If you want to show children the way, where do you begin?
Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
-Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods
It’s natural to want the best life for your children, but their fulfillment and success requires the right skill set. As a parent, you should teach youngsters well and set good examples of personal well-being. But if you want to show children the way, where do you begin? How can you help them learn good values and have fun too?
Psychotherapist Amy Morin says the basis for raising well-rounded kids is teaching them the value of long-term happiness. They should learn to favor self-love over instant gratification. In time, kids who practice such values discover that happiness is its own reward. That’s how they grow into content, well-adjusted adults.
Here are some of Ms. Morin’s thoughts on raising happy boys and girls. How many of these are you practicing?
Before the deluge of online entertainment and social media, it was easier for kids to get outside and enjoy active play. When they ran around, rode bikes, and used playground equipment, they were engaging with other children, learning social skills. They also developed an appreciation for physical health, reducing the chances of addiction and obesity.
Who says we can’t go back to those times? It’s easy to introduce physical activity into your children’s lives. Just get outdoors and have great times with them. Even a walk around the block is a good start.
But as you begin this regimen, be sure to give the kids time to play on their own. Get to know the neighborhood children and introduce them to yours. Before long, you’ll make new friends and all get healthier together.
Spend less time in front of screens
With all their color, motion, sound, and interactivity, it’s easy to see why video games and kids go together. But a child dependent on digital entertainment can end up isolated. They don’t develop as well as kids who engage in athletics, do homework, and spend time with friends and family.
So remind your children that there is a world away from the screen. Limit their access to the smartphone, computer, and game console. Be clear about how much screen time you permit each day, and stick to your principles. Fill in the gaps with activities that prove how much you value your time with them.
Teach the value of saying “thank you”
Ungrateful children may develop habits of entitlement that lead to poor relations with family, friends, and employers. That’s why you should show gratitude early and often with kids.
Tell them how much you appreciate them. Acknowledge their acts of kindness. And if they forget to say “thank you” for something, gently remind them to write a note.
Gratitude can be given anytime, not just in exchange for a gift. When your kid says “Thank you for being a friend,” that’s all it takes to brighten a pal’s day.
We’re hard-wired to appreciate kindness, in both giving and getting. Psychology Today says that compassionate people experience bigger lifts in personal happiness. It’s a win-win.
So to help lift children’s self-esteem, ask them to do one kind thing each day, and promise you’ll do the same. Then get together each night to share what you did and how it made you feel.
As part of this project, you could volunteer your kids’ time to a non-profit organization. The experience can help your child learn the values of community involvement, a work ethic, and punctuality.
Share the housework
Let’s get real: Keeping house is not one of the joys of life. You hated taking the trash out as a kid, right? Still, boys and girls have to learn the domestic arts to become well-balanced grownups.
Yet picking up toys isn’t all about neatness. A study by The University of Minnesota revealed that youngsters who start doing chores as early as three years old have a better chance of success later in life. It’s learning the responsibility that matters.
So, by all means, get your kids to help with the housework, but go easy at first. Sit with them and draw up a chart assigning duties to each family member. As you do, ask your children if they feel capable of doing the chores.
Whatever you do, don’t make their allowances dependent on finishing the work. The accomplishment itself and a “Nice job, up top!” will mean more to them.
Explain why self-discipline matters
Besides learning responsibility, kids need to understand the benefits of restraint. Tell your children that society appreciates people who practice self-control in the face of temptation. Such behavior pays dividends all life long, in the forms of good personal and workplace relationships.
To manage childhood enticements, especially food and electronics, Amy Morin offers these tips:
When your children do chores or homework, help stop them getting distracted by smartphones. Put their mobiles in a common gathering place, such as a basket in the kitchen, and turn off the ringers.
If you keep sugary snacks in the house, put them in hard-to-reach places.
Set “no-gizmo” hours and enforce them. Locate a dedicated area for personal electronics well away from the kids’ bedrooms, such as a box in the living room.
Let kids earn rewards
What about the insistent child who always wants another cookie or the latest gadget because “everyone else has one”? According to Ms. Morin, if you give in to a child’s demands too often, that will blur the lines in their mind between wants and needs. Research says if they associate happiness with materialism, they’ll just keep insisting on more and better stuff.
That isn’t a good look, as you well know. Better to stop difficult behavior before it starts by reinforcing a different set of values.
Point out to your children that a good life is earned. Instead of relenting to a tantrum, let your youngsters do something in exchange for a treat. For instance, after they clean their rooms, let them play video games for an hour. Get creative with their rewards.
Life has made time a luxury commodity, so spend it wisely with your kids. Mealtimes together can be especially valuable. One study says talking over dinner builds positive feelings in teenagers, boosting confidence in themselves and their futures.
By the way, it’s okay if you can’t share meals every night. Even a few times a week can make a difference.
Control your expectations
It’s fine to expect high achievement from your children. But if you want perfection, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Why get upset over a B+ grade? If you demand the best from your son or daughter every time, they may grow cynical about goal-setting.
So as you teach your kids to manage their assumptions about life, keep your own hopes in check too. Good children want to please you, and if your expectations are reasonable, they’ll do whatever it takes to make you proud.
You know well what your own strengths and weaknesses are. And your youngsters will appreciate that self-knowledge as they determine their own happy life journeys.
Careful before you say,
“Listen to me.”
Children will listen.