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A moral education

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There’s so much more to parenting than feeding, clothing and schooling kids. Are we teaching them the behaviours and thought processes they need to make their way in our community and beyond? Trisha Hughes reports

A s a parent, saying your role is one of life’s most important undertakings is doing it a grave injustice. We are literally bringing another living, breathing human being into the world and subsequently doing our very best to help him navigate the society he finds himself in. Creating the next generation of decision makers, world leaders and, hopefully, world changers is a monumental task, and most of us have no idea how hard it is going to be. ‘Important’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Teaching our children life values is an incredibly hard job and it can also be bewildering. On the one hand, we all want our children to have minds of their own and work things out for themselves, rather than turn them into clones of ourselves. But on the other hand, shouldn’t we remember that when they fly the nest, the rest of the world has to live with them?

In our attempts to encourage our children to develop their own characters and minds, while trying not to stifle them, are we overlooking our responsibility to also teach them basic principles, like being respectful and polite? How about honest, responsible and giving your best effort in school? Is that too old-fashioned and, dare I say it, conservative?

Honesty is accepting and promoting the truth even when we don’t like what that truth is. Responsibility is acknowledging how our actions affect others as well as ourselves. Best effort includes our role in the community. In other words, aren’t we, as parents, duty bound to teach our children that some behaviour is not acceptable?

Life values kids need to learn
I also believe listening is one of the most important life skills you can teach a child. It will impact on every relationship he has. And what about it’s OK to be wrong? Grades are important but isn’t it more important to be a good person? Apologise when you’ve  made a mistake? Give and accept nothing less than respect?

If there is basic human respect, so many other good character traits follow suit. Respect for authority also shows obedience. Respect for others covers kindness. Things like teasing and bullying happen in the absence of respect, and failure to learn responsibility at an early age is the catalyst to poor, sometimes tragic results, whether it is addiction, inability to hold a job, racism or criminal conduct.

Raising kids in such a materialistic world is not always easy, especially when they are constantly bombarded with cool new stuff to covet, and encouraged to see shopping as a recreational pastime. Sure, we want our kids to have the best things in life, but we also need to teach them that even though they may not always have the latest and greatest toys and gadgets, they do have plenty to be grateful for. Plant the seeds of gratitude when they are young, so they can learn to appreciate the many gifts they have.

It’s not what we do for our children that is more important but what we
teach them to do for themselves.

Their minds are unquenchable sponges and it is our responsibility to feed that thirst with the right information and to shape them into responsible and admirable members of our society. And as we know, children learn from example so when they see their parents being rude, it sends a message to them that it’s OK to say one thing and do another.

Teaching kids to be kind
It’s never too late to teach a child how to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those
who care for them, and they need to contribute to other people’s lives. Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people they encounter and that that they are, first and foremost, kind.

Even as my own children were turning and waving happily to me on their first day at school, I spent the day crying because they were on their long march towards becoming
adults. They would learn that we all have to pay our dues, we all have to work, and we all have to face failure and rejection before we can achieve success.

Our challenge is to help our children learn to care for and respect people outside of their small circle of friends and family, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language and particularly, perhaps, their long-suffering auntie.


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