Raising good kids is the main game we’re all in, right? I’d love for my kids to be international human rights lawyers who speak seven languages, play concert-level stringed instruments and volunteer to tutor underprivileged llamas in Nepal – but at the end of the day, good kids are what I really want.
But we’re inundated with messages of what our kids should and shouldn’t be doing. Don’t let them have too much screen time. Teach them how to use technology. Don’t give them pocket money for chores. Teach them to be good with money. Don’t let them out of your sight. Teach them to be independent. Aargh! I can’t take the conflicting messages!
Luckily, Harvard scientists have put their heads together and come up with the five things parents should be doing to raise good kids. They’re basic but they’re massively important. Five things? Pffffft. I can do five things!
If you want to have a crack at the five things too, here they are:
- Spend quality time together. You had to know that would be one of them, right? Quality time means not watching TV or answering emails at the same time. Those scientists are talking about genuine mindful interaction. You can do this by:
- asking them about their day and really listening to the answer
- reading books with them and engaging with the story
- play games with them
- take them out to do some of your favourite activities together, where you get to spend periods of time talking, such as fishing, playing golf, picnicking, or bushwalking.
- Be a strong role model. Yep, that “do as I say, not as I do” routine won’t work here. Soz. Provide a strong moral compass for your kids, and talk about right and wrong, as you see it. Live to your principles and talk about why you make certain decisions. And don’t be afraid to be wrong. It’s important for kids to see you being open to learning and growing from your experience, as they should do as well. You can achieve this by:
- apologising to your children (or others) if you’ve hurt them or done something wrong – and do your best to make up for it
- talking to your kids about what you’ve learned from your mistakes
- taking time out for yourself and practise mindfulness so you can be truly present with your kids.
- Teach your child to care for others. This is a tough one, because we’re always telling our kids we want them to be happy. Which is true, of course. But those Harvard Scientists say, “It’s very important that children hear from their parents and caretakers that caring about others is a top priority and that it is just as important as their own happiness.” That means teaching them to do the right thing by others, even when it’s hard. You can do this by:
- changing the message we tell them from “the most important thing is that you’re happy”, to “the most important thing is that you’re kind and happy”
- encourage your kids to consider the impact their actions will have on others. So before they quit a team or let someone down, ask them to see if they can find a way to work it out. It might not be successful every time, but practising that awareness is a positive move.
- Show your child to practise gratitude. Those scientists say that it’s crucial for children to gain an understanding of the role others play in their lives – and to appreciate those contributions. People who practise gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving – and those are traits I’d love to see in my kids when I enter old age. You can help them by:
- encourage your child to say thank you for things they’re grateful for
- show them how to accept thanks gracefully, which will also encourage them to show you gratitude more often
- model grateful behaviour for your children by thanking them, and others, who contribute to your life.
- Teach your child how to focus on the big picture. It’s normal for children to limit their focus to just those people in their immediate circle: close family, and a handful of friends. But it can be helpful for them to shift their focus outwards and include people from outside that circle – especially those that may need help such as a new student at school, or one who is just learning to speak English. You can help them do this by:
- encouraging them to consider who around them might need a bit of extra help, and praising them when they recognise or assist someone who needs it
- giving them practical ideas of how they might help someone who needs it
- talking about the hardships that some people suffer all over the world to give them some perspective on their own situation and their responsibility to help by modelling the behaviour you’d like to see in them by reaching out to people in need yourself.