As parents we often wonder… “Am I doing the right things? Am I teaching my kids the right things? Am I saying the right things? Am I giving them the right ideas or did I blow it?”
It’s a natural part of parenting. We question ourselves because there really is no right way to parent. What works for one family might not work for the next. The solution for one child is the barrier for another.
And so we are constantly looking around and comparing/contrasting our parenting style with other parents. We’re looking for ways we already do things better to get some form of reinforcement that we’re on the right path or we look at other parents and we aspire to raise our kids like theirs.
It’s all a part of parenthood and raising children. The good news is there is no right way. There’s plenty of wrong ways, but there’s not a sure-fire right way. If you can make sure you’re not doing it the wrong way, then you can be pretty sure you’re doing it the right way.
But there are some things that are more difficult to teach than just how to spell, or do algebra, or drive. Some things you can’t just sit down and study. These are some of the more difficult things to teach in parenting. They are the soft skills.
How do I teach them to share at a young age? How do I teach them the value of saving their money? How do I teach them to be grateful every day? How do I teach them the million things I feel they need to learn that you won’t find in a text book or on the sports field?
I could sit down with them each day and say, “Okay, today we are going to practice and learn how to be grateful….” but that’s not very realistic. If you have to do that you’re going to be spending a lot of time going nowhere.
That type of learning is valuable for hard skills like school, sports, and hobbies, but not so much for soft skills. Soft skills like respect, managing emotions, making healthy choices, and kindness are the ones that require a different approach to learning, and one of the best teachers for those skills is life.
Daily life provides all the opportunity you need to teach these soft skills. This is my approach to teaching these parts of life to my kids and is what Parenting by Opportunity is all about.
When something happens, say one of my kids has their feelings hurt at school because someone teased them, I take that opportunity to teach them how to manage those feelings. We talk about it, right then and there. We don’t wait to talk about it that night at bedtime or brush it off and wait to see if it happens again. We address it right then and there, in the moment of opportunity.
When we go to the store and my kids want to buy something, I use that opportunity to either explain to them that we need to work for things and that they need to do some chores (age appropriate) and earn that money OR if they already have money, I let them go through the line and pay for themselves. We use that opportunity to start teaching the value of hard work, money, and independence.
When my kids come off the field after a baseball or football game, win or lose, I take that opportunity to ask and teach them how to reflect on their performance. Did you give it your all? What did you do well? What could you build on and do better?
And it’s a balancing act too, right? We can’t be 100% serious, it’s important that we understand that we’re taking advantage of an opportunity but not to become clouded by what we want to teach versus what our kids want to experience. So make sure you ask about how that post-game Rice Krispy tastes too.
When I hear them talking negatively about themselves, maybe just because they are cranky that day, I take that opportunity to teach them about how negative talk and thoughts can be poison for our minds.
Because the reality is, these things that kids do, that might seem like kids just being kids, end up becoming a part of who our kids grow into. What starts as innocence turns into habit and as adults, we know how hard it can be to change our habits, especially the toxic ones.
So I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities you see around you when raising your kids. While you’re going through your daily lives, look for little moments where you can teach your kids something that has long-lasting value. Spelling tests and algebra will go away after the first quarter of their lives, but kindness, gratitude, and hard work can change the world.