Parents teach their children how to behave and how not to behave; that’s essentially their job. Some of the lessons handed down are a bigger deal than others. For example, “It’s not okay to punch people in face” would be a more critical life lesson to really take in than say, “The salad fork is placed on the outside as you set the table.” But I believe that sometimes it’s these small, seemingly insignificant things we teach our children that make the biggest difference in the development of their character.
I visited the restroom at work the other day and as I entered the stall, found that the seat was covered in splatters of urine. What this tells me is there is a grown woman out there that has not yet learned to clean up after herself. I bet this is the same person who at gatherings sits it out while everyone else is doing dishes or leaves messes behind everywhere she goes; oblivious to how this might impact others. The child that remembers to wipe their pee off the seat when they’re done using the toilet is more likely to be the child who picks up after him or herself in other settings. It means that he or she pays enough attention to their surroundings to know that they’ve made a mess AND that it is no one’s responsibility but their own to cleanup. Teaching this skill is as simple as showing them to do it when they are potty training and asking them to come back and clean up their mess if you notice it’s been left behind later. (This guidance does not apply to your spouse; that ship has sailed. But there is still hope for your child.)
While on a trip to the zoo not long ago, I found myself holding the door to the building that housed the primates as about 25 people entered. None of them said thank you or made eye contact as they shoved past me. Not one. To be clear, it was rather obvious that I was not a zookeeper doing my job: I had a baby on my hip, a camera hanging around my neck, and a map of the zoo held between my teeth. I mean, who raised these people? I bet even the monkeys they were in such as hurry to see can sign thank you to their keepers. If a kid can learn to say thank you to a stranger who holds the door for them, he or she is also probably going to remember to thank someone for a gift or some other kind of assistance. I would imagine that kids who learn gratitude early are less likely to have a sense of entitlement as an adult. How do you instill this in your child? SAY THANK YOU! To your kids, to others, to everyone. My 2 year old says thank you to cashiers because she sees me do it.
My dad didn’t get worked up about much when we were kids but getting us to turn off the lights when we left a room became his mission. When reminders and lectures about how expensive energy is didn’t work, he tried a silent approach. Silent but effective. As a young teen, I had a variety of lamps, a vanity with bright round bulbs, and a ceiling fan light in my room. One day when I went to take a shower, I happened to leave each and every light in the room shining. Rather than reminding me once again of the cost of electricity, Dad simply removed all the light bulbs from the fixtures. Returning from my shower to find a dark room with no bulbs really made this lesson click into place. To this day, when I leave a room, I flip the switch. I believe that the kid that remembers to turn off the lights when he or she leaves the room has the advantage in learning to conserve resources and energy as he or she approaches adulthood in a time when both the economy and environment are shaky.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been greeted with “I’ve been vomiting all day, I feel horrible!” or “I’ve got the worst diarrhea!” I usually respond to statements like these with “Goodbye.” Or some variation of “What’s wrong with you?! Get away from me! Don’t touch anything! Don’t breathe on me! Ugh!” Learning to stay home when you’re sick starts in school with the section in the school handbook about what you can and can’t send your kids to school with – a runny nose and mild cough are okay, head lice or projectile vomiting are definite no-no’s. Most jobs do not come with unlimited sick time and when what time you have has to be shared between yourself and your children, it can be tempting to send them to school or go to work despite being contagious. There are probably other circumstances where staying home when you are sick isn’t possible (like say, when you have tickets to see Justin Timberlake, for the funeral of a close family member, or the first day of a new job). But coming to work sick or sending your kids to school sick gets others sick – specifically me – and I don’t have enough sick time left for that. Children can be taught to share their toys but teach them to not share their germs by staying home when they are sick.
I think a large portion of the population never learned proper elevator etiquette. I’m sure you’ve been there – the elevator stops, the doors open, and 7 people try to board while 6 are trying to exit. I could blather on about learning to take turns, blah, blah, being courteous, yada, yada, but there is no grand moral lesson for this one. It just really irks me to be charged by a mob while trying to exit an elevator and this seemed as good a place as any to express my thoughts on the subject.
It would take several volumes to list all of the things I want my kids to learn before they venture out on their own, but this feels like a solid start. I’d love to hear from you now – what are other small but critical life lessons kids need today?