Hello Bloom readers, thank you so much for having me! I’m Steph, mom of 2 1/2 year old C and 11 month old S and founder of Modern Parents Messy Kids. I’m so excited to be here today writing about intentional parenting. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things that I want to teach my children and how and when to do so.
Before you’re a parent it seems like there will be lots of opportunities to sit your children down and bestow the words of wisdom they’ll need to be successful and happy in life. Once you actually are a parent, you realize that teaching your children isn’t done during a perfect Hallmark moment - it’s done with your words and actions day in and day out.
With that in mind, I sat down and created a list of the things I most want to teach my children every day (you can get a free printable of my list at MPMK here). I’m going to share with you my thinking behind each of these items and I would love it if you’d share with me what values you’re trying to instill in your children and how you go about doing so in your busy lives.
My intention was to do this all in one post but it started to get a little long-winded so I decided to break it up into two parts. Today is the first installment, numbers 1 - 6 of the the top 12 things I want to teach my children:
1. That They Matter
Isn’t this a parent’s #1 job? To give children a safe and secure place in the world where they’re free to discover their strengths and to find what gives them the most joy in life. And consequently to find out how they can use these things to make meaningful contributions to the world? I know all that sounds a bit grandiose so let me put it in more simple terms.
Every day I try to truly see my children - to get down on their level, look them straight in the eye and really listen to what they’re trying to tell me. Of course I don’t always succeed, my New Year’s resolution was to spend just one hour a day giving my full and complete attention to each of them. Every time I remember to pause for a minute and do so, I validate my kids and send them the message that they are important and what they think and do matters.
2. The Only Real Rewards in Life are Intrinsic
As I said, my son is two right now and, as many of you know, trying to get a two year old to do what you want can be a very frustrating task. There are lots of methods (all of which I have tried at one time or another): bribing, threatening, pleading. In the end none of them work for long. What it comes down to is that children (and adults) need to be intrinsically motivated.
Sooner or later my kids will figure out that external rewards won’t make them happy. True contentment comes from setting goals and accomplishing them, not from making lots of money and buying lots of things. So instead of bribing them with treats or threatening to take away toys, I try to explain the consequences of their choices. Again, this isn’t always easy but I do the best I can. One resource I’ve found to help me in my efforts is this fabulous eBook.
3. To Be Grateful
In today’s reality-TV obsessed culture, kids are exposed more and more to a world of entitlement and materialism. I want to make sure my children know how lucky they really are - to make sure they’re aware of the many people in the world who have much, much less then they do. I want them to grow up to be global citizens and contributing members of society. One way of doing this is by getting them involved in volunteering early in life. I’ll admit, with a baby and a toddler, this is an area I haven’t made much progress in yet. But this post has me inspired to try harder by pointing out the smaller things you can do with young children.
4. To Do Unto Others...
The golden rule, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” is a powerful and easily understood message for children. It teaches both empathy and consideration. And going back to the theme of “intrinsic rewards”, I want to teach my kids that doing for others ultimately gives you as much (or more) than it gives others.
5. Happiness is a Choice
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that being happy isn’t about being lucky and having everything go your way - it’s a choice that we make each and every day. It’s a lesson that I’m still learning myself so I’m not entirely sure how to teach it to my children. But I think one way is to dispel of the notion of “fairness”.
My kids are still young so I’ll admit that I’ve barely even entered the realm of “she got more than me - that’s not fair”. But I’ve heard of many families who go by a motto of “you get what you get and you’re happy to have it”. I know that won’t always be easy, I know there will be jealousy and tantrums. But this also goes back to the notions of being grateful and intrinsic rewards. I truly believe that my children will ultimately become happier adults if I can find ways to teach them this lesson now.
6. I Love Them NO MATTER WHAT
This is the no-brainer on the list, right? Every parent wants their children to know they love them. I tell my son I love him so much that he’s made a game of it. He often says to me, “Mommy, you say ‘I love you’ and I say ‘I love you' back". Of course it takes more than words, it takes hugs and kisses and lots of attention.
One thing I’m working on right now is how to convey the “NO MATTER WHAT” part of the message. I try to remember to tell him I love him when things aren’t going great. After a tantrum I might say that he made me sad by screaming but that I always love him. It’s a message I’m still working on how best to convey but I feel if I lay the groundwork now it’ll pay off later when they make the bigger mistakes that are part of growing up.
Wow, that’s a lot more writing than I usually do at MPMK. I hope you were able to stick with me for all of it. And please realize that this is a post about what I strive to do as a parent, on my best days. There are plenty of times that I fail miserably but trying to do better is a lesson in itself that I model for my kids. As I said, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my list and your own and thank you again so much to Bloom for having me!