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The Early Years: Practice what you preach

From Deb Archer

Parenting involves more than taking care of a child’s physical needs. It involves teaching right from wrong and instilling your child with the character qualities and morals you feel are important. The question of how parents instill character in their children has often been a topic of discussion at Early Childhood Family Education. When creating a list of traits we want in our children the following always come up: confidence, self-reliance, truthfulness, trustworthiness, good manners, persistence and the courage to try new things.

Like it or not, our children will learn the most about these character qualities by watching the people they love and respect, their parents andgrandparents. Children watch how we respond to people on the phone, how we deal with conflict, how we approach new situations, how we use (or don’t use) manners, how honest we are, how we treat the environment, and so on. We can’t expect others to teach our children important character lessons. The teacher they respect and value most is their parent or grandparent caregiver.

As adults we are faced with “gray” situations all the time where we need to rely on our inner sense of morality and character to make decisions. Getting too much change back at the store is a common example. Do you return it or see it as a lucky break? Think about it as a good opportunity to teach your child a valuable life lesson. Take time to discuss right and wrong with your child as you find yourself in these situations. The time to teach these things is when your child is young. The result is the solid character you desire in your child.

When one of my daughters was a preschooler, my husband and I were trying to teach her the importance of telling the truth. We were on vacation at Wisconsin Dells and were swimming in a huge wave pool with maybe 100 other people when I found a cool pair of women’s sunglasses on the bottom of the pool. I set them on a lawn chair for a while to see if anyone would claim them. Of course, nobody did. So I was trying them on and was pretty excited about my find. My young daughter however, came up to me and told me I couldn’t keep them since they were not mine. I tried explaining to her that there are hundreds of people there and I was confident that nobody was going to claim them. This didn’t deter her. She insisted that we should turn them in since they were not mine to keep. After thinking for a few minutes, I remembered what we had been trying to teach her about being truthful and honest. So I took her hand, we walked to the desk and together we turned in the cute glasses. The person behind the desk threw them in a huge Rubbermaid tub full of other lost and found glasses! I’m sure nobody ever claimed them and I had to buy my own sunglasses, but my daughter reminded me that day how important it is for me as a mom to be living out the values I want to instill in my children. It is not right to tell them how they should act, and then live our lives differently. Next time we will talk about how moral development is formed in children.

Deb Archer is a licensed teacher and parent educator. She owns Kickstart Preschool in Two Harbors.