We all know that tall buildings are built on strong foundations. Right? And we all want our children to be ‘skyscrapers’ in terms of human values as well as worldly success. Nothing wrong with that. All parents want it all for their kids. Then why is it that we so often neglect the ‘strong foundations’ requirement? How often have we seen kids being bratty, spoilt, and a general pain, while their parents resolutely look the other way?
Perhaps the pressures of contemporary lifestyles make it too much of an effort for most parents to tackle kids’ behavioral problems or other problematic character traits. Sometimes it is the joint family dynamic that makes it tough for a parent to tackle the child’s issues. “They’ll learn as they grow older. Don’t ruin their childhood”, is the usual refrain. But here we’re not talking about babies under two-three years. At that stage, a child is almost impossible to reason with. But once they hit three, it is high time we start laying foundations for their growth, and if we don’t, it is they who pay the price for our inaction.
However, there is nothing that makes a child run away quicker than a planned ‘preaching’ or ‘lecture’ session. In this regard, everyday conversations are an excellent way to weave in important life lessons. There is something almost every day that can be used as an opportunity to teach your children about values—an incident in the news, something you or your children do or observe someone else doing. These can make great on-the-spot lessons.
Not for nothing is honestly said to be the ‘best policy’ – not just the best value, but also the best policy. A large part of everyday dilemmas result from our tangled webs of half-truths, deceptions, and lies for ‘social’ or ‘practical reasons that have become a part of modern lives, and which the kids imbibe without even realizing. However, a person who is able to be honest, no matter what, has a great advantage. Once having faced the unpleasantness of telling the truth in a difficult situation, he is free of it.
To give this value to kids, the first thing to remember is ‘practice what you preach’ because children rarely do as you say, and surely do as you do! They learn from seeing how you treat them, overhearing your interactions with others and observing what you do in different situations throughout the day. It is simply no use teaching them honesty and integrity if they see the elders around them behaving differently.
Respect ranks a close second after Honesty on the list of desirable qualities. Besides being a pain to deal with, a disrespectful person also ends up blocking out a lot of positivity and good relationships. Disrespect can often be a result of disillusionments about parents suffered in childhood. Children can be highly critical and judgmental of adults’ behavior, especially since they are constantly being told by them what to do and what not to do. So, the next important step is to ‘apologize when you make mistakes’ and make them see from an early age that parents are human too. Not only is it important to acknowledge your own shortcomings, but also to apologize to your children for your mistakes. This shows them that you value and respect their thoughts, perspectives, and feelings. And by doing this you are also modeling respect towards others, and accepting responsibility for your mistakes.
One of the biggest blunders we tend to make as parents is trying to make things easy for our children, especially when they make mistakes. A neighbor’s broken window, a complaint note from school, a poor score on an exam—all children go through these. Our job as responsible parents is not to go and smooth things over, but to make them face the music—chores at home to pay for the broken window; a promise to the teacher not to repeat the offence; confiscation of certain privileges if bad scores persist despite promises of improvement—are just some ways that children can be made to take responsibility for their mistakes.
One of the most effective ways of teaching children consistency and perseverance is to not let them give up anything halfway. This is especially important in our times, with increasing instances of children demanding privileges, such as expensive coaching in academics or sports, gym programs, dance and music classes, etc. which they give up halfway when it gets tedious and the glamor wears off. We need to make it clear to them at the outset that once they start something, they will have to see it through to its completion, or pay a pre-decided penalty. This will encourage them to take decisions carefully, take responsibility for their decisions, and to persevere.
Encourage your children to help others whenever they can. This could be through simple acts of thoughtfulness such as making a get-well card for a sick friend, befriending a shy new kid at school, and helping a neighbor or elders at home. This is great training for traits like generosity, kindness, compassion, and respect, as well as good experience in how satisfying it is to help others.
It is human nature to crave approval and love, especially from parents. Children are especially vulnerable in this area. A child who receives applause for good behavior and achievements from its parents is highly likely to grow into a loving, gentle, affectionate human being, able to forge fulfilling connections and relationships, both in personal life and in the workplace.
7. Good Reading Habits
This is easier said than done in this age of audio-visual media and with the markets flooded with easy-to-read trashy books. This is where childhood training comes in. Studies show that children who have been read to or told stories as kids are much more likely to break out of bad reading and viewing habits and adopt good character-building tastes.
In the final analysis, you need to use the time you have with your kids very wisely. Make sure you build time into your schedule for consistent, quality, face time with your kids—while they're still kids.