being fun and enjoyable, some friends can hurt them in lesser ways. What about those friendly influences that your child experiences, but that you don’t see or may not know about? What about your children’s friends who hurt them in other ways…by saying bad things about your child, by bullying them at school, by harassing them on the Internet or by trying to convince them to try some drug? You won’t always be there at the point of attack so it's very important that you teach your children to make the distinction between the good influences and the bad ones. Give them the confidence to stand up and be counted when someone is trying to influence them in an improper way.
9) Personal Responsibility
Learning that you will always have to own up to what you do, helps children make responsible choices in the first place. The reason that most bad choices are made in the first place is the basic belief that one will never get caught and no one will ever know. Whether other people ever know or not is immaterial. The thing that children need to understand is that they will know, and just the knowledge of knowing that they did something wrong will, in fact, hurt them in the long run. Children need to learn the value of living an honest life and that they are personally responsible for their actions…how well they do in school, how they treat their friends, how they use their spare time are all choices that they have to make…and be personally responsible for the results.
10) Financial Fundamentals
Starting from about the age of three, children will be involved in managing money for the rest of their lives. Therefore, children need to become financially responsible at an early age. They need to have experience managing their own money, seeing what it’s like to save money and have it grow and to understand what it’s like to operate on a budget with this week’s allowance. Parents who don’t involve children in the issues that surround money and, instead, simply buy them most the things they want (as well as what they need), are leaving a big gap in the development of their child…a gap that the child will surely fall into at some point in their life.
11) Developing Plans and Goals
We all need something to look forward to…an important mission can direct our lives. Obviously, it’s somewhat difficult for very young children to know what they want to do with their life, and, that’s not really what we’re talking about here as career choices are typically made when we are older. However, there can be many small goals (interests) that develop in children at an early age and parents should be mindful of this so that they can be on the lookout for these little clues that will most likely lead the child to greater interests and greater goals as he/she develops. Are we saying that the 5-year-old who develops a strong interest in tennis will someday be a tennis star? Maybe. We, as parents, need to teach our children that small goals are important and that we are willing to help them achieve those goals.
Your List May Be Different
These are 11 suggestions…it is up to you to form your own list. And remember, you need to have a customized list for each child. You may decide on only five or you may have twenty, but, however many you select, try to make your list as complete as possible. After all, we’re talking about the life of a child here, hopefully someday to be a productive adult. No small responsibility in anyone’s book.
There may be other areas that you might want to consider for your list(s).
- Sexual responsibility is a topic that needs to be thoroughly addressed with every child…not only how it works, but also the implications of poor choices made when managing this desire within a young life.
- Time management is another…every child needs to learn how to manage their day including time for homework, time for sports activities and time for responsibilities around the house.
- Group participations help children grow, develop and learn to interact properly with other children. Give some thought to the group participations you want your child to experience and help them become an active part in several of them.
- Faith-based programs and activities should be considered as they can be a very positive influence on your child’s life and enhance his/her opportunities to meet and work with like-minded individuals.
- Being open-minded and tolerant of other viewpoints is something that children are certainly not learning from the politicians they frequently hear/see on television so, if this is important to you, you will likely have to do some special work to get them to be open-minded about both sides of an particular issue.
- And, world or U.S. history…this one may surprise you but children need a broader understanding of history as the United States continues to grow and change in a worldwide economy.
Resources, There Are Lots of Them
As we pointed out, one of the advantages of having developed this list(s) is that it provides not only a teaching map to direct your activities with your children, but it also becomes an assessment tool so that, as you review it time and time again, you can determine what additional training resources you may need to fully equip yourself for the task at hand. Many of these resources can be located by reviewing the pre-selected ones in the Resources section of this website. Others through additional searches on the Internet…you can find everything you need if you take the time to search for it.
Your Test Is Your Child
There is no written test that you can take to determine if you're an effective parent. We test our teachers, we test our lawyers, we test our doctors, we test our pilots and on and on. But, for a position with the awesome responsibility of guiding a child into young adulthood, there is no test – national, state or local – that determines if you're an effective parent or not. Only the type of person your child turns out to be will determine your score in this regard.
Your child’s personal conduct, the type of person he/she turns out to be and what they ultimately achieve in life…all of these things are riding on your shoulders. Many factors and influences come into play, but it is this outcome that we as parents sign up for when we bring a child into this world. Clearly, this is the most important responsibility of all.
Children have a way of “coming up to” what is expected of them,
whether good or bad.
Written by Michael Nelson
©Copyright 2014 Good Choices Good Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Giving Children Some Solid Ground
How to Guide a Budding Adolescent
Merging Beliefs with Actions
Finding a Balance in Work and Life