It's a new decade, and if you're like me, milestone years get you thinking...how do I want my child to grow up over the next decade and beyond? What key tools should I give my child to ensure that he becomes a caring, self-sufficient, courteous, and industrious member of the community?
In my 20-plus years working with children and parents and also raising three kids, I have discovered that there are four critical life skills each child should develop. If you model these behaviors and help your child achieve them, the result will be a confident, well-behaved, happy child, and eventually a young adult who respects you, whom others respect, and who is able to achieve great success.
1. Frustration tolerance is a crucial life skill to impart. You must say "no" and follow through, set limits and stick to them, and not give in to whining and tantrums. Young children must learn to sleep in their own beds without extensive intervention. Teaching your child to soothe himself is a key to learning frustration tolerance. Older children must learn that they won't get everything they want: Some things will be deferred, others they may never receive. This is not deprivation - rather, it is your duty to teach your child to cope with not having his every demand met. You should model frustration tolerance by being patient on long lines, not yelling frequently at your child or others, and by striving until you achieve a goal.
2. Teach your child compassion for others. This can be done in many different ways. Make sure that your child says "I'm sorry" when he injures someone or hurts their feelings - even by accident. Help him take responsibility for his own behavior by modeling this yourself. Make giving to charity an important part of your family life by donating time or money. Look for other opportunities to make compassionate behavior a priority for your family.
3. Regardless of socioeconomic level, every child needs to learn the value of hard work and money. Starting when your child is in elementary school, begin teaching him to take pride in his work product by selectively praising his artwork, and schoolwork, only when it truly reflects effort. It's fine to tell your child that next time he should work harder. Your child will learn the value of money if you give him an allowance and then enforce the use of it to purchase items he desires, rather than buying them for him. As he gets older, increase the allowance and its spending power, while reducing your contribution to his spending. This is how he will learn to budget and save.
4. Finally, your child must learn to respect others. As early as possible, teach your child to say "please" and "thank you," to write thank you notes, and to show all other forms of appreciation. Enforce these niceties in every single situation, even with family members. Insist on polite behavior in public places and remove your child when he doesn't behave politely (even if it inconveniences you). Before entering a situation, advise your child of a consequence for inappropriate behavior and then follow through. Have zero tolerance for bullying, rudeness, hitting, punching, or kicking - whether your child does this to you or anyone else. Enforce immediate consequences.
If you use the next decade to teach your child these four life skills, there is little doubt that he or she will become a young adult who will enter the world with confidence and in whom you will take great pride.
Dr. Susan Bartell is America's #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is Dr. Susan's Fit and Fun Family Action Plan. You can learn more about her on her website at www.drsusanbartell.com.