In addition to all of the things we as parents must do for our kids each day: getting them to school, washing clothes, holding down a job, making breakfast, lunch and dinner, getting them to their practices, signing them up for school, helping them choose a high school or college, keeping the house (relatively) clean, making sure they are doing well in school, making sure they are clean and bathed (yes, this continues into the teen years), and attending every sporting/activity event – WHEW! – to name a few. We are also somehow supposed to make sure that these kids of ours become good, kind people with a solid character. I’m not sure about you, but in the craziness that each day brings, I often find myself praying and crossing my fingers on that one! How do we do this? Do we really have any control over it?
Yes, parents, there are many things you can do each day to help your child develop a strong sense of character and integrity. Most importantly, you must understand and embrace the fact that as parents, you are the most influential people in your children’ lives! Yes, YOU! I’m not discounting the impact that social influences, environment, and the media have on your child, but YOU trump all of them. Your child looks to you every single day for clues and cues on how to live and function. Your child watches every move you make. You are the template your child uses to form his or her own identity. Here are a few thoughtful ways to best use that influence:
1.Apologize to your child when you mess up.
The other day as we were scrambling to get out the door for the middle school bus, I told my son to get a coat. It was 5 degrees outside. I get into the car, start it up and blast the defrost and heat. I then look up to see my son walking out the door wearing only shorts and a sweatshirt. My blood began to boil as he opened the passenger door and flung his backpack onto the mat.
“Where is your coat?” I yelled.
“Mom, I don’t need it!” he fired back.
I continued, “It is 5 degrees out and I told you to get a coat!”
“Fine! Do you want me to go and get it?” he asked.
“No! Now we are late and if you miss the bus, you are walking to school!” I announced.
This delightful dialogue continued all the way to the bus stop, where then I decided to launch into a full on flip out. In a nutshell, I ranted on about how when I tell him to do something he’d better do it, no questions asked. I’m fairly certain I also threw in a few obscenities as well, just to add some color to the situation. Not a proud parenting moment – at all.
When I stopped, and the car was quiet, I apologized. “I’m sorry. There was really no reason for me to flip out or talk to you like that,” I said. “It’s ok Mom, I get it,” he replied. “No. It’s really not ok at all. There are more important things to deal with than whether or not you wear a coat. You are really capable of making that choice on your own and dealing with the consequences.”
When you take responsibility for making mistakes and owning them as quickly as possible to your child, you are showing them what character truly is. I’m hoping that I don’t have to get to that point next time:).
2. Let your child see you doing nice things for others.
When you call a friend to check in, send a card, make a meal for someone, help out with someone’s kids – talk to your child about it. Let them know about all of the things you do for others and why. Encourage them to help you carry out the task. You are not bragging, you are teaching. Ask them what they do for others throughout their day. How do they feel when they do something kind for someone? This helps them connect feeling good about themselves to the action for doing for others.
Doing for others is also a great boredom buster – “Mom! I’m bored”, he says. “Why don’t you do something nice for someone?” (having a list ready of possible ideas is great for younger kids).
Designate one day a week to be “GIVE BACK DAY” in your family. For little ones, make cards for someone or bake a treat together. For older ones, hold a family challenge where everyone tries to do as many kind things in the day as possible – share your experiences with each other at night.
3. Speak kindly to others and of others.
We all have those moments where we find ourselves ranting and raving about someone who frustrated you, annoyed you, etc. The problem is, your kids are listening and absorbing every word (even when you don’t realize it). Try to be mindful of what you say about others as well as how and where you say it. Remember, your kids are taking it all in as you drive and vent on the cell to your friend. Instead, try to make a conscious effort to look for the strengths in others and let your children hear you share that.
Next, model kindness in your interactions with others. Encourage eye contact, saying hello to others with a handshake, and speaking to others at a volume that can be heard!
4. Let your kids make mistakes AND deal with the consequences.
When one of my sons was about six years old, he took a toy from one of his friend’s houses. Not only did he have to return the toy, write an apology to the family, but he also had to “work” off his behavior by helping our neighbor mulch for an hour or two. The whole thing was heartbreaking as a parent – from what he did to making him suffer through the consequences – I hated every minute. I learned, though, that by not shielding him from a difficult experience I allowed him to truly connect his actions with authentic consequences. We often as parents do too much shielding and protecting of our kids and never allow them to suffer the authentic consequences of their behaviors – this then prevents the true development of their character.
5. Give them endless opportunities to take on age appropriate responsibilities.
In order to develop a strong character, kids need chances to take on responsibilities. They need experience handling things on their own along with an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. You and your partner best know your child. Sit down and come up with areas where you feel your child could take on more responsibilities. Consider your child’s age and maturity level. After they’ve taken on a responsibility, talk with them about what went well and discuss what did not. Let them then identify things they will plan to do differently the next time. Most importantly, let your child give his or her perspective first.
Good luck and remember to PARENT LIKE A ROCK STAR!