Teach Your Children

Today is Sunday, May 12, 2013.

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
–Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”

I never had any kids of my own, but as a result of my experience as a public school teacher dealing with other people’s kids, I have come away with a laundry list of things I wish parents would teach their kids.  I realize that parents do not get a manual for parenthood that they can read in advance, and that most people do as well as they can.  I also realize that some parents fail to teach their kids certain things because their own parents never taught them.  When we dealt with a kid who was disrespectful, we often found, on talking to the parent, that the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree, after all, and the parent was often even more disrespectful than the child.

responsibilityI wish more parents would teach their kids to take responsibility for their actions.  I can’t tell you how many times one of my students said, “I wasn’t doing anything,” when I caught them misbehaving, or how many parents supported their children claiming that something wasn’t the child’s fault when it clearly was.  Of course, that would mean that the parents would have to take responsibility for their actions, too, which is not always the case.  I also noticed that parents over-reacted to things that their kids did, which ended up teaching the kids not to admit their mistakes for fear of severe physical punishment or humiliating verbal abuse, or both.  Teach your kids that everyone makes mistakes, and that a lot of our mistakes can be fixed.  Teach your kids that you won’t hurt them if they admit their misdeeds.  That doesn’t mean you won’t punish them.  It means that the punishment will fit the crime and that you are able to demonstrate to your kids that you love them, no matter what they have done.

do-for-themselvesI wish more parents would teach their kids to do things for themselves.  As a teacher, I saw my share of reports and science projects done by parents.  If they thought they were fooling me, they weren’t.  I knew what the child was capable of from watching him or her in class.  Teaching kids to do for themselves also means teaching them to solve their own problems and get out of jams by themselves.  It’s OK to be there as a last resort, but don’t rush in to solve your child’s problems for him, or you may end up having to bail your kids out again and again, long after they pass the age of consent.  Sure, it’s hard to watch kids fail, but if you let them do small things by themselves and then talk to them about what they thought they did well and what they could do better next time, they will perform much better on the big things.  The late syndicated advice columnist, Ann Landers, once wrote, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.

Teaching kids to do for themselves also means teaching them to clean up after themselves.  Wash the dishes and tidy up the kitchen after a cooking project.   Sweep up bits of paper and glitter, wash glue off the table, and put scissors and crayons away after an art project.  Put toys away when playtime is over.  If you clean up after yourself, you kids will learn to clean up after themselves.

brushing-teethI wish parents would teach their kids basic hygiene. I cannot count how many times a male teacher came up to me and asked me to talk to one of his fourth, fifth or sixth-grade girls about her body odor, or how many times I asked a male teacher to do the same about one of my boy students.  Kids should be taught to brush their own teeth and comb their own hair.  They should be taught to decide when clothing is too dirty to wear again and to put it in the laundry pile.   I feel for the homeless parents who advised their kids to try washing their hair in the sink at school, and the parents who were too poor to buy their kids more than a couple of sets of clothes.  I remember one girl, in particular, who wore one of two sweatshirts all year.  I remember taking pictures of kids at the beginning of the year, then looking at the pictures later in the year and realizing that the child was wearing the same thing that he was wearing when the picture was taken.  Still, if you’re going to invest in anything for your kids, invest in a toothbrush and a comb for their hair.

compassionI wish parents would teach their children compassion for others, and how to treat other people, animals, and the earth with respect.  When children are treated with respect and compassion, they are more likely to treat others that way.  Parents can give their kids opportunities to do things for others, whether it is adopting a pet from a shelter, contributing to a worthy cause, helping out with a bake sale or yard sale for charity, or volunteering with you at a local food shelf.

Teach your kids not to put others down for any reason, especially if they are “different” from everyone else.  Teach them to stand up for their friends when other children try to bully them.

readingI wish more parents would teach their kids to read.   Actually, the school can teach them to read, but you should model reading for your kids.  That means you have to have a book you are reading.  Talk about what you are reading with your kids and ask them about what they are reading.  Have family reading time when everyone, including adults, can read in a quiet setting without distraction from TV.  Start with only 15 minutes a day, and work up to 30, 45, and 60 minutes.  When kids are at about a fourth-grade reading level (no matter what grade they are actually in at the time) they begin to read independently, but continue to encourage your kids to ask you about things they don’t understand.  Monitor what they are reading.  Take them to the library regularly and make sure they have their own library card as soon as  possible.   With very small children, read to them as often as you can, or have one of your older children read to the younger ones.  Later, have your child read to you and help them with the words they don’t know.  You may wish to have a family read-to time once a week or so, and let the older kids read a favorite book to the whole family, even if it takes several sittings.

But beyond the actual skill of reading, teach your kids to question facts, opinions, and ideas.  Teach them that just because something is on paper or on the web doesn’t necessarily make it true.  Teach them to consider the source of information and to evaluate the trustworthiness of sources.  Your kids may question you, too, and you may find yourself having to justify something you did or said.  This is hard, but if you are wrong and can admit you are wrong, you will gain your children’s trust and respect.  Thank them for keeping you on your toes.

planting-treeI wish more parents would teach their kids to honor the earth and to be environmentally aware.  Teach them not to litter.  Teach them to pick things up and throw them in the trash, even if they are not the ones who threw it on the ground.   Teach them to leave a light footprint on the earth.  Teach them to recycle and reuse things.  Teach them to choose products made of environmentally sustainable products.  Teach them to garden and to plant trees.

saving-moneyI wish more parents would teach their kids to save and use their money responsibly.  Parents who buy their kids whatever they ask for when they ask for it fail to teach their kids about working for what they want, even if it takes a while to save the money.  Should you let them spend money on frivolous things?  Sure, make a lesson out of it.  Talk to your child later about a purchase he or she made that was a mistake.  Get the kids to figure out and verbalize why they wanted it in the first place, and what they realized after they took the item home.   Talk about ways to avoid making purchasing mistakes again.   Make your kids work for money by doing chores around the house.  Teach them salable skills such as yard work or how to fix a bike so that they can parlay their skills into cash.  If you garden, have your kids grow things in the garden and sell the produce to neighbors.  Let your kids set up a lemonade stand or a stand to sell their gently used books to others.  Let them have the money you get for their old stuff when you have a yard sale.

Some of the most beautiful words about raising children were written by Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese writer, in his book, The Prophet.  Each chapter in the book is written in the form of a short lecture by a “prophet” or teacher.  The following is from the chapter, “On Children.”  (This is good advice for teachers, too.)   🙂

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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