There are some lessons that are simply timeless. It doesn’t matter where you live, what your educational and income status is or what religion you follow (if any). Children everywhere need to learn the same basic skills, so they are prepared to navigate the world on their own as adults. Many people think that these lessons will be learned naturally over time or that the job of parents is to prevent children from experiencing some of the more difficult and unsettling lessons. We sometimes try to protect our kids from the unpleasantness. However, it’s much better for them to face challenges young when you are there to guide them through it than to be shocked and alone later in life. These 25+ lessons to teach your children are in no particular order and broken up across 2 posts.
In raising 5 children to adulthood and preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead these are the lessons we taught, or wish we had! No one gets it perfect but it sure is helpful to have a little insight into the future. Now that our children are adults, we know that they will ultimately make the choices that direct their paths. Knowing that they’ve also learned the lessons necessary to have a successful life makes us feel confident and assured that they have access to every opportunity they choose.
1. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Basic Life Skills
You may not have heard, but basic life skills are no longer taught in schools. Gone are the days of home ec! The school day is filled with traditional academic instruction. So, if you don’t teach it to your kids at home they won’t know. And believe me, they won’t figure it out either! Every one of my kids has talked extensively about how ill prepared their peers are upon leaving the nest.
Some aren’t able to write a check to pay their own bills and don’t even know where a stamp goes on an envelope to mail something. Very few know how to feed themselves, take care of their cars, budget their money or care for their living environment. Since you won’t always be there to manage their day in and day out lives, it’s of the utmost importance that they can do it themselves. So, get them involved in doing chores and helping around the house. Teach them to take care of their own basic needs!
2. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Responsibility
Life is filled with responsibilities and tasks we really would prefer not to do. I know that we all want our children to have unburdened carefree lives but there has to be some balance. It’s not fair to never teach your children to be responsible and then have them held responsible to an adult standard.
As your children age give them more and more responsibility. It’s important to phase in responsibilities and consider matching them with privileges.
For example, when our oldest was able to take responsibility for getting himself up in the morning and making good time management choices (around 7th grade), we eliminated his bedtime and let him choose. He consistently made responsible choices about his sleep schedule, so we never had to revoke this privilege. Some of our children consistently struggled with waking in the morning and had a more rigid bedtime (but were working on other responsibilities). All our children were given tasks and responsibilities. They all had chores and contributed to our household and they all had personal responsibilities.
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3. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Consequences
It is very important for people to experience the natural consequences of their actions. One of the most significant ways we as parents can make this happen is be ensuring the punishments fit the crime. In our home we rarely used the word punishment but often the word consequences.
This is why corporal discipline is often ineffective, it isn’t usually a logical consequence. Now, I’m not trying to start a spanking debate here, but I would encourage you to creatively seek ways to make the consequences a natural extension of the behavior. It is best to do this with both desirable and undesirable behaviors. Consequences fit nicely with responsibility.
The example I gave above would be consequences of a desirable behavior. Our son was very proud of himself that we felt he was mature enough to set his own bedtime. We were very clear that this was the consequence of him showing us how responsible he was.
An example of a consequence of an undesirable behavior that is fairly common in today’s family would be losing screen time privileges if homework isn’t getting completed. Homework is the child’s responsibility. You should never do it for them (this includes art and science projects). And you should gradually minimize how much you manage homework time, so they learn to be responsible for it on their own. If they mismanage their time the natural consequence is to eliminate the distraction. It is often joked about in our family that we once grounded one of our children from leisure reading. She spent most of her time doing it and when we found out that her schoolwork wasn’t getting done at all we had to remove that distraction for long enough for her to reestablish good study habits.
Whenever possible don’t interfere with the natural consequences of your child’s actions. If they make a poor choice in school let them live it. If they don’t go to class prepared, let them experience that hit to their grade. The sooner you do this the less impactful it is to their life path so start young teaching them responsibility and consequences. Set them up for success by helping them learn to be organized, manage their time and prioritize so they can live up to their responsibilities. Failure to live up to responsibilities is usually an indication that they are ill equipped or not ready so always be flexible and willing to make adjustments.
4. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Consent
People often talk about consent as a concept that only need to be taught to boys. I would argue that this isn’t true at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen girls harass other girls that have been victimized because they themselves don’t understand the concept of consent. Plus, I think it’s important to mention that while assaults are more common against women, men can also be victimized. This is unfortunately overlooked!
Children should be taught to respect themselves and their bodies. Their boundaries should also be validated and respected. This goes a long way in teaching them to respect the boundaries of others. When you force (or guilt) your children into being affectionate with someone and they don’t want to, you are teaching them that not only do they not have the right to set boundaries and say “no” but no one else does either. Respect their boundaries especially related to their physical bodies and teach them to respect those of others.
And don’t be afraid to have an open discussion with your children about what is and isn’t consent. Maybe isn’t consent, an intoxicated yes isn’t consent and anyone can choose to stop at any time! Oftentimes young people don’t know these important facts. This can lead to both parties being permanently harmed.
Also, teach your kids that consent is no laughing matter! If they overhear someone talking about violating consent, they should report the behavior. They should also be able to discuss consent with their friends. Friends don’t let friends believe things like “no means maybe and maybe means yes”!
5. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Self-Preservation
No matter what anyone else is doing your child’s first concern should be self-preservation. This means making healthy and safe choices. It also might mean separating from friends or even doing something that might feel a bit embarrassing.
Clearly part of self-preservation is avoiding things that are dangerous or damaging. As the old saying goes, just because your friends jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you should too. Following along or peer pressure is never a good excuse for a bad decision. Breaking the law, smoking, alcohol and drugs are all serious game changers! Self-preservation means avoiding addictive or life altering choices. Yes, you can get addicted the first time so… there should be no first time!
Self-preservation also means following your intuition. Value your gut and teach your kids to value there’s. Very often when we’re in an unsafe situation we’ll have a funny feeling about it. Don’t ignore it. We always taught our kids to say they had an upset stomach and call us for pick up. No one wants to keep a sick kid at their house or make a sick person stay with them. If you get this call just go, no questions asked, no punishments given, and no future hang ups. Praise your child for following their gut and remind them how important that is!
6. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Boundaries
Everyone has the right to have boundaries, even a newborn baby! Boundaries may change over time and vary from person to person and relationship to relationship. Your children are allowed to have boundaries with you and you with them.
This concept can be difficult because we have an authority position in our children’s lives and sometimes have to do things that may seem to violate their boundaries. For example, if you suspect they are in danger you may have to search their room or look at their diary (aside from evidence that there is something frighteningly wrong you should NEVER do this). And for safety reasons you should be monitoring their cell phone and social media accounts (yes… all of them… privacy in these arenas isn’t safe).
That said, as adults we operate in life with many authority figures who observe our appropriate boundaries and we can do the same for our children. We can also help our children establish boundaries with friends and other family members. We can teach them how to communicate their boundaries and how and when to consider adjusting a boundary (based on changes in trust or closeness). Healthy adult relationships are very dependent upon healthy boundary establishment and adherence.
7. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Friendships
It’s very important for your children to know what constitutes a good friend, to be one and to seek them out.
Oftentimes people believe that good friends always agree with you and support you. They believe that they will never “rat you out”. This is absolutely untrue! A good friend should support you being your best self! They shouldn’t support you doing things that aren’t good for you! And if you’re doing something dangerous or damaging to yourself or others, they should absolutely get help to intervene.
Being friends with people who consistently put you in uncomfortable or compromising situations is just plain stressful! Be sure to help your children choose friends who are like minded and with whom they have a reciprocal relationship. Point out to them what you look for in a friend. Talk about tough love and let them know if you think they have a frenemie!
But most importantly encourage them to be a good friend. To be thoughtful, kind, loyal and trustworthy. Teach them to never harm or betray a friend and to always be honest with them!
8. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Conflict Resolution
Unsupervised & unscheduled playtime is imperative to social development! This can be a very unpleasant experience for parents because it sets your child up for some very challenging and sometimes uncomfortable situations. They are bound to have disagreements with friends, fights over the rules and possibly feel excluded. It is very important for children to experience this. No, I’m not talking about bullying, but I am talking about occasional arguments that may sometimes get heated. This won’t be the last time in their life that they have a disagreement, a fight, hurt feelings or even get called a name (or do the name calling).
It’s very important that children experience this when they have you to guide them and advise them! You can give them insights into how to conduct themselves in these tense situations, what they can and can’t say and do and how they can work to resolve the issue. You can even help them to identify whether the issue is resolvable or not.
So, let them have disagreements with friends. Let them vent to you about it. Then start a dialog by saying something like…
- Wow, that sounds tough. What do you think you should do about it?
- What could you have done to make that go differently?
- Is this person a good friend?
- How do you know if the friendship is worth salvaging?
- What might’ve caused this misunderstanding and how could it be avoided in the future?
And ALWAYS remember to reassure your child that no matter how difficult or upsetting the situation might be, it is temporary! Even if they lose a friend because of the situation the pain of that won’t last forever and they will make new friends. This is part of life.
9. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Pick Your Battles
Not everything is worth an argument or ending a relationship. But some things are! Not only should you pick your battles with your kids, but you should teach them how to pick their battles with others.
The truth is that you won’t agree 100% with anyone on the planet. We are all unique and should value that in one another! Fighting over the little things on principle or because you’re just appalled that your bestie doesn’t share your political views (for example) won’t get you anywhere. In addition, arguing with your boss over a misunderstanding is likely to get you fired.
Learn to let go, and I mean really let go of the little stuff. Usually those things are aggravating because they either challenge us or threaten us. But they don’t have to! You can simply agree to disagree and move on!
That said… there are some battles you can’t walk away from. For example, choose to stand up for yourself and for the little guy. Don’t stand by while someone else is being hurt. Step in or find someone who can!
It’s also important to remember that you can stand up for what you believe in and follow your principles without debating or arguing with anyone.
Pointing out to your children when and why you’ve chosen to take on a battle (or not) will give them real examples to draw from! And always remind them that, in general, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So, whenever possible approach the situation with compassion and kindness. You’ll get a lot further!
10. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Emotional Regulation
It isn’t only important that children know that the struggle and pain of conflict is temporary but also that they know ALL emotions are temporary and within their control. Teach your children that emotions are neither good nor bad but that they all serve a purpose. Sometimes our emotional state doesn’t fit our situation and we need to compose ourselves. That’s ok. We should know how, and we should also know that no one else is responsible for our emotional state! Now, I don’t mean that they should stuff their feelings. but it can be very helpful to know that you can make a choice to focus on either the positive or negative in any situation.
All feelings are important and valid. That doesn’t mean all behaviors are! You can be very angry or frustrated but that doesn’t mean you have the right to abuse others. You do however have the right to feel how you feel. It is very important to teach your children a broad variety of feeling words and to help them identify not only how they feel but what they can do to adjust it or get it out. For example, physical exercise often helps release tension and anger. Doing something kind for someone else often helps alleviate sorrow. And deep breathing often helps with anxiety.
Give your children the words they need to communicate their feelings, the strategies they need to cope and the validation they need to know that what they’re experiencing is normal and temporary.
11. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Trustworthiness
Trust is the cornerstone of every good relationship and all success. And the natural consequence for a breach of trust is loss of it. Teach your children to value trustworthiness in themselves and others. Remind them often that your trust and that of others opens doors and creates opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. Because the truth is, it does! When you’re making decisions about whether your child can go to a friend’s house for example, one of the biggest factors is trust. Do you trust that they will behave, that they won’t go somewhere else without telling you and that they’ll call you if something feels wrong to them? Likewise, their future bosses are far more likely to keep them employed and even promote them if they are trustworthy.
Basically, every bit of serious trouble you can get into in life is reliant on lying or sneaking. It’s the most destructive habit you can have. Be sure to define lying to your children. Because omission and ignorance are both lies as well. Don’t set the example that what you don’t know won’t hurt you or that it’s better to apologize than to ask permission. ALWAYS clearly communicate that if something is destructive or dangerous, they must tell you. Lies of omission are still lies and as they say, our secrets make us sick. Obviously, they don’t have to tell you who their best friend has a secret crush on (not destructive or dangerous). But they should tell you if a friend is dabbling with drugs. And be sure that they know that ignorance is not an excuse. If they don’t know they should ask. Maybe you’ve never told them “no” about jumping off the roof before but that doesn’t mean it’s allowed!
12. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Courtesy
Many people talk about how rude younger generations are. In my experience this isn’t the case at all. When they are taught basic courtesy, they are happy to follow it. It’s often the parents who don’t set proper examples or even tell their children what is appropriate and courteous.
For example, a couple months ago I was flying back to Detroit from Phoenix. If you’ve never been to Phoenix you may not know that there’s a 15+ minute bus ride from the rental car garage to the airport. These buses are often packed to the brim. That day there were only 5 people standing, my husband and I, an elderly woman, a man, and a woman who appeared to be about 5 months pregnant. Sitting directly across from the pregnant woman and elderly woman was a family with 3 children who all appeared to be between 10 & 13 yrs old. I was very surprised that not only did the parents not offer their seats to either of these women but that they didn’t advise their children to give up theirs either.
This would never have been acceptable even 20 years ago. But today it’s unfortunately the norm. Reminding your children to hold doors open or give up their seat to someone older, a disabled person, or a pregnant woman isn’t that difficult. But it makes a huge difference and an important impression on future teachers, mentors, employers & even life partners.
13. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Kindness, Compassion & Empathy
As a general life rule, you’ll be a lot happier and get a lot further if you approach others with kindness, compassion and empathy. There’s plenty of hostility and judgement to go around and you don’t need to join in.
People tend to respond to you in the same way you’ve treated them. So, you are a lot more likely to be treated well if you treat other’s well. I tend to believe the “best rule”. Typically, people are doing the best they can under the circumstances. They might not be doing what I want, and they might even be behaving poorly or making bad choices, but they are doing their best.
Allow yourself to wonder aloud about difficult people you encounter. Vocalize the challenges you imagine they’re facing and how that must affect their lives. Point out that hurt people, hurt people. But also make it very clear that you can have compassion, empathy and even express kindness from afar. You can’t fix someone else and you shouldn’t line up to be harmed by them either.
Everyone deserves kindness compassion and empathy but when someone shows you who they are believe them. And if they are unsafe mentally, physically or otherwise to you or anyone in your family stay away or establish clear and firm boundaries. That isn’t unkind… it’s prioritizing yourself and loving. And sometimes it’s the kindest thing you can do for the other person too (sometimes referred to as tough love).
14. Lessons to Teach Your Children: Forgiveness
We often remember to teach our children to forgive others but forget to teach them to forgive themselves. Help them learn from their mistakes, forgive themselves and move on. Do this yourself and do it with others to help show them the way. We are often hard on ourselves, especially as parents, our children see this and normalize self-flagellation. This isn’t really the example we’re trying to set! When you have the opportunity talk them through the process of self-forgiveness.
And of course, teach them how to ask for forgiveness from others and how to forgive others. Teach them to use the words “what can I do to fix this (earn your trust back, improve the situation, make it up to you, show my sincerity, etc) when they apologize. And teach them to ask for what they need for things to be righted when they have been wronged.
But don’t stop there, teach them to know when to forgive but walk away. This is a part of life and an important one. Forgiving a person doesn’t mean you have to stay in relationship with them. And always keep in mind that forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened is ok. It isn’t an eraser and it doesn’t excuse anything. We forgive for ourselves. We forgive to avoid bitterness which Buddha said is like swallowing poison and expecting someone else to die.
Lessons to Teach Your Children
These important lessons will help your children be self-sufficient and prepared for anything life throws at them.
In part 2 we’ll be discussing more lessons your children need that will help them not only succeed in life but have a growth mindset.
If you’ve never thought about these lessons or aren’t doing many of these, it’s never too late to start! Don’t beat yourself up or get down on yourself. We all do the best we can with what we know at the time! Take this opportunity to show yourself compassion and be an example of self-forgiveness!
Tell me the lesson you think is most important to teach your child in the comments below!
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