Any good parent wants their children to grow up to be caring individuals who make the world a better place. As with most accomplishments in life, this is easier said than done. However, raising a morally just child is perhaps the most important and rewarding experience a parent can have, and the effort required in order to do so is absolutely worth it. Parents who want to raise caring, moral children should:
1. Spend time with them
This should be a no-brainer, but today’s busy world makes it incredibly difficult to find the time to just be with our children. Because these moments are so scarce, it’s important to make the most out of every second you have with your child. Learn about their interests, their fears, their hopes and dreams. The Harvard Graduate School of Education suggests parents “plan regular, emotionally intimate time with (their) children.” In other words, don’t just assume that being around your child is the same as spending time with them. Take time to understand what motivates them, and monitor how they treat their friends and peers. Use every second you have to impart the knowledge and wisdom you wish you had growing up. And do this before they’re teenagers and don’t want anything to do with you!
2. Be omnipresent in their lives
I always joke that, at 30 years old, my mother still knows what I’m up to at any given time. But it’s because she was incredibly involved in my life when I was a child. She kept in touch with my friends’ parents and my teachers, and would always volunteer to chaperone at school functions. This isn’t to say she was overbearing, but she definitely always knew what I was up to. Because of this, I grew up being a naturally moral being who has respect for the world around him. As parents, it’s important to make sure your child knows you’re never too far away, and you’re always available when needed.
3. Teach them how to handle emotions
Everyone goes through tough times in their lives. It’s how they handle these situations that determines the kind of person they are. Children experience a variety of emotions that they may or may not understand. Harvard suggests we “pay close attention to whether you are practicing honesty, fairness, and caring yourself and modeling skills like solving conflicts peacefully and managing anger and other difficult emotions effectively.” Instead of just letting your kids “deal with” whatever situation they find themselves in, help them identify their negative emotions, reach the foundation of their problems, and work through them in a productive way. Once they recognize their ability to cope with negative situations, they’ll be more likely to face them head on in the future.
4. Make gratitude routine
Being grateful goes beyond saying “please” and “thank you,” and shouldn’t be done superficially. It’s customary to leave a tip at a restaurant, but it’s possible to show true gratitude by seeking out the manager and pointing out just how great a job your server did throughout your meal (in addition to a tip, of course!). Those at Harvard believe we should “encourage children to express appreciation for family members, teachers, or others who contribute to their lives.” Parents should model gratitude and helpfulness every chance they get, whether it’s by donating to a shelter, or buying a coffee for a homeless man outside a convenience store. Your children will live by the example you lead, so it’s important to set a good one for them.
5. Practice and reinforce empathy
Along with gratitude, it’s also important to teach your children to be empathetic. This goes beyond simply “feeling bad” for someone, but actually putting yourself in their shoes. Everyone knows the Golden Rule, but the Platinum Rule is much more important: Treat others as they want to be treated. Teach your children not to just assume how someone wants to be treated, but show them how to actually see from various perspectives. Teach them not to judge others as if they know where they’ve come from, but rather help them understand that not everyone comes from the same walk of life, and everyone has had their own unique experiences in this world. By doing this, your children will grow up treating every person they meet as they should be treated: a unique individual.
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