Don’t worry, we know the list goes on way past ten!
From cultivating a sense of humour, to proving the importance of hard work, there is so much money can’t buy, but that it is possible for parents to teach their kids. With character education on the rise, we’ve started thinking about how we can actively nurture the best human qualities (in your mini-me and in yourself). Because all the fame and fortune in the world means nothing if we don’t pass on the best parts of ourselves to the next generation. Thinking about what your own parents have taught you, you’re sure to find similarities in what you’re now teaching your own kids – unique family customs and traditions included! We often expect parents to have all the answers, but the reality is mums and dads are googling just as frantically as their teens these days. So here are some things you may not even realise you’re teaching your little ones, simply by being true to the best in you and staying present.
All those times you whispered “say please!” as a gentle reminder, start to pay off when politeness becomes a practice your kid adopts. Holding the door open for strangers, giving up your seat on a bus, serving your gran at the table first, picking up dropped groceries, cleaning up after yourself, and even just pausing what you’re doing to help someone in need. Living in a city as fast-paced as Hong Kong means that manners sometimes slip lower on the priority list. Whilst encouraging your kid to reach for the stars is ingrained in every parent handbook, no amount of money can make a person polite. Boys, girls, young, old – that “old fashioned” chivalry will never go out of style.
From their very first step and first word, to all the important speeches they’ll go on to make throughout their life, you are the one who gives them the confidence to do so. That sense of inner contentment is established and nurtured when you grow up surrounded by unconditional love. And no one knows more about unconditional love than parents! No matter how big your little one gets, there’s one reoccurring person they’ll call when they need a pick-me-up, one person who they’ll ask for an opinion when they want an honest one (followed by a genuine compliment) – and yup, that’s you. It’s reassuring to know that you’re empowering them with the skills and confidence to make their own decisions. And no matter what, knowing that you’re loved and believed in is enough to give anyone a healthy dose of confidence!
A child’s imagination can be an extraordinary thing (the masterpieces, ahem, proudly resting on your mantelpiece are a testament to that). We talk a lot about how future generations will not be exposed to creativity in the same way – they won’t, and that’s okay. With 12-year-olds downloading apps faster and far more frequently than we do, it’s not surprising that growing up in a city can mean less outdoor-time and more TV-time (it’s all about balance, right?). As long as parents are still encouraging art, in all its engaging forms (painting, dancing, singing, writing, creative thinking – just creating!) then they’re still encouraging growth in a beautiful and necessary way. Our creativity is an aspect of our character that no person and no thing could ever replicate. Machines and apps are all very well when producing the next iPhone and calling an Uber, but it’s the brain behind the idea that makes technology successful in the first place. It’s important to grow up knowing that.
Growing up, when I was asked if I believed in superstitions, I would proudly declare, “no, I only believe in good luck”. It was only later, when people pointed out how ridiculous that was, that I realised they may be right. I thought for a while about why I still make wishes when I blow out birthday candles, yet I’ve never believed black cats or broken mirrors bring negativity. I realised, quite simply, that it was because my parents taught me to discard irrational fears and expand my capacity for joy. Encouraging kids, from an early age, to count their blessings, to hold on to hope and to search for the silver lining (even on the cloudiest days), cultivates resilience in character. As the generations after us navigate through new challenges we can’t yet foresee, they’ll find a practical use for their positivity.
Compassion, empathy and honesty are understood naturally in early years, and if children learn by example then this is something parents teach from day one. Sure, everyone needs a moment in the think-about-your-actions corner (or a month of being grounded) but generally, I was taught: “when in doubt, be kind”, “it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice”, and that “true generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out.” Having a mum who has spent most of her life devoted to helping students with special needs, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing just how far one person’s kindness can go. It’s incredibly impressive to see compassion demonstrated every day, in so many ways, and it’s clear that the way she lives her life taught me so much about the way I want to live mine.
Anxious, annoyed, irritable kids are not fun – least of all when you’re feeling anxious, annoyed and irritable yourself. Deep breath, mama, practice patience. Now, this is a virtue that my mum has in excess that hasn’t rubbed off on me as much as I’d like. Patience with yourself and patience with those around you – neither is easy, and I seem to have inherited my Dad’s need to check the time every 7 minutes (unfortunately, I haven’t inherited his punctuality). Whether you’re waiting in line, waiting for replies, waiting for the calm after the storm and waiting for the future, I guess good things do come to those who (work hard whilst they patiently) wait.
Having self-respect and giving respect to all those around you – whether it’s mutual or not (you don’t represent other people, you represent yourself). With respect as a key family value comes the ability to treat others the way you’d like to be treated, the ability to forgive, the ability to apologise with words AND with actions – and so much more. With true respect for others, comes modesty and appreciation. If you’re teaching your child to respect the elderly man who sweeps the street every morning, you know they’ll never litter. If you’re teaching them to respect their siblings, you know you’re giving them a playmate for life. And if you’re teaching them to realise that no job or chore will ever be beneath them, regardless of their age and status, then you just might get some help with those unwashed dishes!
Said “eat those greens” and “brush those teeth” one too many times? It’ll be worth it when they grow into healthy, happy, vitamin-taking adults. Whether it’s checking the cortisone content in eczema cream or making sure that brown asthma inhaler is used, a parent is a full-time doc (spare plasters in every diaper bag – check!). And if you’re worried about making sure that they can take care of others? Don’t be. You’ve been showing them how to do that their whole life! So, if your child ever wants an example of how to live life for others, you can be sure they’ll look to their parents – you’ve been doing it without even realising.
Common sense. Enough said? Even the self-proclaimed finest education in the world can’t teach this. There are things you can change and there’s plenty you can’t – no amount of money can. Persevering through life’s hiccups whilst maintaining a sense of acceptance is a real skill, and it’s a skill that’s hard to teach! Raising little ones whilst raising their awareness can be tricky, especially when there is so much you want them to learn. Awareness of their culture, heritage and family history, awareness about (past and present) world issues, human rights, diversity and inclusion – and of course, the basic awareness that comes with recognising just how lucky they are…
“Thank you” is a universal phrase (on my bucket list to learn how to say it in 31 languages!) and I’m lucky that those two little words have been so deeply ingrained in my family culture that they’ve moved past being a last-minute add on, and become a feeling I can always rely on. Whether it’s an appreciation for bare necessities (it’s easy to forget parents are the ones who gave you food, shelter, warmth… oh, and life!), or just a passing “thanks” when a glass of water is topped up at the dining table. It’s nice to know you’re raising children that aren’t taking all the small things for granted. That’s something worth being thankful for in itself.
They say parents lead by example (a slightly worrying thought). Frankly, if your little ones are growing up happy (most of the time), and you’re raising them happily (some of the time), then you’ve got to be doing something right.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 18 February, 2016, By Tania Shroff, and has been updated on 22 February, 2019.
All images property of Sassy Media Group.