10 Small Pieces of Parenting Advice with Big Impact
I’m still a young millennial without any parenting experience, but I’ve taught young children, and I’ve noticed that parents are extremely busy and find it hard to raise their children, let alone develop their children’s sense of respect, responsibility, humility, and trust.
I recently studied the guidelines that Confucius had for young children. These guidelines were taught to young children in ancient China and have been passed down for thousands of years. I’ve picked out 10 that I think are low-hanging fruit for parents and for my own future reference. I hope you may find some of them useful.
Here’s the list:
1 Set a good example with your behavior.
As the saying goes, kids don’t do as you say, they do as you do.
If you tell your kids to go study, and you’re sitting on the couch watching TV with your feet on the table, what will your kid think? Dad’s telling me to go work hard yet he’s being lazy. That’s not fair. I want to watch TV too.
If you tell your kids to clean their room, yet your room is messy with clothes lying around, what will your kid think? If Mom and Dad have a messy room, why can’t I?
If instead, you are reading quietly, your children will naturally go read their books too.
If instead, you have a neat room, your children will naturally keep their room clean too.
2 Praise effort, not results.
Let’s say your child gets 100 on his math test. What do most parents say? That’s my son! As smart as they get!
What does the child learn from such a comment? I’m smart. Other people who got a lower score than me are not smart. I’m smart because I got a high score. His classmate only got 70. He thinks lowly of his classmate. In the future, your child gets a 70. Suddenly, he feels not smart anymore.
Let’s say instead, the parent says, “Wow son, your efforts really paid off! You got 100! Keep up the good work.” The son learns: It’s important to work hard. Good results will come with hard work.
Then next time, the child gets a 70. The parent says, “I saw you work hard son. I’m proud of your effort. If you keep up your hard work and work together with your teacher, I’m sure you will improve next time.” Again, son learns: It’s important to work hard. Good results will come with hard work.
3 At the meal table, don’t give food to the child. Give food to your parents or spouse instead.
Let’s say you’re at the dinner table with your spouse, your child, and your parents. What do adults like to do in such a situation? They like to grab some food and put it on the child’s plate. Maybe they use chopsticks to grab some food from a communal dish, or maybe they cut a piece of steak on their own plate and give it to the child.
What does the child unconsciously learn from this small act? Wow, I’m important. Everyone should serve me.
Let’s say instead, you get food for the grandparents instead. The child sees his grandma smiling when his mom grabs food for her. What does the child learn? Grandma is happy when mom gets her food. I want to grab food for my mom too.
If grandparents aren’t there, then you can grab food for your spouse. The child sees mom and dad smiling and when they grab each other food. What does the child learn? Being considerate of others brings happiness. I want to grab food for my parents too.
4 Assign chores (AKA responsibilities) to children from a young age.
Some parents tell their children that all they need to do is focus on their studies and get good grades; Mom and Dad will take care of everything else. What happens as a result? The child has a high chance of becoming entitled and irresponsible.
You might be thinking, “Is it really that serious?” Let’s think about this. If you do all the chores for a child, will the child feel gratitude for your hard work? No, because they’ve never experienced the hard work of doing chores. So they take your efforts for granted. If one day, you’re really tired and you ask your son to clean the house, he’ll think, Why should I? That’s your job. Besides, I don’t even know how to clean the house.
Let’s say instead, you assign responsibilities to children from a young age. For example, you explain to your son: Everyone needs to contribute to the housework because we all live here. Mommy and Daddy buy the food and cook the food, so you can wash the dishes.
What will the son think? That sounds fair. I want to contribute to the group too. He learns the importance of contribution. And by doing chores around the house, he comes to appreciate the different contributions of Mom and Dad too. If one day, you’re really tired, and you ask your son to clean the house, he’ll think: Mom and Dad have worked really hard at their responsibilities. I want to work hard to help out too.
5 When you tell your child to do something for the first time, tell them to have you inspect the job at the end.
So you’ve decided that you’re going to develop your daughter’s sense of responsibility and gratitude by having her wash the dishes and wipe the tables after dinner everyday. The first night, you do it with your daughter, showing her how to do it. The second night, you let her do it by yourself while you go off to the living room to relax. You see your daughter quickly finished and then went to watch TV. You go to the kitchen to find that the dishes weren’t properly cleaned and the tables weren’t properly wiped. What went wrong?
We have to teach children that every task must have a proper ending, and that proper ending is to have an adult inspect it (In the future, they’ll naturally realize that the natural ending for a task at work is to have their manager inspect it). After they’ve proven their ability to do the task properly, then you don’t need to inspect it anymore.
6 Don’t abandon principles when children throw a tantrum.
Let’s say you’re at the dinner table, and you tell your child to eat more vegetables. The child refuses, saying they don’t taste good. You go on to explain that Mommy worked hard to cook these vegetables, and vegetables are good for you, and it’s important to eat a bit of everything on the table/plate. The child stubbornly refuses with a bad attitude. What do you do?
Many parents will let the child do as she pleases because they don’t want to deal with the child throwing a ruckus. What does the child learn? I’m the boss. I can do whatever I want. People have to yield to my desires.
Let’s say instead, that you say to your child, “I can see that you don’t want to eat the vegetables because you think they don’t taste very good. In this household, we care about respect and health. If you don’t eat your vegetables, you are disrespecting Mom and Dad and you are not being healthy.”
Hopefully, after hearing a clear message like that, the child will eat her vegetables. But let’s say she decides to test how much power she has by throwing a tantrum instead. What now?
Many parents might succumb and say, “Alright, alright, you don’t have to eat it. Stop crying.” What does the child learn? If I really want something, all I have to do is cry loudly.
What’s the alternative? We can punish the child, but we must do so wisely and not out of anger.
7 End punishments with the child admitting his/her wrong.
A common mistake parents make with punishments is they don’t end the punishment with the child admitting his/her wrong.
Let’s continue the example above, where the child starts to throw a tantrum. Let’s say the dad gets angry and says, “Go to your room. No more dinner for you”. What is the dad hoping to teaching the child? Respect and health are important. What does the child actually learn? Dad has a bad temper.
What can the Dad do instead? He can say, “Go to your room. No more dinner for you.” The child cries and goes to her room. Then the mom can go to the room and tell the child, “Daddy loves you, and he is hurt that you don’t respect him. Tell Mommy what you did wrong and we can go talk to Daddy together.” Once the child admits what she did wrong, she’ll learn that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we admit them and fix them. She also learns that she can’t use tears to get what she wants out of people.
8 Keep your word.
Let’s say you are about to go out, and the child is making a ruckus about wanting to go out too. You say, “Stop making a ruckus! If you stay at home and behave well, I’ll let you eat cake for dinner.” The child happily complies.
Later, it’s dinner time. Do you give your child cake for dinner?
Let’s say you don’t. The child says, “Mom, Dad, I was well-behaved today! I thought I get to eat cake for dinner!” Then you say to the child, “I changed my mind. Cake is not healthy. You have to eat proper food first.” What does the child unconsciously learn?
1. Mom and Dad might lie to me to attain their goals. I can’t trust everything they say is in my interest.
2. If Mom and Dad might lie to me to attain their goals, then other people might too. I have to live in a state of fear.
3. It’s okay for me to lie to attain my goals. Everyone does it.
Those are big consequences! So we must be very careful about what we say. Whatever we do say, we must do our best to keep our word.
9 Nip bad habits right from the start.
Let’s say it’s a hot day, and Grandma brings some fruit up to your son’s room for him to eat. The son is immersed in his video game. When Grandma says, “Here, I brought some fruit for you,” the sons replies, “Not now. I’m busy.” It’s the first time you’ve encountered such a situation with your son. What do you do?
If you let your son be, then what will he learn? I’m the most important. Other people have to yield to my demands.
So you tell your son, “She is giving you fruit and you show such disrespect. Apologize to your grandma.”
Let’s say your son stubbornly refuses. Then, grandma says, “It’s okay, don’t worry about. It’s a hot day.”
What do you do now? We have to nip bad habits as soon as we see them. Otherwise, it’ll only get more troublesome in the future.
So you tell grandma, “I apologize to you for not teaching my son to have respect.” What does the son learn? Respect is important. Dad is willing to apologize about not being respectful. I should too.
10 The purpose of learning is to contribute, not for money and fame.
Imagine you are walking down the street with your 2-year old daughter, and you see your friend. Your friend asks your daughter, “Have you started going to school yet?”
Your daughter asks, “Why do I need to go to school?”
Your friend says, “To get famous and make lots of money!”
What do you do?
If you agree with your friend, the child will focus on fame and money when going through school. She’ll respect people who make lots of money and disrespect people who make little money. She may even trample on others in the pursue of success.
We should teach our children to respect the differing contributions of all industries. We can say, “Remember the nice lunch we had at the restaurant? The chef had to go to school to learn how to cook delicious food. How can we thank the chef? We can’t give him your toys. So we give him money. He can use the money to buy things he needs. So we go to school to learn different ways to contribute to society. Then we get money for our contributions.”
It’s not easy being a parent. All parents wish the best for their children. The biggest challenge is knowing how to teach them in a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. These 10 small tips covered how to nurture a child’s sense of respect, responsibility, humility, and trust.
What do you think? Do you have any stories to share?