What can parents do now to prepare their kids in the right direction towards thinking for themselves and making good (or better) choices? Experience tells us that prudence can be realistically achieved not at seven (age of reason) but by the age of eighteen.
Spanish educator David Isaacs, PhD suggests that parents lay the foundation for prudence by instilling four good habits during the first seven years of life. Namely: obedience, sincerity, order, and justice. He believes that these four habits are needed in the progressive development of other good habits within the next three phases: charity and fortitude (courage) in elementary level (8 to 12), faith and temperance (self-control) in adolescence (13-15), and hope and prudence (sound judgment) in young adulthood (16-18). Furthermore, those who have these virtues will naturally find happiness and human maturity, he concludes.
A loving but firm parental authority exercised in each home prevents domestic chaos – clutter, sickness, hunger, shouting, violence, disrespect, and rebellion. Imagining chaos in infants and toddlers may seem tolerable, but when we project this in adolescents and grown-ups with a voice, a choice, and plenty of muscle… no one wants to end up the loser. Young children must learn to obey their parents’ reasonable demands (not mere trivialities), but they also have to hear kind simple explanations to common rules, situations, and events.
It is through a consistent, regular, and clear communication of the parents’ pleasure or displeasure, approval or disapproval, happiness or sadness toward ideas, words, and/or actions that children begin to experience and understand the value system of their family. This value system will be validated, respected, or rejected in later life based on the methods used, attitudes absorbed, emotions attached, and information gathered from home, school, or elsewhere. Inconsistency will easily confuse inexperienced young minds, which have not yet learned the purpose of life.
Sincerity (telling the truth at the proper time and to the proper person) must be practiced at home. The children must imbibe it in the context of helping loved ones to improve (out of charity and justice). Children will likely be more confident in this type of home environment and prefer it to a contrary one.
It will be difficult for the good and true to be embraced by those who grow up with lies and end up with bad habits (or vices) and muddled criteria. If they turn cynical and become individualistic – instead of accepting their vital role in the success of their own family, as well as the larger community – they delay their own chances for true and lasting happiness. And no parent consciously wants this to happen!
Thus, it is critical for parents to expose their family members to reliable criteria and genuine good (not mere apparent good), so that they can encourage their children’s potential abilities to know the truth and to love good. This is done using two of their more important, separate, but interlinked powers of the intellect and the will present in the soul of human beings, making us all accountable.
The third habit of order provides the family, especially the young children, a sense of predictability and stability because procedures are followed and many things are done properly at their place and time. Nothing ruins a child’s equilibrium more than disorder – in his caregiver, his schedule, his bed, and so on. Even parents need order to maintain their own well-being and sanity. Note that a lot of affection is more effective than reasoning in making sure family members get along well.
The young inherently value justice because of their natural demand for parental time and love, in competition with siblings, work, and other distractions (to a child’s mind). They are ready to understand the importance of fairness in what is due them (or others) in ordinary circumstances. Adults are expected to apply rules and sanctions equitably lest children rebel and defy authority figures and rules.
Children must get the message that life makes sense, rules make sense, and consequences make sense. They need to see things as they are over what they seem, and be able to choose a path that will lead them closer to universal values, or their ‘true norths.’
When parents speak with young children, alone or as a group, they must establish eye contact and/or hold them at close range, preferably at eye level, to maintain warm direct communication and rapport. It may be necessary for mothers and fathers to bend over, squat or kneel; or put down the newspaper, telephone, or cooking pan as well.
In addition, a calm soothing tone of voice is preferred when giving instructions, and a firm serious one for reprimands. Smiling or laughing when children do wrong, and indifference or anger when they do right, goes against the proper formation of good criteria and good habits. The goal is: a clear mind and a strong will.
In small doses, at an early start, both mother and father can provide daily cues to their children about essential distinctions between fact and opinion, important and urgent, cause and effect, problem and solution, family and friend, male and female, public and private, right and wrong, rights and duties, life-threatening and life-saving, eternal and temporal… the list can go on. At times, it may be necessary to consult the right sources before making any decisions and following these through. Slowly, both parents and children understand their value system and communicate on the same level.
Finally, a most important daily habit worth fostering until old age is self-reflection, answering the following three questions: What did I do right? What did I do wrong? And what can I do better?
Self-Esteem: Your Child’s Armor Against Danger
As parents, we fear the worst for our children. We see an imperfect world, where strangers and circumstances can discourage, frighten, harm, or endanger our little ones. But kids need not be plagued with thoughts of a dangerous world, and parents shouldn’t feel the need to create a protective bubble around them. The best defense is to empower kids with a boost of confidence and how-to-deal skills when facing possible dangers.
Self-esteem is the collection of beliefs or feelings that we have about ourselves, or our ‘self perceptions.’ How we define ourselves influences our motivations, attitudes, and behaviors, and affects our emotional judgment.
Self-esteem includes other qualities, such as self-confidence, pride, independence, self-reliance, and self-respect. Experts say we develop our self-esteem during childhood, and it constantly evolves as we are shaped by the different social interactions and experiences we go through.
Enhancing a child’s self-esteem is the first step to ensuring his or her right to personal safety. Keeping children away from physical harm is only secondary. Programs have been developed to teach children self-protective skills, and families recognize and respond to potentially unsafe situations. Children who are conscious of their self-worth feel good about themselves, pulling out all the stops to any sign of threat or danger. Moreover, self-esteem develops the same positive communication skills and attitudes, which children could pass on to the next generation.
A child’s self-esteem is based on a positive relationship with parents and eventually teachers. Parents can foster that can-do attitude in their children with a “Wow!” or a “That’s great!” every time they accomplish a feat. These positive comments form children’s first concept of success, which ultimately leads to a healthy self-perception.
But praise and positive reinforcement alone will not make children feel better automatically. Providing them with lots of love, care, and understanding is equally significant. Children who are happy and confident may still experience low self-esteem because they do not feel loved. Likewise, children who are loved and pampered at home may still feel inadequate and incompetent, thus ending up with low self-esteem. Hence, a balance of both should be present.
Delivering positive messages and engaging in constructive communication lead to a healthy self-perception. Try these time-tested tips to enhance your child’s can-do attitude.
1. Limit the “Don’ts” to the barest minimum.
State your requests positively. Too many negative words in your sentences will only lead to a child’s self doubt.
2. Let kids complete their sentences.
Avoid interruptions, as these disrupt their train of thought or make them forget what they’re saying. Otherwise, they’ll feel as if their ideas are insignificant and not worth listening to.
3. Establish eye contact.
Be a good model of conversation by giving kids your full attention. This communicates that you are interested in what they are saying, and that you are stressing a noteworthy idea, as well.
4. Take turns in the conversation.
Agree on who speaks first, and who speaks next. It is important for parents to encourage kids to verbalize their ideas and feelings, but to also wait for the go signal to speak. Children should be able to understand that if people talk all at the same time, they will end up understanding nothing.
5. Keep a calm, uncritical, and non-irritable manner when explaining.
Keep your “speech” concise. Use language that kids will easily understand, explaining to them what they need to do, and why they should or should not do it. Speaking in a calm tone also keeps panic from rising within them.
6. Criticisms should still be present.
We should also take notice of shortcomings or misbehavior as we see it or learn about it. Explain why an action is not acceptable, and allow kids to think of ways to avoid doing it again.
Facing challenges and rising from them is a way to help strengthen a child’s spirit. Though parents would prefer to totally shield their children from threats and hardship, doing so would cause as much damage. And let’s face it: Adversity is inevitable. But training our children to become prudent and intelligent thinkers is a surefire way to protect them from possible harm.
An effective method to hone children’s thinking skills is to practice what if scenarios with them. Children need to feel as if they have discovered why they should avoid potentially dangerous circumstances. Parents can engage in a dialogue with their kids. It’s important to let them think for themselves, to foster their problem-solving skills. Parents shouldn’t dictate the solution, but rather, allow kids to answer first, and then guide them unhurriedly to every possible avenue.
We can’t control what our children do every minute. But we can help them think, early in their lives, about what is and what is not safe, so we can trust them to take responsibility for their actions and to make safe decisions now and as they mature.
Here are some possible danger scenarios, plus pre-emptive tips:
Bullies pick on kids who are often alone, shy, quiet, and look like they can’t stand up for themselves. Kids become victims of bullies because they have a very poor self-concept, believing their own dignity and self-worth are unimportant. What’s worse is that most bullied kids are too afraid to tell their parents – either because they are scared their parents will think they’re weak, or because they think their parents won’t do much to rectify the situation.
What You Can Do
To help kids deal with bullying and prevent them from becoming bully victims, teach them the lesson of reciprocity. Help them realize that relationships are reciprocal, and that they should treat others as they wish to be treated. They will come to realize that people act as they do for many different reasons. Asking children questions that pay attention to their and other people’s feelings also helps. These questions include:
- Why do you think bullies need to pick on others?
- Do you have another reason?
- What do you think a bully is feeling or thinking?
- How would you feel if a kid bullies you?
- What can you do or say if you’re being bullied?
By fostering a climate of empathy at home, children learn the value of self-worth – for themselves and for others. According to child experts, you should let your child know that he or she has a right to insist that others treat him or her with respect and dignity. They are not to tolerate cruelty of any form, whether in real life, in the form of nasty jokes on sitcoms, or in other forms of entertainment.
“Don’t talk to strangers” is not necessarily the key. We cannot expect our kids to do this if we adults break this rule every time – in the grocery store, waiting in line at the movie house, or even in school. Children should know that most adults they encounter are basically good people. Often, these “strangers” are actually people who can help kids in case of emergencies.
What You Can Do
Teach kids to pay attention to their instincts. Parents should tell their kids to listen to that voice in their heads; if they don’t feel safe or they feel it’s not right, they shouldn’t go through with it. We need to give children safety nets of people they can go to if they need help, such as uniformed law-enforcement or security officers, a store salesperson with a nametag, the person in an information booth at a mall or other public venue, or a mother with children.
Next, describe the proper way to handle a stranger. A common ploy for abduction attempts are for strangers to pretend that they are a friend of the child’s parents, and that the parents – who are either sick or injured – asked them to pick the child up on their behalf. To help children deal with this particular situation, let them run the scenario in their heads, then ask them the following questions:
- What do you do when a person you don’t know says mommy or daddy asked him or her to pick you up from school, and that you should hop into the car?
- Do you run to your teacher, the principal, or the security guard?
- What do you do if the stranger grabs you?
- What do you think is the safest thing to do while waiting for mommy or daddy after school?
- Do you stay with your teacher in the classroom or the principal’s office?
Should a stranger grab your kids, children should be taught to run for help and scream, kick, make a loud noise and keep yelling something like “You’re not my mother!” or “You’re not my father!” More importantly, teach your child from a very young age why he or she should never go anywhere with any adult, without your permission, whether that person is a stranger or a friend.