Children hear everything – even when you don’t want them to. They are always listening to the way we talk to our friends, how we speak to figures of authority, what we say when we were certain we were alone, and how we talk to our spouse or partner. They pick up on the tones in our voices, our body language, and how we react to good or bad news. Whether we realize it or not, our kids are going to mimic us out of habit, and that can be a good or bad thing depending on what kind of day you’ve been having.
The point is that our children look up to us in order to learn how to react to the world around them. It’s our job to give them the tools they need to survive in the world on their own. The world doesn’t owe them anything, but it does respect hard work and perseverance. We have to teach them the value of doing the right thing and give them the tools to be able to make good choices on their own. I want my kids to grow up and achieve their goals! Not everyone is given a fair shot in life – you have to make it happen for yourself.
When kids whine that they want this new toy, or they deserve an allowance, it’s our job to gently but firmly step in and tell them “no.” They first need to learn to be grateful for things that we do give them in life. Unconditional love, never ending forgiveness, a safe home, three meals a day, clothes, shoes, and the occasional toy are all things that we as parents do owe our children. It’s the extra things that pop up day to day that we do not owe them, and we shouldn’t feel guilty for enforcing that.
1. You don’t have to reward them every time they listen to you. But, you do have to thank them when they do.
You don’t owe them a toy, a candy, or a happy meal just because they lasted an entire shopping trip without misbehaving. You should tell them that you are so grateful for their wonderful behavior today, and you can’t wait to share the story of how good they were at dinner later. If they say something like, “What do I get in return?” The correct answer is “nothing.” They obeyed you and did what was expected of them. Life isn’t going to give them extra gifts just because they showed up to work on time or paid their taxes before they were due. These lessons should start early, and while an occasional reward is fun, your children shouldn’t be well behaved because of the stuff they might get later.
2. You don’t have to automatically pass your child onto the next grade. But, you do have to help them learn to work harder moving forward.
Your child needs to learn that homework, projects, quizzes, and tests are all important in school. A few bad homework grades can negatively impact your overall grade. If they fail a class or somehow manage to fail a grade, don’t go to the school and demand that they be passed on. If they haven’t learned what they need to learn, explain to them the amount of work that they will need to do to catch back up. Whether it’s summer school or extra projects, help them to understand what is happening and why it happened in the first place.
3. You don’t have to give them every thing that they ask for. But, you do have to teach them to be patient.
If they saw a toy on television, or their neighbor just got a really cool game, don’t go out and buy it as soon as they ask for it. If you have an allowance system in your house, help them learn how to save their money until they can afford the item for themselves. If you don’t, set up a series of extra chores or tasks that will help them to reach their goal over time. Teach them to be patient and to place a value of things that they want and to learn how much work they are willing to do for it.
4. You don’t have to let your children win every argument. But, you do have to teach them how to admit when they are wrong.
When one of my kids does something wrong, their first instinct is to blame their behavior on someone else. “I only did it because she pulled my hair!” Or something to that effect. It’s important to encourage your children to take responsibility for their actions and to admit that they were wrong. It’s okay to be wrong, but it’s not okay to be rude or disrespectful. This is a constant lesson in my house, but hopefully they will all learn that I don’t care about who is right or wrong, I care about who is apologizing and trying to do the right thing once they’ve done something wrong.
5. You don’t have to tell them that they are the best player on the team. But, you do have to encourage them to keep practicing.
When your child is upset because they aren’t getting enough game time, don’t blame the coach for not seeing how perfect your child is. Talk to them about how they want to improve, and help them reach that goal. If you need to help them practice by tossing a baseball at them for 30 minutes extra a day, do it. Help them to see that hard work will get them where they want to go in life – not blaming someone else.
6. You don’t have to buy fast food every time you take them out to run errands. But, you do have to teach them that it’s okay to treat yourself.
Just because it’s been a long day of running errands or visiting relatives doesn’t mean that we always get drive thru fast food on the way home. Sometimes, we have to eat leftovers or make sandwiches. They might not understand what a budget is, but they should understand the concept of a special treat. It will make those times you do pull up to a drive thru all the more special and exciting.
7. You don’t have to prepare a 5 course dinner every night. But, you do have to provide healthy, balanced meals.
You aren’t a chef, and you don’t have a menu from which everyone may choose different items. You should make sure to cook a good meal every night (and if you don’t, order in something tasty!) but don’t change your cooking just because one child doesn’t feel like eating something else. Your children need to respect the fact that you cook for them every night, and when they are older, teach them to help prepare the family meals instead of complaining about them.
8. You don’t have to keep their rooms spotless. But, you do have to teach them to respect their possessions.
You are not a maid. You may clean their laundry, keep the bathrooms clean, and fold their clothes, but it is your children’s job to keep their rooms tidy, not yours. You also don’t owe them rewards for keeping their rooms cleaned or allowances when they’ve done their chores. Keeping the home clean and functional is an important lesson to learn, and your children should know to take care of their things on their own.
9. You don’t have to fund their popularity. But, you do have to teach them that true friends care about who you are on the inside.
If you find yourself buying clothes, notebooks, and accessories for you child because it’s what their new friends use, take a second and think about what you’re doing. If their new friends only care about what they wear and what they buy, they might not be true friends at all. You need to teach them that sometimes, having one or two really good friends is better than having a whole group of friends that might not be that sincere.
10. You don’t have to let your child win. But, you do have to teach them to win and lose graciously.
When we play games with our children and they don’t want to just play for fun, it’s important to keep score and demonstrate gracious winning and gracious losing. They need to learn how to react when they are on the losing side of a game and vice versa. They should never take joy in someone else’s defeat, nor should they feel bitterness towards someone else’s win. Competition is a healthy thing, and when children learn to compete fairly, they will go farther in their everyday lives as adults.
These are tough lessons for children to learn, but as long as we are consistent in our actions, our children will have the tools that they need to make good choices as adults later on in life.