Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Raising the Next Generation

It seems that every time I turn on the news, I see a story about our children suffering.  Whether it be bullying, gun violence, abuse, neglect, or poorly educated, none of it is acceptable.  Sending your child out into the world is a scary time these days.  I know I felt very anxious about our son starting kindergarten for many reasons.  Outside of the danger of his allergy, I worry about how he will be treated by others.  It breaks my heart to hear him come home with stories about being hit or kicked or being left out.  I understand that there are many tough lessons that all of my kiddos will have to learn, but the reality of it all doesn't make it any easier.  While some incidences are "normal" childhood behavior, there are many that are not.  It is our job as parents to start turning this around.  We can be responsible for our kiddos and hope that they can lead by example.  These lessons start at home and who best to learn from than us?  Remember, it takes a village!

The "Golden Rule" at our house is to treat others as you wish to be treated.  Whenever one of our kiddos does something to hurt another, one of the first questions they are asked is, "How would that make you feel if ___ did that to you?"  Once they've answered, they are promptly sent to time-out to think about what they have done.  Once the timer goes off, they are to apologize to the offended person and most of the time a hug is involved, too (though that's voluntary!).  It seems simple enough, but it's a good life lesson and one that they will time and time again.  As they grow older, I hope that they will take the time to stop and think about how their actions will make others feel.

We also believe in using good manners.  Even before they can speak, our kids are taught "please" and "thank you" using baby sign language.  In our home, we expect our kiddos to be polite when asking for things, we also do the same for them.  While we are firm in our directions, they are usually prefaced with a please and if they have followed the direction, they will receive a thank you.  We work hard on these manners at the dinner table and hear a lot of, "You're welcomes" coming from the kiddos, too.  When they are done eating, they must ask to be excused from the table.  Even our little guy uses all of these manners.  It makes us proud as parents to hear compliments from others on how polite our kiddos are.  We feel that this is important and instills a sense of respect in them.

These skills seem easy to teach.  It involves repetition, capitalizing on teachable moments, and leading by example.  To truly make a change in this world, though, we need to teach our children to be compassionate and empathetic, to tolerate and accept others' differences, to think of and help others, and to simply be kind and generous people.  Helping our kids achieve these qualities will take a little more work!

Once again it seems that the best way to teach these skills is to be a role model yourself and to surround yourself with people who display these qualities.  If one of our kiddos is crying, we encourage the others to ask if they're okay.  Now it is a natural response when they are around other children their own age and they're crying.  It is very heartwarming to see them pause and go check on someone.

Holiday season is a wonderful time to teach children the importance of helping others.  There are always opportunities to provide food, gifts, and basic necessities for those in need.  Now that our kiddos are a bit older, I like to bring them along to help with the purchases and discuss what we're doing.  If you don't have extra money lying around for these causes, you can always donate your time.  By modeling the importance of these type of activities, we are truly teaching our children to be compassionate, kind, and helpful human beings.

I feel like one of the hardest issues to tackle is teaching our children to tolerate and accept others' differences.  In this day and age where bullying is so prevalent, we need to really work with our young children on this issue.  I know that I fear that our son will be bullied for his peanut allergy, as it is all too common now since there seems to be a "target" on his back.  For some reason many parents who don't have a child with a peanut or nut allergy view the precautions taken to keep children safe in such a negative way and this rubs off on their children.  Before you become angry because your child's school has adopted a peanut and nut-free policy, step back and think of the reason why these measures have been taken.  These children can die from ingesting the smallest bit of a nut.  This is a perfect example of teaching tolerance and acceptance and it starts with the parents.  Kids pick up on everything and their ears are always on.  If you are speaking poorly about others because of their differences, your children will adopt this mentality as well.  It's a hard habit to break, but take a step back and put yourself in someone else's shoes.  We all want our children to be treated with kindness and respect.  This starts in the confines of our home.  Do we as adults model this behavior?  Are we tolerant and accepting of others?  If not, it's time to get to work.

It seems like we live in the era of go, go, go.  We are always running from one activity to the next trying our best to make sure that our children have it all, but in the end is it worth it?  When I was young, this just wasn't the case.  We didn't even start playing sports until we were eight!  While I am all for my kiddos exploring their interests and trying new things, I do not want to spend our evenings and weekends running from activity to activity.  Together we will prioritize what is important to them at the present time and give that a try.  If they enjoy the activity, then we will continue it, but if they do not enjoy it, once the session is over we will be done.  At this age, I feel like it is much more important to sit down and have a meal together several nights a week, focus on schoolwork, and get a good night's rest than spend our time running around, eating in the car, and being tired and unprepared for school the next day.  I know not everyone will agree, but I feel that while our children our young, we should enjoy them and not be terribly stressed about where we are going and all that we have going on.  I want us to be able to spend time as a family and truly appreciate these moments that we have, because soon they will be gone.  Our kids are only kids once!  Maybe getting back to slowing things down and spending more time as a family unit will help our children in the future.

While I understand that not everyone will share the same values that I have, I hope that we can all agree that something needs to change for our children.  Growing up we all dealt with being picked on and made fun of, but it feels like kids these days have taken it to another level and it saddens me.  Life seemed much simpler back then.  I went to school, came home, played, did my homework, enjoyed a family meal, spent time with my family watching tv, reading, or playing a game, and went to bed.  I didn't feel like I was constantly on a clock rushing to complete everything.  This is what I want for my kiddos.  I want them to feel loved, appreciated, respected, and important.  Perhaps if they feel this way, they will be happy and able to overcome the hardships they will inevitably encounter.  It seems like a hefty challenge, but I am up for it!    


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