I read an article this morning that outlined the many ways the author felt that parents were creating “entitled and rude” children. This isn’t about one specific article though (such articles are a dime a dozen. If you Googled, “entitled children” you’d have no shortage of results). It’s not even about dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of articles. It’s about this pernicious and widespread belief that children need to be FORCED into being grateful, and generous, and kind…. as if such a thing were even possible.
Is there a problem with entitlement in our society today? Sure, although I’d argue that it’s more prevalent among adults than children. But the answer to the problem isn’t more rules; it’s more connection.
Less coercion; more compassion.
Less demanding; more listening.
Less requiring; more modeling.
If mainstream media is to be believed, the key to raising “good” kids lies in things like strict bedtimes, prompted “please” and “thank you’s”, forced household chores, and making darn sure you don’t buy them everything they want. Many of these articles would be more appropriate advice for an employer/employee relationship than that of parent and child.
What I believe is a
little bit a lot different. And while I can’t speak for any other kids out there, I can speak for my own, who are pretty much the opposite of entitled and rude.
Here then are twelve parental strategies that I do stand behind, every one of which I believe contributes to raising children who are gracious, generous and kind.
1. DO be generous with them. There is much ado made about not buying your children the latest and greatest gadgets, toys, and electronics, lest they become too spoiled. And yes, absolutely, buying “things” in place of your time and attention is problematic. But if we want our children to grow up to be giving and generous to those around them, wouldn’t it only make sense that we are first giving and generous towards them? It’s human nature to want to give to those we love. As parents, we’re in the unique position of being able to give through our time, our presence, our love, and, when circumstances permit it, through the various material things that make life more fun, interesting, and enriching. I love being able to give to my children, whether it’s picking up their favorite kind of juice at the grocery store, or surprising them with a wished-for video game snuck into their Christmas stocking. I couldn’t imagine actually withholding something from my children – or from anyone for that matter – just to teach them some kind of lesson.
2. DO let them see you being generous to others. A popular blogger recently posted a video of herself leaving food for a homeless person. While I definitely don’t think that those sorts of things are meant to be made public, I do think that it’s wonderful – and important – to involve your children in the giving you do to others. Let them see how it’s a part of your day-to-day life. Take them with you when you volunteer. Talk to them about what it means to truly share with the people around you. Show them ways you can bless other people. I am a huge, huge fan of Christmas, and exchanging gifts with loved ones. But for the past several years, my favorite part of the holidays has been deciding who to gift outside of our own little circle, and it is a family decision every time. Kids don’t need to be told, or coerced, or forced into giving to others. They just need to see it.
3. DO treat them how you want to be treated. Sometimes I fear I will sound like a broken record, because it’s something I repeat so often. But mindful and gentle parenting can be summed up in this one little point. If you want your kids to be kind, show them kindness. If you want your kids to be respectful, show them respect. If you want your kids to be polite, show them what it means to be polite. If you want your kids to be generous, show them generosity. So often parents want to demand respect from their kids, without stopping and asking themselves if they’ve even showed them what true respect looks like. As parents, we are the first and biggest influence on how our children treat others. Be nice to your kids, especially if you’re going to expect them to be nice to others.
4. DO be their soft place to fall. Life is sometimes full of foibles and disappointments… from the small (the movie you desperately wanted to see is sold out; you failed your math test), to the major (your long-term relationship ends; you get laid off at work), to the vast chasm in between (you get cut from the basketball team; you drop and break your $600 phone). Over and over I see parents cautioned against trying to “fix” their child’s problems or disappointments. We should let them fail, we’re told, because it builds character. Because they’ll be better for it in the long run. Because they need to learn life isn’t always fair. Well, life isn’t always fair; this much is true. And we can’t always fix everything for our kids. What we can do? We can be there for them, every time. We can be that soft place to land. We can be that shoulder to cry on. We can be the one to give them the time and space they need to process. We can be the one, when the situation lends itself, to help them figure out what to do next. And they, in turn, will become the ones who will be that person for someone else.
5. DO be their friend. Oh what a bad rap that word gets when it comes to parenting! But a friend is simply someone who is there for you. Someone you can trust. Someone who listens. Someone who encourages you, cheers you on, and holds your hand. Someone who gives honest advice. Someone who has seen you at your best, and your worst. Someone who lets you be you, and loves you unconditionally. I will always, always be that person for my kids, with no disclaimers and no apologies.
6. DO let them have a voice. I think that one of the most important things we can do for our kids is to empower them to form their own opinions, forge their own paths, and make as many of their own decisions as possible, so that – among so many other reasons – they know they are valued, they can gain confidence in themselves, and they will have the ability to stand up for what is right. To that end, my kids are always free to say anything to me. They have a voice in this house, and everyone’s voice matters. We don’t operate our home as a dictatorship, but as a TEAM. If my kids are sad or scared or frustrated or angry, I want to know about it! I want to honor it, and I want them to know that we will always provide that safe place for them to express themselves…. no matter what it is they may be in need of expressing.
7. DO listen to them. Let them know that what’s important to them is important to you, whether they’re talking about Barbies or a TV show or a special rock they found outside. Kids generally desperately want to invite you into their world. Accept their invitation! It’s not just important for your relationship right now, it’s also an investment into the relationship that you want to continue to grow stronger and closer into the future as your children mature. “Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” ~ Catherine M Wallace
8. DO spend time with them. At the time of this writing, my children are 18, nearly 15, 11, and 7. I’ve lately been going through the profoundly bittersweet realization that my role in their lives is changing. We still spend time together (one of my very favorite things to do is to go watch arena football games, and it recently occurred to me that one of the big reasons why is that it is something all six of us still do together as a family) We still enjoy spending time together. But it is in a wholly different way than during the toddler years, when I was largely their main companion. It’s a cliche, but those years really do go by so fast. So, so fast! If I could give just one piece of advice to new parents, it would often be: Have the tea parties. Play dress-up. Jump on the trampoline. Get on the floor with the legos and the ponies and the Matchbox cars. Spend hours coloring in the sheet fort in the living room. Play with your kids. Show up, and really be there. One day you’ll blink and they’ll be teenagers, opting to stay home to hold down the fort and take care of the pets while you take the two little ones camping. They’ll start spreading their wings – and it’ll be good! But oh, so bittersweet.
9. DO let them know that extrinsic rewards such as grades, fancy degrees, and big paychecks are not how they should define their worth. We have homeschooled since day one. My children have never been to school, and I have never bought into the system that says that you can measure progress or intelligence or knowledge by a letter grade on a test. My kids – and yours! – are so much more than that. They’re more than a GPA. They’re more than an ivy league school. They’re more than a BMW parked in the driveway. I don’t ever want my children to use any of the above as a yardstick to measure other people, so I’m not going to start by using it as yardstick to measure them. I want them to see the people beneath the fluff. I want them to see the things that you can’t put down on paper. The things that aren’t listed on report cards. The things that matter. I want them to see hearts. Kindness. Generosity. Determination. Strength. Resiliency. Joy. I don’t want them to aspire to be what the world defines as “successful”, but to what they define as successful. They have their own paths, and the best thing I can do as their mother is honor it. Encourage it. Support it. NOT stifle it by trying to manipulate or force them into a box of my own choosing.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
10. DON’T punish them for being kids. Better yet, don’t punish them at all. A writer friend of mine has likened young children to aliens. The first time I saw that comparison, I’ll admit it caused a bonafide head tilt. But the analogy is actually pretty spot-on. Children are brand-new to this planet. They’re learning how to navigate the world. They’re learning how to get what they want. They’re learning how polite society works. They’re learning how to communicate. They’re learning how to handle frustration. They’re learning how to treat others. Our job as parents is to patiently and lovingly stand beside them and guide them and be their partner in learning. Punishing a child who’s still learning (and we’re all still learning) is unkind at best, and incredibly damaging at worst. Instead, work with your child, not against him. Help him problem-solve. A child who is having a tantrum, for example, is trying to tell you something. Lean into the moment and truly listen.
By the always wonderful L.R. Knost:
Discipline is helping a child solve a Problem. Punishment is making a child suffer for having a problem. To raise problem solvers, focus on solution not retribution.
11. DON’T try to force them to be kind or have good manners. I always cringe a little bit when I hear a well-meaning parent chirping at their child with, “What do you say??” when they think a “thank you” is warranted. It feels awkward and embarrassing and – ironically – not particularly polite. If you want your child to use “please” and “thank you”… use “please” and “thank you” with your child. If you want your child to interact respectfully with family members and strangers and waiters and bus drivers and mailmen and doctors, interact respectfully yourself. If you want your children to be generous and kind and patient… if you want them to listen to others, to respect each other’s differences, to be caring and thoughtful in their interactions… show them what that looks like. There is no greater influence in a child’s life (or at least there shouldn’t be!) than the one he experiences in his own home. That’s where it all starts. Let him live it. Let him experience it. The only way a child can pass on loving kindness to someone else is if he first knows what it feels like to receive it.
12. DON’T treat them like second-class citizens. I saved this one for last because it’s at once the most important concept to understand, and for many people the most difficult. Our society has been so ingrained to think that it is normal and okay that most people never even question it. Most people never even see it. Our children are not ours to micromanage, control, or manipulate. They’re not house pets that need to be trained, nor robots that need to be programmed. I always find it so ironic that articles proclaiming to show you how to raise respectful kids often prescribe such blatantly disrespectful behavior on the parents’ part. Children are human beings that we have invited into our lives. They didn’t ask to be here. They are our invited guests. Our job as parents isn’t to shape them or mold them but to love them. Honor them. Respect them. Listen to them. SHOW them what it means to walk in kindness and love. SHOW them what it means to navigate the world with respect for self, and respect for others. SHOW them what it means to be a person of value (hint: they’re a person of value right now. So am I. So are you.)
Parenting well is about love. It’s always been about love. Somewhere along the way the love got lost amongst the rules. The requirements. The rigidity. The idea that our kids are somehow our property, instead of what they actually are: living, breathing, heart beats and souls walking around the earth, deserving of as much respect as anyone else. Except, more respect actually, because they are our children.
Want to raise kids that are loving and kind? Immerse them in love and kindness.