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Important Lessons for a Child to Learn
And Tips For Teaching Them

Tammy Cox, LMSW

LESSON #1. Repair their mistakes instead of making excuses, blaming someone else, covering up or lying; take responsibility for their own actions.

The major reason why children don't learn to repair their mistakes is punishment or fear of punishment. If a child expects to be punished when they make a mistake, they will try to do anything they can to avoid taking responsibility. As adults we still sometimes do the same things. What usually happens when an adult is caught speeding?

Instead of punishing children for making mistakes, we suggest parents take this approach: "I see you made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. How will you handle it?" If this is done in a nonthreatening and loving manner the child will be far more likely to start thinking in terms of repairing mistakes and taking responsibility for his own actions.

LESSON #2. Make and keep commitments so people can count on them.

The best way to teach children to make and keep commitments is to model it for them. If you always handle your commitments to them with integrity, they will learn to do likewise. When we break our commitments to our children we are really teaching them that our word doesn't mean much so theirs needn't either.

We suggest the following; writing dates you make with them down on your appointment calendar and handling them just as you would any other important meeting, offering a makeup when you fail to keep a commitment and holding them accountable when they break a commitment in a loving, nonpunitive way.

LESSON #3. Communicate their feelings effectively.

What we resist, persists. All too often children are told they shouldn't be feeling what they are feeling: "Oh you don't really hate your brother", "Don't be sad", "You have nothing to be angry about", "Stop crying!", etc. We start this when they are tiny infants when we jiggle them, pat them on the back, bounce them or shove a pacifier in their mouths every time they start to cry, etc. All these "feeling stoppers" are subtle ways of teaching children that it is not OK to feel. Either the child becomes more persistent and expresses the feelings for a longer period of time or stuffs them. Carried into adulthood, this inability to appropriately communicate feelings can create real distance and other problems in relationships and there is always a risk of exploding at some point when the feelings can no longer be stuffed.

Recognizing and acknowledging a child's feelings, lets him know that all feelings are OK. When all feelings are accepted it is much easier to teach appropriate ways of handling the negative ones. Once again, modeling is very important.

LESSON #4. Ask for what they want instead of whining, manipulating, threatening or having temper tantrums.

Children continue to do what works for them. If they have learned that they can get what they want by whining, manipulating, etc. they will continue to use those methods. The one thing that sets this up more than anything else is the way we tell them "no." All too often we tell them "no" in a way that says it is not OK to ask for what they want. The underlying messages are that they should know better and that they are not important enough to have what they want. And, many times we tell them "no" just for the purpose of making sure they know we can control them.

We suggest teaching children more appropriate ways of asking for what they want ("Please use a different voice."), saying "no" in a fun, loving way and saying "yes" as often as possible. Children are far less demanding when they know that you really want them to have most of the things they want. Avoid telling children that you can't afford too often, which instills in them a sense of scarcity and limited possibilities. Instead encourage them to create the money to get it for themselves. Also avoid using the "maybe, later" excuse, which to a child, usually means never.

LESSON #5. Be internally motivated to succeed and learn value of giving 100%.

Children are never motivated to be the best they can be by fear, intimidation and humiliation, nor by inappropriate praise. Encouragement, which builds internal motivation, is always far more effective. To distinguish between encouragement and inappropriate praise, check your intention. If your intention is to get the child to keep pleasing you it is an external motivation. Instead look for ways to acknowledge the child so that he feels good about himself. This can be done by saying things like, "You must really feel good about that", etc. Avoid comparisons, which set up competition, and teach children to enjoy the process; doing instead of out-doing someone else, etc.

LESSON #6. Be able to handle failure, learn from it and continue to take risks.

If children are punished or made to feel bad when they have a failure they will focus on those negative feelings rather than on the lessons to be learned from the failure. We suggest viewing, even celebrating, failures as valuable learning experiences. With this approach it is much easier to continue to take risks and look at ways to do things differently in the future.

LESSON #7. Manage conflict without hurting others and create win-win solutions.

The ability to negotiate win-win solutions is one of the most valuable tools a person can have. We can best teach it to our children by being willing to negotiate win-win solutions with them. If we were raised with an autocratic style of parenting (and most of us were -- to some degree, at least) we did not learn good negotiating skills. It is important for children to know that we want them to win - and that we want to win too. With this approach we can negotiate until we all feel like winners. At first this may take a little time, but eventually it will become so natural that it will happen almost automatically and there will be fewer power struggles.

LESSON #8. Handle problems as they occur so relationships are fun and loving.

Many times children will not say what's bothering them for fear of hurting us, being punished or losing our love. Instead they swallow their resentment, letting it build and fester which makes it impossible to have a fun and loving relationship.

If we teach our children that our love is unconditional - that there is nothing they could say, think, feel or do that would make us not love them anymore, they will feel safer in handling problems as they occur.

It is evident that in order to teach these lessons to our children we need to use different tools than those handed down to us by our parents. It is also important to remember that the role model you provide is the strongest and most valuable lesson of all. Actions really do speak louder than words and children follow our examples much better than our orders.

This article copyrighted by Tammy Cox, 2002

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