Arguably, it’s the joy of any parent to have children that would exhibit good morals, be respectful, polite, generous, trustworthy, compassionate and bring honour to the family, but interestingly, these traits do not just come to them by chance; they are nurtured and taught.
Also, the task of raising children seems to have somewhat become more taxing with what children are exposed to – like Internet – and the unavailability of some parents, especially mothers, who are drawn away from home due to job demands.
But, given the prevailing rate of juvenile delinquency and the compelling need to raise morally upright children, here are some tips to help parents in raising children they could be proud of, in terms of character:
Lead by example: The popular saying that children learn from what they see and not only what they are told brings to mind an incident that happened in California, United States, about three weeks ago.
A 16-year-old boy “fatally” shot and killed his father, Javier Vera, 54, in a bid to defend his mother when she was being physically abused by his father. The incident happened at the family’s residence in Fresno. The boy, who later called the police to report the incident, reportedly said his parents were involved in a verbal argument that Saturday, which later escalated into physical fight and that his father allegedly began to choke his mother, which made him to shoot his father dead. Parents who wish to raise children that are well behaved are advised to show by example.
A parenting expert and child and family therapist, Meri Wallace, said in her post on Psychology Today that apart from setting clear and reasonable limits for their children, parents should model their own values, so the children could learn from them.
She said, “If you want your child to be respectful, treat them, your family and the neighbours respectfully – they are watching. If you want them to be honest, never lie to them. If you want them to be responsible for their actions and apologise, then you must apologise to them when you make a mistake. If you say please and thank you, they will learn to be polite. Your child loves you, so they will identify with you and behave as you do. Your ideas will become theirs, and guide their behaviour.”
She stressed that setting such an example would help them to behave positively, ask for things rather than steal, caution others rather than look down on them and report bad behaviour rather than suffer in silence.
Understand that they’re going through a process: It is not abnormal to have certain expectations of children, but according to Wallace, there are times parents should understand that the children are passing through a phase and it would require time for them to learn to do what is expected of them. She explained that disobeying certain rules does not necessarily mean they are determined to be immoral but because they are sometimes guided by their impulses and that it is difficult for them to gain control over such impulses.
She said, “The truth is, you can relax. The reason your child is still engaging in this behaviour is developmental, not because of a lack of moral fibre. They are just not emotionally mature, as yet. Young children are often egocentric. They are guided by their impulses and wishes, so they will have a hard time if you ask them to stop jumping on the couch. They are having too much fun. Even older children display similar behaviour.”
Thus, she advised that parents should not be harsh at all times. She added, “Around the age of five or six, children have developed a conscience – which is actually an internalised set of rules that you have taught them. Initially, they adopt your rules to please you; later on, following these directives becomes a part of who they are.”
Teach them to prioritise caring for others: According to a research by a child and family psychologist at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Richard Weissbourd, parents pay more attention to the happiness and achievements of their children than whether they care for others. In an article on Washington Post, he advised that parents who want morally upright children have to deliberately raise them to be.
He said, “Children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, like deciding to stand up for a friend who is being bullied. Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. So, instead of saying to your kids that ‘the most important thing is that you’re happy,’ say ‘the most important thing is that you are kind.” According to Weissbourd, kindness to others brings happiness on its own.
“Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry,” he added.
Allow them to practise showing care: According to a famous quote by Hungarian-Jewish-born American mathematician, Paul Halmos, the best way to learn is to do; the worst way to teach is to talk. This underscores the need for children to, in practical terms, contribute to other people’s lives, which according to Weissbourd, will help them to be happy, healthy and better persons.
He said, “Children need to practise caring for others, contributing to others’ lives and expressing gratitude to those who care for them. Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbours and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.”
Help them to think beyond themselves: It’s almost natural for children to care for only family members and friends, but Weissbourd advised that parents need to encourage them to learn to care for people outside that circle.
He said, “Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress. Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable, like comforting a classmate who was teased and use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.”
Teach them how to manage anger: It’s never a bad thing to be angry, but according to experts, what is important is how it is managed. Weissbourd advised that parents need to teach their children how to cope with negative feelings.
He added, “Here is a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practise when your child is calm. Then, when you see them getting upset, remind them about the steps and go through it with them. After a while, they will start to do it on their own so that they can express their feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.”
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