If you have a child, you’ve witnessed pure unashamed selfishness on more than one occasion. A piece of candy, another kid’s toy, or just the attention of a parent can expose a child’s firm belief that the world should revolve around them.
When kids are allowed to go on thinking this way through childhood, they grow up to be entitled, self-centered young adults who typically have a tremendous amount of difficulty getting along with others at work and at home.
One of the most powerful parenting principles I know is to use low impact situations to teach high impact character. When future high impact situations come, character, attitude, and responsibility must already be in place.
Not long ago we had another low impact situation. My son decided to scatter all of his crayons and magnets throughout the kitchen. I guess he thought it needed a little color! After my wife told him to clean up, my son asked me to help. My instinct was to say, “Sure! I’ll help you clean up your mess!”
But then I realized a crucial pattern. He regularly made messes so he could ask us to help him clean. At first, it was cute and we had fun together, but it was starting to become his expectation. By helping him in these instances, we were teaching him two terrible things. First, he didn’t need to solve his own problems. Second, in order to spend time with mom or dad, he could simply make a big mess!
We agreed not to help him with his messes anymore. He needed to learn to clean up after himself. He also needed to understand that good behavior, not bad, would lead to fun activities with mom and dad. So instead of helping him with his crayons and magnets, I told him to clean it up himself because he made the mess. If he cleaned on his own we would spend some time together.
His next move was predictable, he asked his mom for help instead! But she gave the same answer. Instead of a drawn-out period of delay tactics and slow cleanup together, he cleaned everything on his own in record time!
Even though he is only two-and-a-half, we already see this training taking root in his life. He knows that dessert only comes to those who finish all their food on their own. Fun activities will only come after toys are cleaned. Today, he walked over to me and said, “Dadda, if I clean all my toys, can I watch a show?” That was a huge milestone to me. Work first, reward later. He is starting to understand and even suggest delayed gratification.
When we teach principles in the low impact situations, we build character for high impact situations. Learning to be responsible for your mistakes, cleaning up after yourself, and accepting delayed gratification are all critical character traits for adulthood.
The world doesn’t revolve around our kids. It revolves around our beliefs, our principles, our family, and our community. These are the priorities I want my son to absorb. By teaching him with crayons and magnets, hopefully, he will carry through principles for life, work, and family into adulthood.