Some might argue that one of the greatest roles in life is that of parenting. When we leave this earth, our children may be the most important legacy that we leave behind. We are given the opportunity to nurture and mold a part of the future. This is a weighty responsibility, but it can prove to be extraordinarily fruitful. Luckily, we have centuries of guidance and research that we have learned from, and we are able to build on our techniques throughout each generation.
Listen, don’t tell
As parents, we spend a lot of our time telling, teaching, scolding and correcting our children, which are a part of our role. However, there are a lot of things that we can learn from our children. According to psychologists, it is important to spend at least one hour a week doing something positive with your child where you do not offer criticism, alternative perspectives, arguments or advice. Instead, simply listen, observe and provide positive feedback. This ends up taking only .5 percent of the time in your week to actually improve their brain development (specifically in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays a major role in cognition).
Many parents take a parenting approach that prioritizes their child’s success over his or her consideration for others, resulting in future apathy and even selfishness. Empathy and kindness should be a top priority within the household, and you should be comfortable holding your children to high moral expectations. Instead of using statements like “as long as you’re happy,” try switching them to “as long as you are kind.” Be sure to remind your children that they should outwardly show respect and care to their elders and their peers, no matter how they feel at the moment.
Make time-outs effective
Do not be hypocritical or elusive about punishments. Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., a Yale University psychology professor says that “A way to get time-out to work depends on ‘time-in’—that is, what the parents are praising and modeling when the child is not being punished.” The punishment should be immediate and brief so that the child associates it only with the specific misbehavior. That being said, time-outs are only one way to discipline, so be sure to have a variety of disciplinary actions prepared based on the type of misbehavior to avoid overusing any of them.
It is important that children understand themselves as part of a global community within which they observe that their actions have consequences. At an early age, children should develop an awareness and understanding of those in different lifestyles and cultures. Encourage your child to express gratitude toward everyone in their lives, including the garbage man or waiter. Gently urge them to show kindness to a new student who feels left out, or a child hurt on the playground, expressing how much their kindness may have helped the person. At your discretion, you may also want to discuss the tragedies and struggles of other children around the world to give him or her a more globalized and cultured perspective.
Don’t praise all good behavior
Your children should not expect a reward every time they are kind. Some acts of kindness and care should be taught, and once they learn them, these acts should be expected. Help them to learn that gratitude is praise enough to do something good for someone. So when they help out around the house without being asked, a warm “thank you” should encourage them to continue that type of behavior. Only provide reward and praise for unexpected and unusual acts of kindness and giving.