To raise kids with exceptional character, we must allow them the space to be human. We must support them to go through the normal phases of development where they naturally fluctuate between selfishness and selflessness. We need to give them room to grow and refrain from being obsessive over every single move they make, every friendship or love interest they have, so as to allow their life experiences to help shape them. When children feel loved, supported and believed in they develop good character. When they feel trapped, micromanaged, judged, criticized, ignored, bullied and pressured they live from insecurity.
Our children learn to love themselves by how we love them.
1. Person over performance.
The most significant contribution we give our children is raising them to trust they are loved for who they are, not for what they do or how well they perform. They should not feel as if they have to consistently audition for parental love and approval. We need to validate them as worthy even when they’ve made mistakes, and show them, that although we may be disappointed, it doesn’t impact our love for them. When we love our children in this way, they learn to love themselves. When children have developed a strong and genuine love for themselves at their baseline they develop into gracious losers and humble winners.
3. Effort over results.
Our kids are not going to be great at everything. Each will have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. We must raise them to trust their hard work will trump both genius and talent in the long-term. If our kids don’t get the results we or they wanted, but they tried their absolute best, we must have as much pride in them for getting last place as if they had gotten first place. If they gave their best effort, we must parent their effort as the win. This is not to say all kids deserve trophy’s for trying because I believe in the value of rewarding those who earn the win on all levels, but we should not lose pride in our own kids because they didn’t get the trophy.
4. Character over grades.
Getting good grades is important because it gives children something to strive for, it puts a goal with an end result in their future and teaches them to organize their social lives, responsibilities and time. In reality, school is easier for some than others. There is nothing about having perfect marks that makes one kid better than another. What separates good kids from bad kids is not grades, but their character. It is better to have a child who works hard to get average grades, but who is kind, responsible, thoughtful, helpful and loving than it is to have a kid who gets perfect marks, but who is an overvalued, entitled person who boasts about being better than everyone else. What matters, underneath grades, is that we parent our children to put responsibilities before leisure.
5. Quality over quantity.
Entitlement is one of the biggest problems in youth today. They have too much, are not required to earn it, have no concern for others, talk down parents, and feel as if they should have what they want when they want it, regardless of how others feel about it. We must teach our children the value of less is more. Loud, bragging, bullish kids are repulsive by all standards. We want to raise children to earn rewards in a hierarchy so as to build their character. In other words, we don’t want their first car to be a BMW. If that is their first car, for the next car to make them feel happy, it will have to be an even nicer one. It’s best to start small and grow rewards in proportion to their needs and maturity.
6. Inside over outsides.
Beauty is one thing, but it’s not everything. In our image-obsessed society there is a pressure to be ultra- thin, super muscular, to have the right image, the right clothes, the right car, and the right peer group. We must refrain from building our kids into “billboards” that can keep up with Jones’s. We want to raise our children to value who they are internally. We must acknowledge that it is their kindness, their confidence, their self-assuredness, hard-working, responsible, giving, humble and mature nature that makes them beautiful.
7. Self-respect over popularity
When we treat our children with respect, they learn to respect themselves. We must raise our children to know their boundaries so they have an idea of where they stop and others start. Knowing boundaries helps them maintain their individuality under social pressures. Their Yes must be a Yes and their No a No. This means we also need to respect their differences from us. We must encourage our children to stand for themselves even if means losing something. When we raise our children to be perfect and popular, are overly invasive and meddling in their lives, we raise kids who are in danger of losing themselves. Our kids become less concerned about who they are in any given situation because they’re more caught up in trying to figure out who they need to be, or what they need to do to maintain a certain status, image or appearance.
8. Collaboration over competition.
When competition or Being The Best is overvalued, it’s destructive. Just because a kid may be performing well, doesn’t mean they are happy or have it all together. They may be performing well out of the fear of losing support, freedoms or acceptance. The last thing parents should do is compare one sibling to another, labeling one as “easy” and the other “difficult.” The creates a golden child vs. scapegoat dynamic, keeping siblings from ever being able to genuinely connect with each other. For children to be healthy, parents have to be on their team, show tremendous flexibility and create an environment where love and the acceptance of differences override competition and fear-based, cruel comparison tactics to push their kids to succeed. We must raise our children to be who they are and to support each child as having a unique and valuable purpose. Our children must know they are one of a kind; that there is no comparison.