Do you remember any sayings and proverbs you learned in childhood? They may have come from Aesop’s Fables or a children’s story like Pinocchio or Proverbs in the Bible. Maybe you heard them from teachers, your parents, scout leaders, coaches, or any number of other adults. They were proverbs that encouraged certain behaviors…behaviors that promoted personal character and corporate civility. Several such sayings came to my mind the other day as I listened to the daily rhetoric of the news. I felt a twinge of sadness and realized how desperately we need the wisdom of these proverbs in our world today. With that in mind, maybe we need to start by reviving them in our families. We begin by teaching them to our children and modeling them in our lives. In case you need a reminder, here are just a few of my favorites.
- “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Ironically, this saying seems to have two meanings. One, if you live in a glass house (are vulnerable) don’t throw stones at the guy who lives in a brick house. In other words, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” (which is another saying). On the other hand, we all live in glass houses, don’t we? We all have our own vulnerabilities. Before we start casting stones at another person’s faults, we need to take a good look at our own. Or, in the words of another saying, “Take the log out of your own eye before you worry about the splinter in the other guy’s eye.” We desperately need to consider all three sayings in our world today.
- “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Other than hearing it from my mother, I heard it first from Thumper on Bambi. (By the way, Thumper also has a nice quote about “families that play together.” See them both in this short clip.) Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a little more of “saying nothing” today?
- Another truth heard in a Disney movie came from the Blue Fairy. She told Pinocchio that “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as clear as the nose on your face.” You’ve heard the flip side of this proverb in the more popular “honesty is the best policy.” A little more truth and a few shorter noses on the faces of our local Pinocchio’s faces would definitely improve our lives around here.
- Of course, we can’t forget “Actions speak louder than words” or “He who does a thing well does not need to boast.” Aesop’s fable of The Boasting Traveler drives this point home. Tell it to your family over dinner or watch it in ChirpyStory. It’s a great reminder to not boast.
- “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” I’d always heard “there are two sides to every story” to encourage me to listen to other people’s ideas. But experience has taught me the rest of the saying, that “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” Our extremist world would definitely benefit from learning to listen to both sides of a story and then seeking the whole truth.
There are many more proverbs we need to put into practice. We need to teach our children these proverbs and sayings. We need to practice them in our own lives in the presence of our children. As we do, our families will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps our children will carry these proverbs into their adulthood and our whole society will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Let’s start practicing them today. Maybe you have other favorites you think our families would benefit from practicing. Share them below so we can all learn from the wisdom of the ages.
You may have heard a lot about executive functioning over the last few years. Executive functioning is the ability to manage one’s self and one’s resources to reach a goal. Executive functioning skills include the ability to set goals for a plan and then monitor progress toward those goals as well as skills like sustained attention, memory, and impulse-control. As you can see, these skills are crucial for our children’s maturity. In fact, a recent study from researchers at the University of Potsdam found that deficits in executive functioning during elementary school predicted higher physical and relational aggression three years later (Childhood Aggression Linked to Deficits in Executive Function). Fortunately, executive functioning is a learnable skill! That’s right. You can help your children learn the skills of executive functioning and improve in those skills as they age. In fact, tools that teach executive functioning are not even difficult to implement. They even provide an opportunity for you to have fun with your children! Let me give you a few examples.
- Playing games that require taking turns will teach impulse control. Having to “wait for my turn” means managing my desire to go, controlling my impulse and waiting for someone else. “Waiting for one’s turn” also requires a person to keep a goal in mind while someone else takes their turn. While waiting for one’s turn, a person monitors their progress toward a goal while comparing it to the other person’s progress toward the same goal. Impulse control, focus, planning, monitoring progress while keeping a goal in mind…all while waiting my turn in a game. “Trouble” and “Sorry” take on a whole new meaning with this information in mind.
- Games like “Mother May I” and “Simon Says” teach impulse control, focused attention, and listening. These are great executive functioning skills.
- Imaginary or pretend games involve storytelling, planning, managing emotions to fit the story, negotiation, and more. Encouraging children to engage in imaginative play not only nurtures executive functioning skills, it “makes them a head taller than themselves.”
- Song games with movements teach young children executive functioning skills like focused attention (focusing on the words of the song), self-control, and memory (remembering the words to the song and the movements). As children get older, line dances, marching band, and dance routines accomplish similar goals.
- Games (board games, card games, or team games) that require strategy teach many executive functioning skills. For instance, strategy games encourage planning, holding a plan in mind for several moves ahead, adjusting the plan as obstacles arise, and working memory to remember the plan. Whether the strategy game is chess, Battleship, Clue, or basketball, it will nurture your children’s executive functioning skills.
I hope you get the idea. There are many more activities that promote executive functioning skills (find more in this “Activities Guide” from the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University). From participating in sports or plays…to learning to play an instrument…to imaginative play and storytelling you will have a great time enhancing your children’s executive functioning through play… and you’ll decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the future. Our world could definitely thank you for that!
Raising respectful children is a goal for every parent. We begin to teach them to respect by demanding they respect us or forcing them to show respect to others. But, I have to wonder. Is that really the best way to start teaching respect? Do children learn to respect when we demand they respect us? When we force them to respect others in their speech and actions? I do believe it important that our children respect us and respect others. But, that may not be the best place to start teaching them respect. In fact, children learn more from watching us than from following our demands. They learn more from how we treat them than they learn from how we tell them to treat others. They watch us closely and model our behavior. They learn how to treat others by experiencing how we treat them. When we treat our children with respect, they are much more likely to treat us and others with respect. So, to teach our children respectful behavior, the best place to begin is by treating our children with respect. Unfortunately, I fear we often neglect to respect our children. Disrespect creeps into our interactions through impatience, preoccupation, or fear of failure. Think about these ways of respecting our children and do a little self-examination. Consider each bullet and think about how well you respect your children in the way stated.
- Respect your children’s competence enough to let your children do tasks around the house.
- Respect your children’s ability to problem-solve and discover creative solutions rather than jumping in to solve every problem they encounter.
- Respect your children’s age appropriate independence. Let them complete age appropriate tasks alone.
- Respect your children by establishing and enforcing clear limits. Make these limits firm, but enforce them politely and respectfully rather than harshly.
- Respect your children’s willingness to cooperate and accept their help…with a smile and a “thank you.”
- Respect your children enough to state directly what you desire rather than trying to manipulate them with false choices and questions.
- Respect your children’s need for predictability by establishing daily routines.
- Respect your children’s ability to learn by not rescuing them. Let them experience the consequences of their own behaviors, both positive and negative.
- Respect your children’s dignity by never calling them demeaning names or making comments that degrade them directly or indirectly.
- Respect your children’s uniqueness by nurturing their individual talents and interests. Be excited about their progress and their interests.
- Respect your children’s ideas and opinions enough to listen, even when they disagree with you. Respect their ideas enough to let them influence your decisions and actions.
- Respect your children’s intelligence by letting them answer questions asked of them. You don’t need to answer for them or volunteer them for some activity. Respect allows them to answer for themselves.
- Respect your children’s feelings by allowing them to express a full range of emotions and teach them to do so in an appropriate manner.
- Respect your children enough to listen intently and fully.
Well, how did you do? Are you respecting your children? I’m sure we can all improve…I know I can. Still, treating children with respect is the place we begin teaching them to respect others. Children who are respected by family become respectful. Start respecting children today and they will become more respectful tomorrow.
Learning how children think helps parents discipline well. It’s true. Knowing how children process information gives parents crucial information for effectively stopping unwanted behavior and teaching desired behavior. Take lying for example. Studies suggest that up to 96% of children lie (see Help! My Teen Lies to Me for information on teens lying). So, if you have children you will have to deal with children lying. But, consider how children’s reasons for lying changes as they mature.
- Three-year-olds lie to avoid punishment. Even if you catch them with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, in the act itself, they will lie in an attempt to avoid punishment. When researchers asked five-year-olds about lying, 92% said lying was “always wrong.” Still, they lied. Why? To avoid getting punished.
- Things seem to change around six-years-old. Six-year-olds no longer lie when caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Instead, they tell the truth hoping it will make their parent happy (and it usually does). They no longer lie to simply avoid punishment but to keep their parents happy as well. They want the reward of parents who are happy with them.
- When children hit the “preteen” years, they demonstrate an awareness of the impact of lying on others. They become more considerate of other people’s feelings and the potential risk lying poses to relationships. About 22% of eleven-year-olds carry some guilt for lying. They want to part of a group and know that lying can isolate them from the group.
- 48% of eleven-year-olds say that lying destroys trust. They know that lying breaks down the social order. If a person lies, who can you trust…and how can society operate without trust.
I share these findings to make a point. Children think differently at different ages. To discipline effectively, a parent needs to consider their children’s developmental level and address the behavior at that level. In other words, they need to think like their children. A three-year-old may respond to a simple time out in a chair while a six-year-old will need more…like the constant acknowledgement of positive behaviors. Six-year-olds love to help their parents, providing an excellent opportunity to teach them chores and responsibilities. Eleven-year-olds begin to understand how behaviors impact their relationships and the world around them. Our explanations for appropriate behavior need to include this information. (More on child development in 5 Steps of Moral Development)
You get the idea. Listen to your children. Listen to how they think and observe what they find important. Learn about the changes that occur in children as they mature (More on development at Ages & Stages from Healthy Children). Use all this information in creative ways to discipline your children…and enjoy the rewards of your effective discipline!
Children have two currencies for LOVE: TIME and ATTENTION (Read Your Child’s Currency For Love for mistaken investments). When parents invest time and attention into their children’s emotional bank account, their children grow to know themselves as significant and valuable. They realize they hold a place of importance in their parents’ lives. As a result, they become more confident. They also develop a greater desire to please their parents. They obey more often and internalize their parents’ moral values more readily. In other words, time and attention are two powerful discipline investments that will result in better behaved children. One great way to invest time and attention in your children is through “Banking Play Time.” Here’s how it works.
- Set aside 15-20 minutes each day for playtime with your child. Do not make this time contingent on behavior. Do not use it as a form of punishment or reward. Just enjoy 15-20 minutes of play time with your child each day.
- Let your child pick the activity (within reason—TV does not work well for this type of investment). Let your child lead the activity as well. You simply follow your child’s lead. Play what they want to play, how they want to play.
- Become a student of your child’s actions and imaginations during this playtime. Objectively observe and verbally describe your child’s behavior during this activity. You can objectively describe behavior in several ways.
- You can simply report what you see your child doing. “Joey stacks the blocks and knocks them down.” “You put a blue dress on Barbie.” “You threw the ball right to me.”
- You may also describe what your child might be imagining in his play, modifying your play-by-play account as he directs. “Joey built a tower and knocked it down like the Hulk!” “You dressed Barbie in a pretty blue dress for dinner with friends.” “He throws the ball to first base and the runner is out! The crowd cheers.”
- You can also describe positive behaviors you observe during play. “You are waiting so patiently for your turn.” “You are working hard at putting that dress on Barbie just right.”
- Do not give directives or teach during playtime. This is child-directed play. You simply follow your child’s lead, spending time with them and paying attention to what he is doing. You are investing your time in playing how your child desires to play. You’re investing your attention in noticing them, their activity, and their thoughts and imaginations.
- Look for something positive, special, or unique about your child or his play. Verbally acknowledge or describe that unique quality. When you describe these positive qualities, make them specific and positive rather than a general label. For instance, say, “I like how you take turns” rather than “That’s a good boy.”
- If your child starts to engage in some negative behavior during play time, ignore it. Do not make eye contact. Simply continue engaging in, and commenting on, the positive aspects of the play activity. If the negative behavior starts to dominate the playtime, simply end the “banking time” session.
Try this method of investing time and attention into your child’s emotional bank account for 3-4 weeks. You will be surprised at how your child’s behavior improves.
All parents want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong. However, most parents don’t realize how early—surprisingly early—this moral behavior and thought begins. Jean Decety from the University of Chicago (and his associate, Jason Cowell) demonstrated that parents influence their children’s moral development as early as one year old! He showed a group of 73 toddlers (12-24 months old) two types of animated videos: one in which characters engaged in helping and sharing or one in which characters exhibited pushing, tripping, and shoving behavior. At the same time, they measured the toddlers’ eye movement (gaze) and brain waves. Afterwards, the researchers offered the toddlers a choice of two toys: one representing the “good” animated character or one representing the “bad” character.
What did they discover? First, toddlers looked at and tracked the “good,” pro-social characters longer. They showed more interest in the characters who exhibited positive moral actions. In addition, toddlers experienced different brain wave patterns when witnessing the prosocial behavior and the antisocial behavior. But, these differences did not impact which toy the toddler chose. There was one factor that differentiated which toy the child reached for, regardless of the length of their gaze at the “good” character or the difference in the brain wave patterns associated with the prosocial/antisocial behavior. An additional distinct brain wave pattern was associated with which toy was chosen. This additional brain wave occurred just after the toddler witnessed the behavior of the animated character and it differentiated which toy the child chose.
Now for the really interesting part! The researchers discovered what may have contributed to that distinct brain wave pattern after reviewing questionnaires completed by parents prior to the research. These questionnaires measured parental values around empathy, justice, and fairness as well as their child’s temperament and demographics. Parental sensitivity to justice distinguished toddlers’ who reached for the “good character” toy from those who reached for the “bad character” toy! In other words, the parents’ values around justice impacted how their children’s brains work and whether their 12-24 month old reached out for the prosocial or antisocial character.
The researchers also gave the toddlers opportunities to share their toys in this experiment. This time, the parents’ ability to take someone else’s perspective influenced their children’s willingness to share, even at 12-24 months of age! So, if you want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong, children sensitive to justice, and children willing to share, begin early by:
- Cultivating your own sense of justice. Discipline fairly. Do not practice the “Do as I say not as I do” mentality. Instead, set the example of living and accept the just consequences for your behavior. Apologize and ask forgiveness when you make a mistake. Give just rewards for appropriate behavior (which can be as simple as a polite “thankyou” or “I appreciate your help.”). Talk about justice in the community. Read stories together that reveal justice. Cultivate justice in your life.
- Practice taking other people’s perspective before reacting to them. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes, your children’s shoes, your neighbors’ shoes and consider the situation from their perspective. Think and talk about the perspective the store clerk, the police officers, or the teacher.
These simple practices will help you raise moral children…and help create a more moral world for your grandchildren.