Any parent headed home with their first child is probably a bit nervous about this whole parenthood thing. You really want to raise good kids, but unfortunately, each unique baby doesn’t come with its own manual.
Whether you shop local or go to Amazon for parenting help, hundreds of books offer different perspectives on the best way to raise good children. In spite of the many approaches, however, a group of Harvard psychologists found that it really boils down to some very basic strategies.
1. Spend time with your children.
It’s often tempting to be in the same room with your child as they play with toys or a computer while you check email or social media. That isn’t what the researchers are talking about. Engage them in play, look into their eyes and read a book with them. Learn about their friends, find out what they think about school and that sort of thing. By doing this, you’re teaching them how to show care for another person and that they are a priority to you.
2. Model the behavior you want to see.
It’s easy to have one set of expectations for children and another set for adults. In some cases this makes sense, but when it comes to teaching your children, they are like sponges. They take in all you do. Everything from how you care for yourself and let others talk to you, to how you deal with a difficult personal situation or how you handle anger teaches them right from wrong and what it means to be an upstanding citizen. When you model the behavior you want to see, it is a powerful thing.
3. Show your child how to care for others and set high ethical expectations.
Children believe the world revolves around them. When you involve them in caring for others, especially people who are different from you, they learn they will not always be the center of attention and that all people matter. They also see what it looks like to share with others without being selfish.
Even the little moments can teach your child about being an honest and ethical person. When the cashier gives you too much change and you return the money instead of keeping it, they see. Or when your child sneaks something in their pocket after you said they couldn’t have it and you make them return it and apologize – that’s a teaching moment.
4. Teach your child to be appreciative and grateful.
Parents usually start with please, thank you and you’re welcome. Giving your child age appropriate chores and thanking them for doing their part also teaches them about appreciation and gratitude. Teaching them how to write thank you notes and to think about others’ feelings and needs is also useful.
5. Teach them how to see beyond themselves.
Find ways to show them a world beyond their family and close friends. Help them appreciate differences in ethnicity. Talk with them about other places in the world, rituals, customs, living conditions, etc. By doing this you are expanding their world.
The children in the Harvard study thought their own happiness and self-esteem was really important to their parents. Instead of being overly concerned that kids are always happy, you can emphasize how to be kind to others in their world, whether it’s the bus driver, the Walmart greeter or the referee at the sports event. Focusing on these things will help you raise children who are caring, kind, courageous and responsible.
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 26, 2017.