We live in a world rife with self-centeredness, don’t you agree? It’s hard to pinpoint where the blame lies, but I’d say it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how do we fix it? I say we all (and by ‘all’ I mean the 30+ age group) go back to our childhood when we were taught actual manners. There was no “selfie culture”…no social media for that fact. Don’t get me wrong, social media can be great. It enables us to stay in touch with family and friends virtually (pun intended) instantaneously. That really is great. But it also lends our culture to a previously unknown level of self-absorption.
I have a few suggestions that I held firm to while raising my kids…they worked. As is my theme, start early! It pays off in the end.
Please and Thank You
I know this seems pretty intuitive; please and thank you’s have been around awhile. But I’m also talking about within the family, not just when the kids are out in public or at the elderly aunt’s house. When you’re out and about, it’s easier (I think) to set expectations for your kids because you are usually more attentive to the little things. I speak here of the everyday, mundane interactions between you and the kids and between siblings (especially when they think no one is paying attention…read: you have to always pay attention) Pay closest attention in the early years because if you parent well in the early years, your job is 100 times easier in the later years. You will have kids that respect each other and you. It’s worth it.
Listen up here, this is a big one (see what I did there?). Teaching a child to stop what they are doing and look at the person talking to them is a skill that will take them far in life. Think of the times, in-house or out in public, that you were in a situation where you felt that you were not listened to. Maybe the other person doesn’t even look up when you speak to them. It’s poor people skills, by which I mean it’s rude. It says,”What I’m doing is more important that what you have to contribute.” Now, sometimes what they are doing may very well be more important, but there’s no reason not to acknowledge a person, even if it is to say, “Wait just one minute while I finish this…”. You can start this training at home.
This is HUGE, and it may seem similar to #2. As an adult, when someone speaks to you or asks you a question please tell me when it is acceptable to completely ignore them. I have not found that time or place yet. Why do you let your kids ignore each other or you? Once you let it go unchecked, they think it must be ok.
It’s not, ever.
Take the time to explain that it’s about honoring that person, even if you disagree with what they are saying. I know, that seems like a lot for a three-year-old to understand, but don’t be fooled into thinking that a three-year-old doesn’t already know exactly what they are trying to get away with. There’s a theory out there that kids are inherently ‘good’. That’s baloney. They may be really cute, but kids are inherently self-centered. They want to get their way, they don’t want to share their toy…the list goes on. My point is that they need to be trained to respect others.
Uh-huh, sure you are. This is another big one, but it’s on my top 10 list, so I guess that makes sense. When kids are arguing and they get called out on the fact that they are in the wrong, they usually get, wait for it… angrier. Don’t you, at first? As an adult, though, you hopefully have the skills to reassess the situation. Maybe go cool off for a minute or two and think logically about the argument. You, as an adult, have the maturity to see the other person’s point of view. Kids don’t have that skill built in. It needs to be taught. You have to have a consistent plan in place for these instances and follow it through, every time. Eventually, they will understand how to handle themselves, but it’s not overnight. It takes time(ugh, there it is again).
Finish what you agree to (no quitting!)
You know that feeling when you’re playing a game and luck is just not on your side? It takes all your adult-ness to just finish the game, and finish it like an adult. That happens pretty much every day when you have kids.
Now I get it…they’re playing nicely. You have a chance to relax for 10 minutes. Why get involved? That’s a great point and often you don’t have to get involved. But, equally as often, it doesn’t always go smoothly to the finish. “I wanna be done…” says the one, obviously, who’s coming in last. That’s when it’s important to step in. The child who is losing the game invariably wants out and that is understandable. But it’s not right, and it’s not fair. So set parameters. “You agreed to play this game, and I get that it’s not going your way, but you still need to finish and finish nicely. Let’s make a compromise…” The idea of compromise is a great skill. Have them agree to play two more rounds… or fifteen more minutes… or each player gets 5 more turns. You get the idea, teach your kids that walking away from something when it’s not going their way is a terrible trait to bring into adulthood. Their adult peers will thank you.
Learning each other’s strengths
I still need this training on some days. It’s so easy to always see your side of things and assume your side is right. Just look at the world we live in, right?
I have two daughters, Bridget and Kelly. They are two years apart, Bridget actually being older, but Kelly thinking she was older. With that dynamic, as you can probably imagine, there were conflicts. Invariably one would come to me completely aggravated at the way the other was handling something. This could be anything from cleaning their room (which they shared…more on that later), how they played together to how they homeschooled. It was my job to make sure Kelly understood all the things that made Bridget great, and for Bridget to see all that was great about Kelly. They didn’t need to agree on these differences, they just needed to see them and respect them. Still a tall order, but with time and consistency (there are those words again, I know…it’s getting repetitive. It’s supposed to be), a very manageable parenting task. Again, worth the effort. Sending kids off into the world that are empathetic to other people’s differences make good adults.
This ties into #6 because nobody is getting it all right, even the parents. We’re human. We get self-absorbed. Unfortunately, when it comes to kids, they’re allowed to be self-absorbed, but it doesn’t need to be this way.
“Oh, you know how teenagers are.” is a phrase I have heard 6,384,837 times. It’s very awkward because I was adamant from the beginning that I would not EVER subscribe to that idea. And I didn’t. That doesn’t mean they’re robotic, or worse, doormats. They have just been taught to think of others and respect others and listen to others. In short, they are aware of themselves and others. When my kids were toddlers I did a very simple thing. If they wanted a drink or a snack, I had them check to see who else in the room wanted one. Then I poured, and they served. I would hand them the cup of juice and say, “We serve others first.” That’s it. Short and simple. Let their little brains soak that in. When they hear it over and over, it’ll make a difference.
Remember when I inferred that kids are inherently self-absorbed once or twice? Yeah, I still believe that. As babies, they are supposed to be that way. It’s your job to meet all their needs. But as babies go, they only really have needs. Then they become toddlers. And they figure out that they have wants… and when they want something, they want it now. And yes, they’re cute. So were mine. But when they start thinking they can interrupt anything that you are doing, it very quickly gets not cute. And that’s a short hop to bratty and unpleasant. Teach them to wait quietly for your attention. They stay cute longer this way.
Learning how to interact with adults
I have had many, many comments on this one over the years. Maybe because I homeschool and homeschool kids are supposed to be less socialized. That’s not a homeschool thing, it’s a parenting thing. You can make your kids look people in the eye. You can also make them shake hands! (and please teach them not to have a dead fish handshake; future employers will notice) It takes practice and reminding, but I haven’t encountered the adult who isn’t willing to participate in the ‘teaching moment’ you are trying to achieve. Again, it makes a difference!
Ok. This one may seem a little odd and it is definitely one to start very early on. When you see kids playing with toys in a way that they are not intended, it’s a very slippery slope to your kid being the out of control kid on the playground. Seem like a leap? Not as much as you would think. The kid that is kicking sand and banging trees with sticks may very well have been the kid that was banging a toy car on a window or pulling off all the paper wrappers from the crayons without ever coloring. I know I probably sound a bit tyrannical here, but I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years and observing other kids for just as long.
So these are my top 10.
Believe me, I have more. I’m an opinionated person. Feel free to agree or disagree.