Raising children is both rewarding and terrifying. Rewarding because you are shaping a child into an adult. Terrifying because—well you are shaping a child into an adult.
When my three adult children were growing up, my goal as their parent was only one thing. It wasn’t to give them everything they wanted. It wasn’t to protect them from their mistakes. It wasn’t to assure they performed academically high or were star athletes—those things were their choices. Every decision I made as a parent was for one reason and one reason only—to raise good humans.
What is a good human? To me, a good human is kind, honest, respects authority, has emotionally healthy relationships, and lives their life with integrity.
I don’t have all the answers. But I have a few that helped me shape my children into good humans. I hope they inspire you as you raise yours!
1. Be your child’s ally, not their adversary.
Traditional parenting (the crime and punishment approach) where the parent makes rules, and if a child breaks one they are punished, is contradictory to raising good humans. Children do well when they can. If they aren’t meeting our expectations, there is a reason. It’s up to us as adults to find out what is getting in the way and help. Punishing, spanking, and yelling can damage the parent-child relationship as well as the child’s feelings of self-worth. Using fear to force compliance isn’t kind. It’s modeling that the bigger, meaner, and stronger person is the one in charge. That isn’t a message we want our kids taking to the playground when they are young or to the streets when they are older. Instead, put the responsibility for your child’s behavior on you, and work to create strategies that help them succeed, rather than punishing them when they can’t.
2. Choose your words wisely.
Every word you say to your child impacts how they view themselves. I don’t mean to lavish them with undeserved compliments. But what I do mean is to be cognizant of how you speak to your child at all times. Of course, genuine compliments are an excellent way to boost a child’s self-esteem, but day-to-day interactions pack a more powerful punch. Not only in word choice, but in the tone of voice, and volume. Yelling, name-calling, and ridiculing a child, even if they have made a poor choice is damaging. Every word you speak to your child should be kind and helpful even when it’s challenging. And it’s a choice. Your words matter. Your words are long-lasting. Your words are powerful to your child so use them wisely.
3. Parent with the future in mind.
As parents, we all want our kids to reach adulthood as unscathed as possible. This means keeping them safe by having procedures in place to prevent them from hurting themselves, or others, and from making decisions that could have negative long-term effects. It does not mean protecting them from the natural consequences of their actions. Quite the opposite. Natural consequences are learning opportunities. If your child repeatedly forgets their homework, and you keep delivering it to their teacher, you are setting your child up to continue to forget it. Instead, let the teacher deliver the natural consequence. Then at home, help your child create systems and procedures to not forget their homework. You’ll teach your child responsibility, respect for authority, and that you care for them. All of which will help them become good humans.
4. You are not your child’s friend. You are their parent.
Once they cross the threshold from child to adult, you will likely be one of your child’s best friends. But until your child reaches that milestone, every decision and interaction should be through your parenting lens. Parents shouldn’t burden their young children by leaning on them with their personal or financial problems. They have their own little lives to live. Instead, you need to be there to help them navigate their world. Additionally, make sure their influences are safe and age-appropriate. Being the “cool parent” that lets their child play video games, watch movies, or listen to music that isn’t for their age range isn’t cool. It’s teaching your child that rules don’t apply to them. Is that the message you want your child to believe once they start driving or if faced with a decision to underage drink or use drugs? They have their entire lives to be adults, protect their childhood by making conscientious decisions that keep your influence as a parent—not a peer.
5. Be the adult you’d be proud for your child to become.
By far the most prominent parenting tool you have is you. Your kids consider you as THE example of adulting. You can’t expect your child to be kind to others if you aren’t. You can’t expect your child to respect authority if you don’t. You can’t expect your child to be honest if you aren’t. Assume your child is assessing your actions as a litmus test. If you lie to a friend to get out of a commitment, then you are teaching your child it’s okay to lie. If you treat people one way in person but talk negatively about them when they aren’t present, you are teaching your child to judge others. It’s not actors, athletes, or musicians who are the most influential role model to children—it’s parents. When you look in the mirror, if you see the reflection of a good human then it’s likely your child will enter adulthood as one as well.
So, there you go. Those are my tips for raising good humans. But remember, everyone makes mistakes—including parents. And when we do, honesty with our children and righting our wrongs with humility and grace shows that we are still good humans and that they can be, too.
Your children will become what you are, so be who you want them to be.Author Unknown