Having three children ages 18, 14, and 4, I feel that I have reached a certain level of parenting expertise. It is true (to a certain extent) that you are more protective with your first, and by the last they are juggling knives. It’s all experience-based, really — with your first, you have little clue on how to handle almost everything, but with time comes experience.
As your children grow and come into their own, you start to see the fruits of your labor pay off. Sometimes you may wonder or even say out loud, “Are my kids even listening to me?” Trust me when I tell you, they are listening. Let me give you a little advice on how I managed to this point and what I did and said to help my children garner success and be morally sound. I could go on and on, but I chose eight virtues that I thought were very important. Believe me, it’s music to your ears when you hear your child say, “Mom, you were right.”
1. Be Kind
Children can be extremely cruel creatures. It seems there are bullies around every corner these days. A child may not have the right clothes or the right hairstyle, or he may even have a handicap. To bullies it’s all fair game. I always said to my children, “Don’t ever be that kid.” We all had a “Scott Farkus” in our school and I wasn’t going to tolerate my child being one. I taught them to be the kid that would never make fun of another for anything, let alone if someone was different from them. They were taught to help another child who was being bullied. It empowered them and made their little souls feel good.
2. Always be Honest
Kids inherently lie. You could ask a two-year-old if she was the one who spilled the milk, and somehow she feels the need to lie through her little baby teeth. I told my children to always tell me the truth, even if I would be upset. My dad told me growing up that if I lied to him and he found out, it would take a very long time for me to build a level of trust again. That is a virtue I passed down to my children. I created an environment where they could tell me anything and they do (sometimes it is TMI). Developing integrity begins at an early age and it was something that I felt was important to have.
3. Save 20% of Your Earnings
Some kids get a little money in their hands, whether from a babysitting job, birthday money, or for extra chores, and it burns a hole right through their pockets. This is one lesson my children didn’t like very much when they were younger. They could not see into the future to sacrifice now for something greater later on. Making them sock away 20% out of every earning really paid off in the end. It helped to teach them the value of money and to not be wasteful. Now that two of them are older, they can see this valuable lesson and they thank me for making them do it.
4. Old School Values
I was raised “Old School.” My mom stayed at home with the children and my dad was the bread winner. My grandparents and aunts and uncles also had a great influence on me as well. Respect your elders, love your country, salute our troops, pray daily, join a charity, be honest, don’t steal, be modest (both women and men), work hard for what you have because nothing in life will ever be handed to you, be self-sufficient, be a lady, be a gentleman, feed your spiritual side with the fear of God — just to name a few. Make sure they pass on this value system to their children because values seem to be a lost art these days.
5. Share Your Past Mistakes
This is an issue that I personally wrestled with — whether or not to share with my children some of my past mistakes from when I was kid and young adult. Many have said to me that it would just give my kids an excuse to make the same mistakes, using the reasoning, “Well, you did it!” I came to the conclusion that if the opportunity presented itself, I would share my story where it seemed appropriate. It gave my children a better understanding of why the answer may have been ‘no’ when they wanted to do certain things. It also made them have a greater respect and trust for me because they felt as though they could really relate.
6. Let your Kid be a Kid
Your children are going to be exposed to outside influences as they grow up like teachers, extended family, etc., but mainly their friends. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “but my friends are allowed to!” If I had a dime for every time they compared our lives with their friends, I would certainly be rich by now.
The truth is, I didn’t let my children do what the crowd was doing. While some kids were making out in their parents’ basements, mine were still wanting to have family movie nights on taco Tuesdays. The point is, they have their whole lives to be exposed to the horrors of the world. Give them the chance to go outside and play, hike, camp, fish, ride their bikes all over the neighborhood, or whatever it is they like to do. Honestly, they don’t need an iPhone at the age of 10. We didn’t have one and we turned out just fine. We also drank from the hose and we didn’t die of poisoning.
7. Let Them Fail
I really don’t know when we got into the age of “everyone is a winner.” No, everyone is not a winner, and in fact, you will lose and fail many time throughout life. That is not reality and the way of the world. Letting your children think that they should get a trophy just for participating translates into lazy entitled kids and promotes depression.
If you see your child struggling with something, guide him in the right direction, but ultimately you will need to let him do the work to succeed. Don’t constantly bail him out, for he needs to understand that there are rewards when you work hard and there are consequences when you slack off.
It’s hard to watch our kids not come in first place. My son Jack really loves skateboarding. When he first started he would fall a lot and couldn’t do very many tricks. He decided he would enter a contest and he practiced hard every single day. When he entered the contest, he felt confident that he would come in first place because he had worked so hard. The look on his face when they announced he came in third was devastating. You might as well have ripped my heart right out of my chest. Jack was sad, but took it in stride. He vowed to practice even harder and would shore up a win the next year. A winner in the game of life for sure with that attitude!
8. Practice What You Preach
Last, but certainly not least, practice what you preach to your children. When my kids see that we are following the “rules” we have laid out for the family, it gives them a sense of respect and shows them that we are good role models. Leading by example is possibly one of the most powerful tools to keeping your children on the straight and narrow. After all, you are their first teacher.
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