As parents, we all want the best for our children. We have great dreams of the things they can do and the people they can become. We shuttle our kids from dance lessons, sports camps, tutors, and play dates. We buy them the latest game consoles, trendy clothes, and popular toys. And we do all of this in hopes that our children are successful and happy.
But what about good? With all the stuff we are heaping on our children, are we also teaching them how to be nice, caring, and respectful? Are we teaching them that it is just as important to be kind as it is to be successful? Well, according to a recent Harvard University survey of more than 10,000 students across the United States, it seems our children don’t think so. The survey revealed that even though 96% of parents say they want caring children, 81% of kids believed their parents’ top priority for them was happiness or achievement.
Huh, seems to be some sort of disconnect there.
So, how do we instill in our children that being good (and, therefore, kind and caring) is just as important as being happy and successful? I’d love to tell you that there is a secret formula that will work with every child and every situation, but there is no such thing. What I can tell you, though, is that these ten tips can at least get you on the right path.
1. Walk the walk and Talk the talk
- Do you speak rudely to other people when they annoy you?
- Do you say “thank you” when people assist you?
- Do you gossip or make fun of other people with your spouse?
Children watch everything we do and say and then model that same behavior themselves. Parents are the first line of defense when it comes to teaching children how to be good. If you want to raise a good child, become a good person yourself.
2. Teach the Golden Rule
It’s an oldie but goodie – "Treat others as you would like to be treated."
My children groan every time I recite the Golden Rule to them, which is usually when they are fighting with each other, so they hear it a lot.
But it works.
It works because it makes kids put themselves into the other person’s shoes and look at their own actions from a different perspective. By doing so, kids learn empathy and empathy is an important component of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and interpret your own emotions as well as another person’s and then take that information to make decisions and communicate effectively with other people. Developing high emotional intelligence is an invaluable stepping stone for a child’s success in life.
Looks like my kids will continue to be hammered with the Golden Rule – at least until they start practicing it.
3. Be an emotional guide for your children
Improving a child’s emotional intelligence also includes teaching them that feelings are okay. By the time they start school, most children have learned that expressing emotion is bad. Boys are told that crying is only for girls. Girls are called explicit names when they express anything other than a smile.
Well, guess what? Boys cry, and girls get angry. Deal with it.
When children are overwhelmed by feelings of anger, shame, envy or other negative feelings, they are incapable of caring about anyone else around them. These negative feelings can become destructive when a child is not taught how to recognize and express their feelings in a helpful and appropriate way. Only when a child can productively understand and control their emotions are they then able to focus on being good and caring to other people.
4. Be the boss
As a parent, you are your child’s guiding force. You are there to protect, teach and provide consistency in their life. You are one who sets the rules, boundaries and expectations of behavior. When all of this comes together, your child feels safe and secure, and they can concentrate on learning, growing, and being a good person.
Wow! Can you feel the power?
On the flip side, when kids do what they want without guidance or fear of consequences, scary mayhem can ensue. Children can interpret the lack of boundaries and rules as a sign that their parents don’t care. They will act out intentionally just to see if their parents care enough about them to do something – anything – to reign them in.
It is not uncommon for children in these situations to turn to drugs and alcohol to dull their emotions, seek acceptance from friends, and escape the world around them. With its easy accessibility, painkillers have become one of the biggest contributors to a growing epidemic of polysubstance abuse among teenagers, which can occur when multiple drugs are used together, like alcohol and painkillers.
Step up and be the boss in your kid’s life. I promise, they will love you for it. Even if they won’t say it.
5. Have regular dinner dates (at home)
I really don’t like to cook. I mean, with the never-ending time crunch my family seems to be living through, who has time to plan, prep, cook, and then clean?
But I do it.
Almost every single night.
And why? Because taking the time to sit down together as a family (with no electronics) and eat together has so many benefits! Studies have shown that when families take the time to eat meals together, those children:
- have a better sense of security and belonging
- make better grades in school
- have better communication skills
- are emotionally strong and have better mental health
- are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs
Yep, looks like I’ll be making that pot roast tonight.
6. Send your kids to bed
Making kids go to bed may seem like a funny tip to include on a list of how to raise a good child but hear me out.
No one, and I mean no one, likes a tired and cranky child. A child who has not gotten enough sleep is unable to focus, has reduced brain function, and is less able to manage their emotions. All in all, a sleep-deprived child is not a good child and is incapable of being a good child. Send those kids to bed, pronto!
Even if you think your child is getting enough sleep, it may not be quality sleep. It is highly recommended to limit screen time within one to two hours of bedtime because the blue light that comes from electronic devices can have a detrimental effect on sleep patterns.
7. Let their minds grow
I don’t mean literally “grow” your child’s mind, but, instead, teach them to have a “growth mindset.” What does that mean? Well, it means believing that everyone (yes, everyone) has the capacity to change and improve. It is the opposite of a “fixed mindset,” which is the belief that a person is born intelligent or not, strong or not, kind or not, good or not – you get the idea.
A growth mindset helps us become more empathetic to those around us. It allows our brains to see the possibility of change in every situation. A recent study discovered that children who learned growth mindset techniques and then applied those techniques to bullying situations became more resilient to social stress, exhibited less aggressive behavior and retaliation.
8. Volunteer with your child
In a culture that seems to be more and more focused on “me, me, me,” volunteering in the community is a great way for children to learn how to put other people first. Kids learn how to see their community through a different lens, which helps them to better appreciate the things they have. Additionally, they learn that every action, no matter how small, can have a big impact on someone else. By showing children that they can make a difference, you will see their self-worth and self-esteem sky rocket!
Finding volunteer opportunities that are fun for your child will kickstart a lifetime of doing good. The fulfillment that comes from improving the community, helping another human being, and feeling like they have made a difference will keep them coming back for more!
9. Remember to be grateful
A wise man once said that “Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness in the world.” I don’t remember exactly who said it, but it sounds really good, right?
Teaching gratitude is easy – it is simply pausing for a moment to notice and appreciate the things we take for granted, focusing on what is good in our lives, and being thankful for everything we have.
Practicing gratitude on a regular basis is the hard part, but it is so vital to our well-being. When we teach our kids the habit of gratitude, they develop positive thinking, have lower stress levels, decrease their risk of depression, and build better relationships.
Here’s a suggestion – before you start eating that family dinner I suggested earlier, take a minute to go around the table and let everyone say one thing they are grateful for. Notice the impact it has on everyone. You can thank me later.
10. Get out of the way
If the world was perfect, we all would have perfect children who do the right thing every time in exactly the way we think it should be done. I mean, we adults are older, wiser, more mature, and more experienced, right? Our carefully colored-over gray hairs are proof that we know best, right?
Hold on there. Take a deep breath. Sit down.
Now, this isn’t a contradiction to my earlier point in setting boundaries. Boundaries are important but having too much control over your children can backfire. Kids must learn to make decisions on their own. If they make a mistake, they must be given the opportunity to learn from that mistake. At some point you will have to trust that your parenting skills will be good enough for your kids to go out into the world, explore life, and show the world the person they can be. And if we, as parents, have done our jobs right, our kids will be good human beings who are kind, caring, and respectful – without us having to hover over their shoulder.
Children are blank slates when they are born; they are born neither good nor bad. As parents, it is up to us to help our children become good human beings. With patience, persistence, and a lot of love, all children can be respectful, kind, and caring individuals.