thoughtful children

Setting the Stage: Helping Your Children Find Values Before they Learn them the Hard Way

Raising kids is hard work. Personally, I find it hard enough to be in charge of my own well being for 24 hours a day, forever, with no breaks, but to multiply that is just barbaric. And at least when you mess up your own life, you do not have as many people telling you what you did wrong, how you can improve it, and doling out a seemingly endless supply of unsolicited advice. It is also a lot less painful to suffer from our mistakes ourselves than to see our decisions harm those we love most.

There are many styles of parenting and even though we may not agree with how everybody else raises children, we can assume that the large majority of parents are doing the best they can and parent out of love and concern. Whatever your parenting style, there are a few important things many magazines leave out when it comes to teaching children, maybe because they are value driven, and sometimes differing values are what separates people. But whatever your values, you have had a lifetime of trial and error to come up with them, while your kid is just starting to discover the world. Perhaps you can introduce a few of the really important things that it may have taken you too long to learn.

Only You Can Solve Your Problems

In life, if adults are treated unfairly they have advocates who help speak up for them, so if my child is doled out an unfair punishment, I have no problem standing in as an advocate for them. But when my child is wrong, for example they did not complete a project they had ample time and ability to finish, they are on their own trying to get the teacher to not, rightfully, penalize their grade, that is if, they have not already learned to accept the consequences of their behavior.

If my child doesn’t learn that there are consequences, they will never learn how to avoid them on their own. Maybe their project was late because they had a family party that went late, or were studying for another test, they can take that up with their teacher, but I will not condone the procrastination that led them to the inability to complete their task. No amount of me lecturing responsibility, after rescuing them, will teach them what they learn from a bad grade and the consequences now are much less dire compared to if they learn later in life.

You Cannot Carry the Burdens of Others for Them

Just like I teach my child that I cannot solve their problems, they need to learn that they can not solve their friend’s problems. It is hard to see people suffer, especially friends. I cannot speak for sons, because I have none, but i know my daughters are haunted by the suffering of their friends. Some of these problems are serious, like child abuse, depression, or the death of a loved one, but some are seemingly trivial, like not having a boyfriend or fighting with parents over curfew. In the cases where intervention may be necessary, I have taught my oldest daughter that it is okay, and sometimes necessary for her to step in. If her friend is threatening suicide, or getting abused by her parents, she needs to tell an adult.

In other cases, it seems like my daughter was trying too hard to pick up friends who seemed happier staying low and she needed to hear that although it is nice to try and cheer up other people, it should never be to her detriment. Some suffering is inevitable, but some is literally just a sign telling you that you need to make changes. If her friends are not willing to help themselves, my daughters suffering is in vain. And personally, I think as many teenagers can be toxic as adults and we need to learn how to identify and protect ourselves from them early.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

I feel like parents put so much emphasis on a child’s education and career but all too often pay no mind to their friends. The notion that you are defined by the five people closest to you holds a lot of merit and if it is true, we should take a more hands on approach when it comes to teaching children about friendship. Our friends also determine where we hang out, who we interact with and how people perceive us. They shape our experiences and lead us towards or away from things. They also set our expectations. If our friends treat us poorly, we seem to expect that, but if we are valued and respected, we will expect that in other relationships, as we should.

It is Not Your Business What Other People Think of You

Most adults have a hard time understanding this, but it is true. You have no right to control someones thoughts. More important than what others think of you, is what you think of yourself. The earlier you realize this, the earlier you will act on it, making things like peer pressure, manipulation and guilt no match for your unwavering sense of self that stems from basing your decisions on sturdy, unwavering principals instead of the ever-changing less noble whims of others. How nice will it be to send your child into the world knowing that they are principal driven rather than attention seeking.

Do Not Let Others Force Your Decision

We have all experienced the false dilemma. It is usually phrased as an if you do this then I will do that, implying that the that, that they did, was indeed your choice. As adults, we may recognize this as manipulation, but children are more naive. This starts as early as pre-school when your son or as I would assume, more often, your daughter has her first controlling friend who wants to tell her who she can hang out with. Teach your child to recognize manipulation even before they are old enough to define it. Teach them that just like themselves, others make their own decisions and should be held responsible for them alone.

Never Start a Fight But Always Finish One

This one seems very self-explanatory, yet I have found myself up at school on more than one occasion questioning why if there is a zero violence policy at school, my child should even be put in the situation where they needed to defend themselves. I wholeheartedly agree with the zero violence tolerance policy but not above my child’s God given, inherent right to self defense. So you may tell my child to just stand there when another child hits them or they will be punished, but my child cares a hell of a lot more about what I have to say, and I expect them to defend themselves. My daughter has learned to do what she needs to do and leave the rest to me.

You Do Not Deserve Anything to Be Handed to You

This by far is the hardest lesson to teach. We all want to see our children happy and handing them things seems like the path of least resistance to do so. It also makes us so happy to see our little one’s faces light up with glee with every new toy, ice-cream or other treat we hand them. But by adding these small joys, we are robbing them of larger ones. When we simply give in to our child’s every whim, not only do they become increasingly desensitized to each successive treat but they are not learning how to do things on their own, which is it’s own gift. If we were at a store picking out something for our child and right next to that new i-pad there was a box of self-confidence, a bag of resilience and a bucket of gratitude, we may want to scoop them all up, but unfortunately, sometimes they are not a package deal.

Life is Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

None of us want to be the ones to knock our children out of this false Utopian world that they think they exist inside of. We all want to hold our kids and rock them and tell them that everything is going to be okay, and it it might be, but in some moments, we need to admit, it may not be okay, and that is okay too. I am no expert, but I think part of the rise in mood disorders is partially due to the fact that some parents no longer teach their kids that it is okay to be mad, sad or anything other than “fine.”

Guess what? Kids are going to learn that sometimes, the world will blow up in their face and they may not want to hear that it will be okay. They are not dealing with what will be, they are dealing with what is. “It is not okay.” “It is bad.” “That must be so hard to deal with.” “I am here to talk.” These are what kids need to hear to be validated. “It will be okay,” is not present, and you can not deal with something if you are not in the present. I think a lot of people, especially children do not deal with the issues they face and instead of getting past them and moving on, they shove them away where they are not gone, only misunderstood. So your child may think they are over that horrible incident, but not be able to figure out why they just feel down. Stop acting like the other side is a goal post we are racing to, but rather a puzzle we need to carefully place back together.

What do you think about this list. What did I leave out? I would love to hear your additions to this list.

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