I grew up in the generation where children were seen and not heard. This gave me tons of time to observe and learn. I observed my parents who were very kind to each other and to others. Conversely, I observed my grandmother who was matriarchal and demanding. By watching my elders I knew which woman I wanted to be when I grew up.
Today we also teach our sons by modeling behavior. But most parents go beyond modeling and take a more active role in teaching kids how to treat other people. In this era of disrespect, panelists on TV talking over each other and families not speaking to each other because of political beliefs, what values do we want our sons to embrace? How can we help them learn what we want them to know?
(1) Be respectful.
I was at the grocery store over the weekend and a young boy squeezed between a woman pushing a cart in one direction and his mother pushing a cart in the other direction. He didn’t bump either cart yet his father, who was walking behind his wife, reminded the boy, “Say ‘excuse
me’.” When the ‘traffic jam’ cleared up and Dad was closer to his son he leaned over and calmly whispered to his son, “It’s important to show respect to adults.”
Being polite, as this father was teaching his son, is one way to demonstrate respect. Being respectful goes well beyond politeness though. Being respectful is being a good steward in your community, showing care and consideration for other people of all ages, animals, your property and other people’s property, the environment and above all, yourself.
(2) Be understanding.
There are so many things in this world that are beyond our understanding. We find it easy to accept some of them and quite difficult to accept others. We don’t understand why the sky is blue but I’ve never seen people exhibit hate toward the sky because it is blue. When it comes to people, though, we tend to be less understanding.
When my son was about 2 years old his “best friend” Mark was a teenage boy that lived across the street. Mark had Downs Syndrome and the older kids on the block wanted nothing to do with him. When he would go to hang out with the boys playing basketball the boys would yell, “Go home Mark” so it wasn’t unusual for Mark to walk up and down the block saying out loud, but to himself, “Go home Mark.”
We invited Mark to come over and play in our [kiddy] pool and swing on the swing set with my son.
Mark is now almost 45 years old and my son is close to 30 years old. They no longer live in the same town but my son sends Mark a Christmas card every year and Mark’s mom says Mark still refers to my son as his “best friend.”
(3) Be curious.
Kids are naturally curious. Every parent who has been asked “why” a hundred times by their two-year-old knows this. As exhausting as that “why” is, it’s critical to raising a curious son. Kids who want to know “why” grow up to be adults who find the answers to “why” which leads to cures for diseases, new products, improved technology and inquisitive minds.
A curious mind also leads to a better memory, easier learning abilities and it has the ability to turn the boring and mundane into interesting work or studies.
(4) Appreciate differences.
I cannot imagine a life where the only spices are salt and pepper or with music that all sounds the same or movies and books that all have the same plot. How mundane. I feel the same about people.
One way people differ is skin color. Another is religion. And, of course, political beliefs. These aren’t the only differences to appreciate. Different viewpoints help inform our own beliefs. My mother was born and raised in England during WWII. My dad was born and raised in Mississippi. So when I was growing up I learned two versions of WWII. My mother’s version is that the war was over by the time the “Yanks” came in. My father’s version is that America won the war on behalf of our allies.
When teaching children to appreciate diversity it’s easier if you appreciate diversity. Then it’s a daily, natural lesson. If, however, you are judgmental about what people wear or how their hair is cut, if/where they worship or what they believe then you’re teaching your children to be judgmental as well.
When children are young, they are naturally curious. They notice differences in people and ask about the differences. “Why can’t that boy walk?” or “Why is that woman covered in a blanket?” [As one child asked me about a Muslim woman’s jilbab.] Kids genuinely want to know why people are different. They are not exhibiting bias or prejudice. Take the time to explain and have ‘age-appropriate’ discussions with your son about appreciating what we can gain from people who are different than ourselves.
(5) Celebrate what other people CAN do, not what they CAN’T do.
In some ways kids do this naturally. My son, Nate, was a musician. His best friend from middle school on, Ben, was an athlete. Ben always admired Nate’s musicality and Nate always admired Ben’s sports ability. When Ben would say, “I wish I could play guitar.” Nate would say, “Yeah, but look how good you are at football.”
As kids get older, though, they tend to focus on what someone did that let them down. They tell of the kid on their basketball team who can’t dribble or the drummer in his band who can’t play in the pocket. This mindset can lead to dissatisfaction in participating in these activities and even anger and unhappiness.
Conversely, when we ask our basketball-playing son to reframe his attitude toward his teammate and ask what the teammate does well, you may get an answer like, “He can hit a 3-pointer better than anyone on the team” or something more innocuous like “He’s the master of pranks!” Either way, your son is focusing on how his teammate makes life better; not worse.
While on the surface this looks like we are making excuses for the other kid or simply being compassionate towards other people, the reality is this way of thinking has more impact on your son’s mental health than it does on anything else. Your son isn’t going to change how well someone else does something. Focusing on what someone else cannot do zaps energy and causes frustration. Conversely, focusing on what someone else CAN do:
- Reduces your son’s stress level.
- Fosters happiness.
- Increases productivity levels.
- Develops patience.
- Improves physiological and psychological well-being.
- Increases ability to effectively solve problems.
- Stimulates peace of mind.
- Creates a positive attitude.
- Reduces being irritated by little things.
- Promotes positive relationships.
- Boosts self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Reduces frustration.
- Cultivates forgiveness.
- Enhances mental flexibility.
When asked what they want for their sons, many parents say, “I just want him to be happy.” If that is true, think of the happy people in your life and see if you can identify the common denominators between them. For me, those common denominators are the five things I taught my son about how to treat others.
Photo credit: Copyright: highwaystarz / 123RF Stock Photo