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6 Life Lessons to Teach Your Kids Because There's No Instruction Manual

FlourishAnyway is a psychologist, music lover, and awkward mom to a teenager.

Parenting: Where's the Instruction Manual?

So many activities require certification or licenses. Should parenting require an instruction manual? Would a license to raise another person to adulthood help?

So many activities require certification or licenses. Should parenting require an instruction manual? Would a license to raise another person to adulthood help?

Parenting: License Not Required

Think about it. There really should be an instruction book for parenthood. Not that it would help everyone. But when kids go astray there'd be obvious rules to cite.

Seriously. You need a license to

  • own and operate a car, boat, or motorcycle
  • hunt or fish
  • be a lifeguard
  • own a dog
  • operate a daycare
  • cut someone's hair, clean their teeth, and work in many other occupations.

Not everyone is permitted to

  • vote
  • rent a car
  • buy lottery tickets
  • get married
  • drink alcohol
  • have a parade
  • check out a library book or
  • secure credit in their own name.

There are rules for these things—perhaps imperfect rules that need revisiting—but there is structure nonetheless. There are applications and guidebooks. Sometimes, there are even fines to be paid if you don't do it right.

However, when it comes to raising another person to adulthood, folks are on their own to navigate life's challenges. The responsibility is enormous and the ramifications if you don't get it right? Sheesh!

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What to Teach Kids When There's No Instruction Manual

I recall bringing my own infant home from the hospital more than two decades ago. Like every first-time parent, I was surprised that the nurses handed her over to my husband and me.

All I could think about was, "What now?" Even though I was married, over 30, and well on my way to becoming a psychologist, I felt in over my head. Shouldn't there be a parent boot camp or a certificate that authorizes people to parent? (I mean, Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears are mothers now!)

Here's Some Help

Since there is no instruction book, here are six lessons to share with your kids. Not everyone gets each parenting move correct, but most parents' hearts are in the right place—even if their minds are occasionally elsewhere. Sometimes seeing others' failures can make your own seem not quite so bad.

Lesson 1: Entertain Yourself and Practice Self-Sufficiency

Parents frequently find themselves in multiple roles:

  • short-order cooks
  • launderer
  • tutor
  • chauffeur
  • personal shopper
  • secretary
  • motivational speaker and
  • public relations handler.

Playing all these roles can make you feel so needed. As tempting as it is to want to continue "doing" for kids as they grow, it's important to transfer that responsibility to kids themselves and to equip them with the life skills they'll need to become self-sufficient adults.

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Teach children to manage themselves and to be accountable for their own results so they can be economically independent later. (Your wallet will thank you.)

Build their sense of personal responsibility and self-sufficiency. Find the sweet spot between hovering and disinterest. There's learning to be had in setting and working towards a valued goal. "Struggle" isn't necessarily a bad word.

Lesson 2: Stand up for Yourself

Part of developing social competence is learning how to assert one's views, needs, and basic rights. This takes years of practice as well as positive role modeling.

Teach your child body posture that projects confidence:

  • maintain eye contact
  • walk tall
  • hold your head up and
  • keep your shoulders back (no slouching).

Communicating confidence in this way can make them a less likely target for bullies.

Also encourage your child to speak with authority. Model good behavior yourself. Wimpy, watered down and gutless language kills personal credibility (e.g., "um," "ah," "uh," "like," excessive use of slang). It's easier to establish good habits originally than to unlearn bad ones later.

Help your child by exposing him or her to a variety of social situations and people without either forcing or rescuing him/her. Instead, present new situations as learning opportunities. They provide your child with chances to see that he or she can be accepted by an ever-wider social circle.

One must know how to deal with a wide range of people to do well in the world, especially those who are different from you or disagree with your viewpoint. Let your child learn that it's okay not to be 100% comfortable all the time. Even close friends can disagree yet maintain their relationship.

Show your child how to voice her views and needs firmly and with respect. Practice healthy methods for verbally pushing back when necessary.

In addition, encourage your child to include others in conversation and turn-taking without neglecting their own requirements. Get into the habit of role playing different scenarios so that your child becomes comfortable with rehearsing his or her new skills.

Discuss social situations in which others behaved either too aggressively or passively. Why did they choose to behave that way? What were the impacts on all the parties involved? How could the person have better achieved their objective?

Keep the lines of communication open so that your child will discuss any problems encountered in standing up for himself/herself. Bullying thrives in secrecy and shame, so the best way you can fight it is to keep talking openly with your child.

Bullying thrives on secrecy and shame.

Bullying thrives on secrecy and shame.

Does Your Child Have Risk Factors for Bullying?

Risk Factors For Bullying OthersRisk Factors For Being Bullied

Aggressive or easily frustrated

Perceived as an outsider or different from one's peer group (e.g., overweight, LGBT, disabled/special needs, new student)

Low parental involvement or issues at home

Perceived as weak or unable to defend oneself

Difficulty following rules

Anxious, depressed, or has low a self-image

Friends with other bullies

Lonely, socially isolated, fewer friends

View violence in a positive manner

Perceived as annoying or needy for attention

Today's schoolyard bully.  Tomorrow's criminal?  For boys, research suggests a link.

Today's schoolyard bully. Tomorrow's criminal? For boys, research suggests a link.

Bullying Basics

  • 1 out of 4 kids is bullied. 1 out of 5 kids admits to bullying others.1
  • In boys, being a child bully is a significant predictor of adult criminality.2
  • About 42% of kids have been bullied on-line.3
  • Every 7 minutes a child is bullied on the playground at school. In 85% of cases, there is no intervention by either peers or adults.
  • 8% of students miss one day of school each month because they fear being bullied.
  • Bullying peaks during the middle school years and generally levels off by 11th and 12th grades.

Lesson 3: Learn to Exercise Emotional Self-Control

When you were a kid, did your parents ever tell you to ... ?

  • "tighten up"
  • "suck it up"
  • "get a hold of yourself" or
  • "don't melt down."

Maybe their methods were imperfect, but they were trying to teach you emotional self-control.

Children need parents' help in regulating their emotions. This includes learning to identify their feelings, coping with their emotions without becoming overwhelmed, and expressing themselves constructively (e.g., through one's words instead of one's fists).

Emotional self-regulation predicts success in both school and work life. Moreover, kids who are able to better regulate their emotions

  • work harder
  • pay more attention
  • achieve more in school
  • are better behaved and
  • are more caring towards others.4

As parents, we can help children gradually learn to exercise emotional self-control by providing a structured and consistent environment and by tuning in to kids emotionally, regardless of how busy our own schedules may be.

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Take Your Child to Work Day?

Can you do a split like that?  Whatever your talent, be proud of it.

Can you do a split like that? Whatever your talent, be proud of it.

Lesson 4: Nurture Your Talents

Some of us have remarkable physical talents like strength, speed or agility. Others have special interpersonal skills such as persuasiveness or leadership ability, while still other people have intellectual or creative gifts. Talents come in all forms. What you do with them is up to you.

Encourage your child to find, embrace, and nourish his or her interests. She may bounce from soccer to karate to flute, but be patient. She's exploring who she is.

As a parent, you can provide the necessary resources and support. For areas where your child excels and/or is exceptionally interested, expose him or her to role models and mentors who can supply targeted performance feedback and skilled advice.

Also encourage your child to set specific, difficult (yet attainable) goals in honing his or her talent. Encourage personal excellence—not necessarily competitive excellence.

Talent often flows from hard work, and when you have a passion for something, work is much more enjoyable. Regardless of whether they win awards, being recognized as skilled and competent in an area provides a confidence boost that can benefit your child for years to come.

Fashion Faux Pas: Say This Isn't So

This little girl's rear reads "PARADISE."  Not the best fashion choice.  Should she even own this item of clothing?

This little girl's rear reads "PARADISE." Not the best fashion choice. Should she even own this item of clothing?

Lesson 5: Dress for Success

We're each judged by our image and how we look. As kids become tweens and teens, they begin to make key fashion choices for themselves.

With options ranging from saggy and skinny jeans to spaghetti strap and midriff baring tops, young people need to know that it's not just adults who are being judged by how they look, dress, and carry themselves.

Level-headed parents can offer kids an important perspective. Here are tips in doing so:

  • Position fashion as a range of choices. Seek to understand what look the young person is trying to achieve—flamboyant, hipster, jock? Who are their fashion role models? (That should tell you a lot.) Understand how the teen wants to be regarded by peers, strangers, and others. (This should tell you even more.)
  • If you disagree about a piece of clothing, discuss the teen's selected garment in terms of appropriateness (i.e., for the occasion, audience, season, size, fit). Listen as well as teach.
  • Point out the practical impact of the teen's attire and discuss your perceptions. How does their "look" match how they want to be perceived? (i.e., "When you wear a skirt that short I can see your underwear when you bend over or sit down. Whether you mean to or not, wearing that skirt telegraphs a message that you are desperate for attention. Is that what you want?")

Although clothing choices are an age-old source of friction between parents and their children, maintain an open mind and open dialog. Use any disagreements as a chance to educate and model productive methods of working out conflict.

Not Fair but True: Appearance Matters

Don't shoot the messenger, but according to psychological research, appearance affects our self-perceptions, others' perceptions about us, and how we are treated.

  • Taller people are perceived as more powerful and more intelligent, and on average they earn an extra $789 per inch per year.5
  • Women who wear make-up are judged as more attractive, competent, likable and trustworthy.6
  • Unattractive people are more likely to be targets of bullying in the workplace.7
  • Good-looking people tend to earn more money on the job. For example, one study found that more physically attractive real estate agents had listings with higher prices and larger commissions.8
Lowered into a pen, this child becomes a tool to feed raccoons some bread.  Adults seem to be enjoying the experience.  But is he?

Lowered into a pen, this child becomes a tool to feed raccoons some bread. Adults seem to be enjoying the experience. But is he?

Lesson 6: Be Kind to Others and the World Around You

Children need to know that although they are the center of their parents' worlds, they are also part of a broader universe that is in a constant state of change. Their behavior—choices both large and small—have indubitable impacts on other humans and the environment we inhabit, sometimes in ways that are hard to foretell.

Whether they purchase a plastic soda bottle or reach for a reusable cup matters. Whether they travel by car or walk/ride their bike matters. How they dispose of used items matter. These issues matter because people count but also because nature counts.

Parents must teach children that we are each one important thread in a social, economic, and environmental fabric of people, animals, and plants. We are all interconnected in our journeys. Children depend on parents lessons in treating one another with kindness and respect.

We all share an interconnected fate. Kids are one of your biggest chances to make a difference in this world.

Locations with Names Associated with the Many Roles a Parent Performs

Summary

There are no official rules or application for raising another person to adulthood. No instruction book or certificate. Perhaps there should be, but for now, parents learn on the fly. Here are six lessons for navigating life's challenges:

  • Lesson 1: Entertain yourself and practice self-sufficiency.
  • Lesson 2: Stand up for yourself.
  • Lesson 3: Learn to exercise emotional self-control.
  • Lesson 4: Nurture your talents.
  • Lesson 5: Dress for success.
  • Lesson 6: Be kind to others and the world around you.

We All Have Our Moments

I'm that mom who enlightened my fourth grade child on the "real" pronunciation of Uranus ("your anus") when she was studying the solar system. I don't know who guffawed louder. And of course, news quickly spread to the rest of her class

I'm that mom who enlightened my fourth grade child on the "real" pronunciation of Uranus ("your anus") when she was studying the solar system. I don't know who guffawed louder. And of course, news quickly spread to the rest of her class

Notes

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, April 9). Youth Bullying: What Does the Research Say? Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/.

2Sourander, A., Klomek, A. B., Kumpulainen, K., Puustjärvi, A., Elonheimo, H., Ristkari, T., . . . Ronning, J. A. (2011). Bullying at age eight and criminality in adulthood: findings from the Finnish Nationwide 1981 Birth Cohort Study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 46(12), 1211-1219. doi:10.1007/s00127-010-0292-1

3Bullying Statistics. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-statistics.html.

4Barish, K. (2013, September 9). How Do Children Learn to Regulate Their Emotions? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kenneth-barish-phd/how-do-children-learn-to-_b_3890461.html.

5Britt, R. R. (2009, July 11). Taller People Earn More Money. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/5552-taller-people-earn-money.html

6Carollo, K. (2011, October 4). Cosmetics Make W