Our kids learn from us constantly…even when we wish they wouldn’t. The pay attention to how we speak to other adults, how to talk about other people, and how we act around authority figures. They look up to us to learn how to react to the world around them, and it’s our job as parents to give them the right tools to live and function on their own after they become adults themselves. (I know, it’s hard to imagine my little toddler as an adult…) The world won’t reward them for following the laws and doing what they need to do, but it will reward them for having a good attitude, being respectful, and working hard to meet their goals.
I owe my kids a safe place to live, 3 (or more) healthy meals a day, clothing, shoes, love, and endless forgiveness. But there are some things that I do not owe them, and sometimes saying “no” is harder than it should be…
1. You don’t owe them a reward for obeying. You do owe them appreciation when they do obey.
When you go to the grocery store, you should expect them to behave and listen to what you ask them to do. You don’t owe them a piece of candy or a toy or a happy meal just because they made it through an entire shopping trip without throwing a tantrum on the floor. You should thank them for their behavior and express how grateful you are that they have been very good today. They need to learn that they won’t receive extra rewards in life just for showing up to work on time or stopping at a red light. Appreciation is sometimes the most we can hope for, and while the occasional treat is nice, it isn’t to be expected.
2. You don’t owe them everything they ask for. You do owe them a lesson in patience.
You aren’t expected to go out and buy them whatever they want. Maybe the neighbor just got a new toy, or they saw something cool on television. Just because they ask for something doesn’t mean you owe it to them – even if they have a list of reasons why you should. They need to learn that in life, you can’t always just “go buy this.” You need to budget, save, and plan ahead in order to achieve the things that you want. If you give your children an allowance, help them to budget what it is that they want to buy. If your home runs differently, help them pick out ways to earn the money for the new toy that they want. Teaching them to be patient can be difficult, but it will help them to realize how much work they need to do to reach their goals.
3. You don’t owe them a free ride at school. You do owe them a lesson in hard work.
If they get bad marks on their homework or are in danger of failing that year, you do not owe it to them to demand the school to pass them anyway. Your child needs to learn that homework and tests and projects are important for getting good grades, and without good grades, they will not learn what they need to in order to move up to the next grade. If you feel that they haven’t learned their lesson, you need to help them figure out how much work they need to do in order to catch back up and pass their grade. That might mean extra credit, extra studying time every day, or even summer school. They need to understand what their actions have caused and how to correct them in the future.
4. You don’t owe them a pass for bad behavior. You do owe them a lesson in consequences.
In the working world, attitude is important. When you child gets caught doing something naughty, they need to learn that admitting their mistake is more important to you than why they did it in the first place. “I hit her because she pulled my hair” is not a good excuse. I would much prefer to hear “I hit her and it was wrong.” It’s okay to be wrong, but it’s never okay to be disrespectful or violent. The consequences should match the mistake, and their attitude is just as important in this lesson.
5. You don’t owe them false praise. You do owe them support to keep practicing.
If they aren’t the best player on the team, you should help them to practice and get better. If your child is upset because they don’t get as much time in the game as their friends, you shouldn’t demand for them to be put into play. Talk to the coach with your child and find out what they need to do to get better. Help them learn that working hard to achieve their goals is more important than blaming someone else.
6. You don’t owe them fast food. You do owe them random treats!
Just because you’re out running errands or visiting family doesn’t mean that they get to demand fast food for dinner. Sometimes, we need to stick to our budget, and that might mean eating leftovers or making sandwiches instead. This will make those random times that you do stop at the drive thru all the more exciting.
7. You don’t owe them whatever they want for dinner. You do owe them a healthy meal.
You are not the cook in a diner when supper time comes around. You should be prepared to cook a nutritious meal (or order one in if you don’t have the time!), but you do not have to make more than one meal when someone doesn’t want to eat what you put on the table. Your kids need to be grateful that you feed them 3 meals a day. If they are adamant that they do not want to eat what is for dinner, you can have them help you in the kitchen instead. If they want to be in charge of dinner one night, encourage it! But do not cook 3 meals for 3 kids who are being picky.
8. You don’t owe them a clean room. You do owe them a lesson in respecting their possessions.
You are not your child’s personal maid. You do their laundry, keep the house clean, and you might fold their clothes to be put away, but it is not your job to keep their rooms neat and tidy. You also don’t owe them rewards for keeping their rooms clean. Keeping the family home organized and functional is a sign of respect for not only them, but to everyone else who lives there. They should learn to take care of the things that they have been given, regardless of whether they are rewarded or not.
9. You don’t owe them popularity. You do owe them help meeting friends who make them feel appreciated.
If the “cool” crowd is pressuring your kid to buy clothes, gadgets, or the latest trends to fit in, reevaluate the situation. Things are not what makes good friendships that last, and you don’t owe it to your child to buy them the latest trends. Having one or two close friends is usually better than having a large group that aren’t sincere. Be active in helping your child hang out with their good friends, whether that means hosting a sleepover every so often or driving them to the park to play for an hour or two.
10. You don’t owe them success. You do owe them a lesson about being a good sport.
Your child needs to learn that winning and losing are a part of life, and their attitude towards both should be gracious. Teaching them to win and lose with grace is a trait that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives in their professional and social lives. They shouldn’t be happy when someone loses, and likewise they shouldn’t feel bitter when they lose. Competition can be a healthy part of life, and learning to play fair is a lesson that they should all learn.
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